Garden Musings

As I’ve written before, I’m trying my hand at gardening again this year. So far things are going well. These photos were taken about two weeks apart; the second one was taken yesterday. (You can use the arrows to slide the photos back and forth to see.)

I have plenty of green things, and it looks like I’m growing a bamboo forest too, but you’ll see why. Here are some things I’ve learned so far.

The Beauty of Variety

One of the artistic outcomes of square foot gardening is the variety of color and texture of the greens forming a patchwork quilt in each bed. In the collage there’s the deep glossy green of Bok Choy (just as it went to seed), the filigree of carrot tops, spring-green hearts of tendril peas, shamrock green of bush beans, and the ruffled edges of kale. How boring it would be if everything in the garden looked the same.

There’s Good and Bad . . . and sometimes it’s hard to know the difference

I’m slowly learning which creepy crawlies are beneficial and which ones are out to sabotage my gardening efforts. Hopping things like grasshoppers are safe; bugs that crawl are another matter. I know lady bugs are good, but their look-alike cousin the cucumber beetle will turn my cucumber leaves into lace overnight. The armyworms get tossed into the garden of weedin’ across the fence and will either eat their way to mothhood on the greenery over there . . . or become food. It’s taking time, observation, and patience to figure out which critters to keep, and resistance to discount or squish things before I know for sure.

Unexpected Grace and Strength . . . and stepping out of the way

I call this my Angel Oak tomato. There’s an Angel Oak tree in Charleston, South Carolina believed to be between 400 and 500 years old.  It’s 6 stories high (65 ft.), 28 ft. in circumference, and the largest branch extends 187 feet from the trunk. Its canopy shades an area of 17,000 square feet.

My tomato plant isn’t nearly that big, but in tomato measurement it might be. Earlier this spring when we had a late freeze, this little guy was just a baby. I covered him, but apparently not enough. The top of the stem froze and I had to trim the damage. There were little side shoots around the base that I hoped would do something, so I just let them go.

Well, each of those side shoots took off and they’re now their own upright tomato plant full of blossoms and green tomatoes. I have 8 bamboo poles supporting the eight ‘plants’, as well as a tomato cage supporting the actual main plant which rebounded and is also full of blossoms and tomatoes. The full plant doesn’t cover 17,000 square feet, but it does cover 3 of the square foot spaces in the bed, and one branch extends  into the walkway between the beds . . . supported by a bamboo pole.

Every day I’m astounded at how this vulnerable little plant grew in other directions and continues to thrive.

The Need for Support . . . internal and external

The tomatoes aren’t ripe yet, but I can’t get over how big and heavy some of them are already. The other morning I was looking at the larger ones and wondered how their stems would support them. Then I noticed a joint just above the stem cap and wondered if that little ‘knuckle’ eases the strain on the stem, anchors the weight of the fruit. A natural, God-given point of strength.

Another part of my bamboo forest is due to the teepees for my bush beans. The packet said they didn’t need a trellis but apparently my plants didn’t read the packet. Instead of being ‘bushy’, they grew about 33” tall and began to tumble out of the beds and tangled up with each other. Once I put up the teepees, separated the plants, and tied them to the poles, they looked healthier, and the new little beans have room to hang.

Assumptions and Undeserved Forgiveness

I broke one of my tomato plant branches. It needed to be moved just a smidge to be supported by the tomato cage, but I broke it. Not completely off, but a deep tear, a definite wound. There were blossoms already on the branch that I assumed would wither and die, a gift I was throwing away. I felt awful. Every morning when I did my check for aphids, horn worms, and white flies, I checked the break for infection. Instead, the wound scarred over and the blossoms became tomatoes, and there are new blossoms.

This is another plant with multiple side shoots supported by bamboo poles.

Gratitude for Unexpected Blessings and Abundance . . . or how I ended up with 20 tomato plants

I’ve gardened before, but all my experience with tomatoes began with plants, never starting them from seeds. Last year a renegade seed fell into my old bed and grew like crazy, but too late for the fruit to ripen. So I thought Why not give seeds a try? Hedging my bets, I planted two seeds in the center of the designated squares, (tomatoes need one full square in a square foot garden), and hoped one seed in each would sprout.

I was so excited when the first leaves popped through, then the first true leaves which meant I might actually get a tomato plant! As they continued to grow I noticed that ALL the seeds had sprouted and somehow some had actually produced three plants. I spent two mornings separating and transplanting so each tomato had a chance of surviving and now I have 20 tomato plants . . . and that number doesn’t include the 15 or so side shoots that are supported by bamboo poles and think they’re individual plants on their own. I’m grateful, but hope I don’t become like the dreaded zucchini lady, always offering bags of produce to family, friends, and complete strangers.

I have purple tomatoes and green zebra tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, heirloom yellow pear tomatoes, and gooseberry tomatoes . . . which are also yellow, Amish paste tomatoes, and of course some common, regular red tomatoes.

No Promises, No Guarantees

Other than the seeds producing the plant they’re supposed to, nothing else about this garden is promised. I look at the expectancy in all the greenness and hope all those tomatoes ripen – really, I do – and there will be beans to freeze for the winter, there will be enough ground cherries for at least a tart, and this fall another planting of greens. But I know a heat spell can stress the plants and bring on the bugs. Another deluge, heavy wind, or hail can damage everything. But I also know  . . .

It’s about the Journey

I’ve had my first harvests of kale, collards, and Swiss chard, beans, and the one beet I’ll probably get – good thing I like beet greens. I didn’t pick the Bok Choy soon enough so the heat spike we had made it bolt – which is why it went to seed. Two of my tomato plants are taller than me and still growing. So are my tendril peas and my mountain runner beans. They’re ‘running’ off their strings and into the branches of the maple tree that grows just outside the garden fence. I’m letting them run.

But even if the heat, deluge, wind or hail show up and I don’t harvest another thing, this gardening feeds body and soul. The physical exertion strengthens muscles and lungs.

The perfume of tomato leaves takes me back to Ohio, and the first garden I loved. The thrill of watching blossoms turn into veggies adds whimsy as I see a baby in the curve of a new pea pod – the blossom a cap, the remnant of the tissue paper husk a diaper.

Best of all is being outside first thing in the morning when the birds are waking up, the bees are visiting blossoms (completely ignoring me), and some mornings the air so refreshing and full of moisture there’s no place for dew to fall.

As I play in the dirt, pull weeds, check for bugs, I’m continually reminded there’s more to gardening than gardening.

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