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31 May 2011 @ 12:25 pm
[Garden] Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth  
At a recent earthling speech therapy session, Amber the speech therapist revealed to me that she had, for the first time ever, planted a garden this year. I told her my first time of planting was last year, and we exchanged the Look. I am not sure if gardeners everywhere exchange this look, or if it's just Southern California ones. It conveys a combination of fear, amazement, and just a tentative hint of delight - tentative because you only really want to be happy about something if you're sure no lives will be lost, and gardeners cannot ever, apparently, be entirely sure of that. I have never lived in avalanche country, but I am assuming this is the same expression you see the faces of tourists there when one goes off.

Amber told me her cilantro was going crazy, and I explained to her the sad truth about the cilantro life cycle (when it goes crazy, it's about to bolt), and we compared the heights of our children and our cilantro (cilantro wins!). We talked about how you can never be really sure how big your zucchini plant will get, largely because zucchinis expand to fill all available space. Hers are currently eating her peas; mine is in a fight to the death with the Persian cucumbers. God only knows what the outcome will be. Zuccumbers? The apocalypse? No way to be sure!

And then I told her what I planted this year. You know you're in trouble when a fellow novice gardener stares at you, stunned by your stupidity.

"It's not my fault," I said weakly. "[Earthling] picked out most of those plants."

It's true, he did. It's also true that I planted them. And let them flourish. And, in some cases, allowed him to plant even more. We are still basically in the wettest, coldest spring I can remember in California. (Although keep in mind that this is relative; by "wettest," I mean that the drought warnings have gone down to only high alert level, and by "coldest" I mean "we mostly haven't had to use the air conditioner yet.") And yet. I have already learned some hard, hard facts about gardening, the kind they never seem to share in gardening books. (My current theory is that this is a form of hazing. "We all know this," the gardening book writers say to each other. "But we're not telling. If they really care about gardening, they will learn the hard way, just like we did." Gardening is one of those sports that only the strong survive, apparently.)

I planted a Juliet tomato this year. Because it was described as an excellent balcony or patio tomato - perfect for container gardening! - I assumed it was a small, modest plant that would grow only in moderation.

This is absolute bullshit, it turns out. What "patio" plant means is "if you plant it in the actual ground, it will act like it just got hit by Lex Luthor's Amazing Supergrowth Ray." If I had listened closely while planting it, I probably could have heard its cries of, "Free! Free at last! TOMATO FAME, HERE I COME."

The Juliet, seeking tomato fame, or possibly fresh human brains to snack on. Yes, I know I borked the spacing again this year. In my defense a) I'm doing better and b) tomatoes appear to expand to fill whatever space you give them, so if I'd spaced them properly, the Juliet would now be the size of Anchorage, Alaska.

Because of my touchingly naïve belief in the Juliet's decorous, restrained nature, I put it in one of the two wolverine-sized tomato cages that survived last year's tomato Armageddon. (This year, I am buying only the bear size. I may be slow, but I can be taught.) It was over the top of it by the start of May, and is now taller than I am and, as you can see, encroaching on the cages of the other tomatoes. My mother, who views my urge to grow tomatoes as perhaps the sole evidence that I am genetically related to her, recently visited and suggested I buy a second tomato cage to train the rest of the Juliet onto. (I would, except when I think "train" I can only picture myself out there with a packet of biscuits and a clicker, and I don't think the tomato plants would respond. If you could teach a tomato plant to heel, someone would already have won a Nobel Prize for it.)

If I had known about the Juliet's ambitions, it's possible I would have reined in the earthling's, at least a little. But he was so determined to buy tomato plants that I'm not sure I would have. I mean, I do remember last year. There was no excuse for planting more tomato plants than I did last year. And yet. I did. With earthling encouragement, yes, but the fault was mine. (This is why we have winter: so gardeners will forget the thorns and terror of the previous year and get cocky again.)

So, yes, we have ten tomato plants in the ground. (We had eleven, but one of them experienced what might have been some sort of tomato disease, but was probably the Juliet, its next door neighbor, using special attack powers to bring it down. The space where the deceased plant was is full, now; the Juliet and its friend across the row have combined to make sure I can never plant anything there.) We have six Japanese eggplants, currently flowering (gorgeous, and worth planting just for that) and setting fruit. We have two large containers full of bean plants. I put the seeds in one of the containers, following the recommended nice, orderly spacing. The earthling put the seeds in the other one, following a plan of his own devising, called "poke some seeds individually into the ground, and then decide it would be more fun to dump a whole handful in at once."

Beans, two weeks after sowing. (Really, I was just looking for a way to entertain the earthling one afternoon.) He planted the ones on the left. Note that they are higher than the ones I planted.

We also have Japanese cucumbers. I do not believe these are actually Japanese, except possibly in the sense of "we found these seeds over here near Kyoto, and we're exporting them all before we lose the island." Japan is simply not big enough to grow these things. (The planet may not be big enough.) There would be no more room for people. Also, I refuse to believe that anyone, anywhere, except possibly someone cackling in some remote mountain laboratory - the kind of person who would make a half-pony, half-monkey monster - would deliberately breed these. They are spiny terrors and clearly plotting something. I planted ours in a small side bed that had previously been given over to volunteer palms. (I fucking hate palm trees. The previous owners loved them. My major plan for the next ten years in this house involves killing all the palms.) It's a really small, narrow bed, so my intention was to put strawberries there, and in fact there are some strawberry plants over at one side, but then the earthling bought the Japanese cucumber seedlings and I had to put them somewhere. I thought they'd probably die anyway, so I just stuck them in the narrow bed in the meantime.

They did not die. The trellis in this picture is about five feet high. Note the cucumbers' proximity to the top of the wall.

In retrospect, I wish I had not put them along the fence that we share with the friendly neighbors. Pretty soon I am going to have to go over there and apologize because our cucumber plants are menacing their incredibly tidy, orderly yard. (These neighbors repaint their gutters and siding every six months and trim their bushes each day. They would never do anything as reckless or chaotic as planting vegetables.) I mean, two weeks ago I put a trellis up for them. (I bought it last year for the beans, but the beans spurned it. It is marketed as a tomato trellis, but I can only laugh hollowly at the news. The tomato plants last year crushed the one near them just for kicks.) The cucumbers are now at the top of the trellis and sending feelers up the concrete wall. If you get close - not recommended - and shift away the lower growth, you find yellow flowers. A lot of yellow flowers. And baby cucumbers. Enough that you will, if you are me, realize that you don't have a lot of use for cucumbers, and you may be in a lot of trouble very soon.

The trouble is coming. I can sense it, rumbling and green out there in the yard. In the meantime, garden questions!

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comments.
Staceyslb44 on May 31st, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC)
Are you suckering your tomato plants? It's not as bad as it sounds but it should reign in the Capulet terror and her co-hort. This,


gives a good explanation.
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:36 am (UTC)
It is now very clear to me where I went wrong this year. And last year. The problem is, I'm always like - grow, sweet little plant! Grow! And then suddenly the plant is bigger than I am and there are tendrils making grabs at passersby.

(And, oh man, I think the Juliet will now be the Capulet Terror in my head FOREVER. Thank you!)
(no subject) - slb44 on June 1st, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
squinchgirl: OMG!frog4 on May 31st, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
... ye gods. I had a plant-induced identity crisis while accompanying my sister to a nursery this weekend, and actually considered planting a small balcony garden. Perhaps I will just stick with my lone little pot of chives.

On the other hand... home grown tomatoes are so tasty! This is how they sucker you into abetting their plans for world domination, isn’t it?
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:38 am (UTC)
This is absolutely how it starts. You think, "Tomatoes! NOM!" You don't stop to think about cowering in terror.

But I totally encourage you to start a container garden. That way, the plants are restricted. Much safer. And tomatoes really are tasty.
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(no subject) - thefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shark_hat on June 1st, 2011 10:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
Proactively Untwist Octagonal Hippopotamus Pants: ratatouille - tastydramaturgca on May 31st, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
Pickles! Lots of pickles! My brother is a big believer in cucumber slices with a little lemon juice and salt. I am myself a big believer in cucumber sandwiches with dill cream cheese. Also... slices to put on your eyes to make your skin pretty? Cold cucumber soup? Cucumber and melon salad? (Clearly I like cucumbers...)
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:46 am (UTC)
I was right with you up until the cucumber and melon salad, and now I am looking at you squinty-eyed, wondering if you are maybe the antichrist. Cucumber and melon salad sounds EVIL.

*further suspicions stares*
(no subject) - dramaturgca on June 1st, 2011 09:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
Professor Liddle-Oldmanliddle_oldman on May 31st, 2011 09:37 pm (UTC)
I do have to say -- anyone who plants zucchini is really sort of asking for it.

As for the rest of it, did you ever see the Dr. Who ep with the guy who was going to turn the Earth into an animal-free forest? "One veg and no meat", quipped the companion at the end. (After the RAF had knocked the ravening vines down with missles -- just a hint.)

macey muse: demolitionmacey_muse on June 1st, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
...I just tried to upvote you for the zucchini comment (because really, this CANNOT BE EMPHASISED ENOUGH), and then had to headdesk. Too much reddit time is rotting my brain ^.^'
(no subject) - thefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
I am also growing herbs! Dill and cilantro are the big spring winners. My thyme from last year is ridiculous; it's over the side of the pot and draping like an apron over the firepit. (The old owners put in the firepit. I plant to turn it into a container bed.) I've never planted sage, though, because I am allergic to it in foods and am worried it might also be a contact thing. JUST AS WELL, apparently.

And I totally support your "keep the tomatoes contained" policy. This is Good Sense Gardening for sure.
muchadoabouthimmuchadoabouthim on May 31st, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
Israeli salad. Diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and parsley with lemon juice and olive oil. It's quite delicious.
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
corvis_corvaxcorvis_corvax on May 31st, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Ah, Yeah... The term "container plant" isn't code for "tiny, fragile, easily contained" it's code for "will grow ANYWHERE and survive your complete neglect with a vengance" Kinda like "feeder fish."
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
WHERE WERE YOU WITH THIS INFORMATION WHEN I PURCHASED THE JULIET? Please, spread it far and wide! It is too late for us - the Juliet appears to have grown several inches overnight - but others may still be saved!
dawn: Kate Hepburn - animixchel55 on May 31st, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
This is the first year I haven't planted my balcony garden. Last year's was rather sedate but the year before that my 8x4 foot balcony was a jungle. I had a 7 ft Black Krim tomato that was yearning for freedom and kept leaning so far out over the balcony railing (3rd floor) and had such huge tomatoes that I had to keep tying it up with strips of muslin until it looked like a bondage devotee. Nope. Vegetables are not mannerly critters.

One word of advice? Remember August 8th. It's official Sneak Some Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Porch Day
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
OMG YOUR BALCONY GARDEN WAS AMAZING! (How come you haven't planted this year? Tomato overdose?) That was incredible to see - I didn't know you could DO that on a balcony!

You know those gardening bags and shirts and aprons and so on that you can buy, with slogans like "I love my garden" or "Growing together"? I need one that says "Vegetables are not mannerly critters." Or even, possibly, "Vegetables are mean motherfuckers." SO I REMEMBER.
(no subject) - ixchel55 on June 1st, 2011 08:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
boogieshoesboogieshoes on May 31st, 2011 10:41 pm (UTC)
*sighs* i wish i could get my plants to grow like yours do. i know you find it frightening, but i'd love to have my food plants actually produce anything!

i might have better luck next year. this year is a no garden year, as i am in an apt with no backyard whatsoever. *sad puppy dog eyes*

tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
I hear you can do terrifying things with balconies, but I sympathize on your lack of actual garden space. It is hard to achieve the appropriate level of green terror if you don't have dirt!

And it always is exciting when food plants make actual FOOD. It's just, there's this hyper growth phase that gets - a little scary. Like, this year Best Beloved made damn sure I didn't plant tomatoes against any of the house walls, because last year we had tomatoes creeping along our windows and making knocking sounds at night. A TRIFLE ALARMING.
(no subject) - boogieshoes on June 1st, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on June 2nd, 2011 01:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
Rosfoi_nefaste on May 31st, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
Israeli salad (as someone mentioned above) sorts out part of the cucumbers and tomatoes. Panzanella (assuming you have leftover Earthling-chosen bread) is also amazing, and uses what you've got.

Also, I don't know if you (or your families) drink, but I made this cucumber juice and vodka cocktail last weekend, and OMG so good: http://dishingupdelights.blogspot.com/2011/04/cucumber-cocktails.html If nothing else, I'm willing to bet the Earthling would like cucumber juice.

Final comment: I'm on the other side of the continent (Montreal), and we've got 3 months of summer (and by "summer" I mean "I wore a skirt for the first time yesterday, and I still had a sweater on"). I have massive garden-envy. It's all I can do to keep basil and parsley growing long enough to make pesto before everything freezes in the fall!
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
Israeli salad sounds SO TASTY. As soon as we have actual cucumbers and tomatoes to pick, I am MAKING SOME.

And the idea of a cucumber juice and vodka cocktail makes me look forward to when the earthing is weaned! (Although, man, it's been FOUR YEARS since I had alcohol. I bet I am now a really cheap date.)

I've been to Montreal many times! (My father grew up across Lake Champlain, near Plattsburg, NY - I don't know if you go over the border much, but it's not that far!) And I vividly remember how impressed I was, the year I was 11, when my father took me up to Montreal in JULY and his mother made him bring a coat for me. It was 60 degrees when we got there! In, I repeat, JULY. For a desert girl, that was astonishing and weird and SO WONDERFUL.

I love Montreal. So pretty! So weirdly nice! But I don't think I'd plant much of a garden there, either.
emma_in_oz: methosemma_in_oz on June 1st, 2011 12:06 am (UTC)
nuke it from orbit - it's the only way to be sure.
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
The problem there is that the government gets so TOUCHY about it. You would think zucchinis and tomatoes would be a perfectly acceptable explanation, but no! Apparently not!
macey muse: Sai ^_^ - hikagomacey_muse on June 1st, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
Ha. Japanese plants are /ferocious/, yo. Haven't you heard of Japanese Knot Weed?

Also, if you like pretty flowers on your veg, artichokes are totally the way to go. (Globe, that is, not Jerusalem.) They're like four-foot tall thistles without thorns, and they grow purple flowers the size of side plates. So. Cool.
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
Noooo. No, I have not heard of Japanese knot weed. Is it a bad thing? It sounds bad. *frets*

Best Beloved has a coworker who grows artichokes! We are thinking about putting some in the front yard, because a) pretty and b) less likely to get stolen than fruit. (Fruit theft is HORRIBLE around here - BB has another coworker who has a lemon tree in her front yard, and she never gets a lemon. People show up with trees and SAWS and cut off whole branches of fruit. FOR LEMONS.)
(no subject) - macey_muse on June 1st, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on June 2nd, 2011 01:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
Nicolesojourner_cries on June 1st, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
BUM BUM BUM. The Earthling has quite the talent for picking out plants that want to take over the world!
Best of luck with your garden... and with all the produce that you're going to get out of it! :)
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
He does! It's a gift, apparently. Perhaps it will be useful to him, should he decide to pursue a career as a mad scientist.

And thank you! I will need the luck.
ashpam261 on June 1st, 2011 01:59 am (UTC)
The Earthling will be so pleased with all the fresh vegetables at hand!

As well, my family garden has never looked like that ever. At best, our tomato plants hand us 3 dozen cherry tomatoes? What are your secrets TFV!
tried to eat the safe banana: Ivythefourthvine on June 1st, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
My secrets, to the best of my knowledge:

1. Live in Southern California.
2. Plant your tomatoes where a fishpond used to be.
3. Let a small child pick out your plants.

It works!