tried to eat the safe banana (thefourthvine) wrote,
tried to eat the safe banana
thefourthvine

[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!



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