State of the Garden, April 2021

This is the second year of my life that I'm growing a garden.

I started last year. When it became apparent in late spring of 2020 that the pandemic would be going on For A While and we weren't going anywhere soon, I figured since I was stuck at home anyway I might as well learn how to grow food.

I made a lot of mistakes last year. A LOT of mistakes. But I learned a bunch and I'm ready to do better this year.

The story of this garden is largely the story of my struggle against the neighborhood rodents.

Last year, I barely got to eat anything that I planted, because most of it the rodents either ate, or they just dug up the dirt around it, damaging the roots and killing the plants. It was very frustrating.

(I say "rodents" -- I suspect it's squirrels, but I've never caught one in the act so I don't know for sure. It might be a raccoon or even a possum, I've seen all them in the neighborhood.)

This year I'm not taking any chances: you'll see almost every bit of dirt that I planted something in, I covered with some kind of grating to stop the rodents form digging it.

Some flowerpots. One side of the house is only sunny in the morning and the other side is only sunny in the afternoon so I move these pots around every day to maximize the light they get.

Top: Oregano. Started this last year and it survived the winter. Middle: two day lilies that I planted from bulbs. The kid saw the bulbs in the store and really wanted the flowers. Bottom left: Some garlic cloves from the kitchen; they started growing by themselves so I decided to plant them to see what happens. You're supposed to plant garlic in the fall, not the spring, I think, but if they die, eh, no real loss. Bottom right: Baby apple tree. I planted a few seeds from a Gala apple last year. Had three baby trees growing, but the rodents killed the other two. This one survived the winter so it's now one year old.

Above: up on the roof of the shed, which is sunny most of the time, we have a California poppy and some cilantro seedlings coming up.

This raised bed is called the "Veg Trug". It was a gift from my mom, who was so excited to hear I was getting into gardening, that she mail-ordered me the Veg Trug kit.

Last year, a lot of what I planted in the Veg Trug got eaten up by rodents. So last monght, I built a squirrel-proof fortress out of PVC pipe and plastic grating, to completely enclose the Veg Trug. I can open up the front panel by removing those four clothespins and rolling up the grating, when I need to work inside it.

Inside the Veg Trug: some green beans and radishes are coming up. Not shown, but there's also Anasazi bean, cauliflower, and eggplant.

Front: potatoes. I had good success growing potato plants last year, so I'm doing it again. It's super easy, you can take one potato from your kitchen that's starting to sprout, cut it into 4 parts (so that each part has an eye), let them dry out overnight, then bury them. All four parts that I planted this year are growing very fast.

Back left: some seedlings I'm starting in coconut fiber cups -- you can just plant the whole cup when the seedling gets big, it will disintegrate in the dirt. So much easier than transplanting!

Back right: a basil plant from the grocery store -- sometimes they sell "live basil" with roots on, and you can just buy that and plant it, to have basil all summer long. Much cheaper than the basil plants from the garden store! Basil doesn't like cold nights so I bring it indoors every night until summer starts.

Left: Baby orange tree, replacement for the one that died last year. Right: potato. Middle: a single stalk of wheat??? That grew without me planting anything??? Why?

Well, last year somebody gave the kid a tiny terrarium with wheat grass seeds to plant inside it. The wheat grass outgrew the terrarium, so we replanted it in the ground... last year's wheat must have dropped a seed which grew unbidden into this stalk here now.

Last summer I planted kale and cauliflower in this shady area, since they're shade-tolerating cruciferous vegetables. But I didn't get to taste a single cauliflower out of all the ones I planted last year -- the rodents would eat them right down to the ground before they even flowered. They seemed to prefer cauliflower to any other plant. After trying a bunch of stuff that didn't work, like spreading cayenne pepper on the plants (the rodents didn't care) I finally, in great frustration, built this squirrel-proof cage out of PVC pipe and hardware cloth. It was too late in the season to save many plants last year. But! Now the work is done, I get to reap the benefits this year.

There's a door that opens on ziptie hinges so I can crawl inside to work on the dirt in there. Just gotta watch out for the sharp edges of the metal screens!

I, uh, accidentally spilled a pack of kale seeds here. Thought I picked up most of them but it looks like I missed a bunch. These seedlings are choking each other out, I need to transplant them and thin them out.

Bok Choy is one of the new vegetables I'm trying this year. It seems to be doing OK in this mostly-shady area.

Last year I tried re-growing bok choy from kitchen scraps. The cut-off stems would always start regrowing roots and leaves and I'd get real excited, but every one I planted in the garden either rotted away or got eaten. Let's hope these ones I planted from seed do better.

Elsewhere in the squirrel-proof cage, I'm growing napa, daikon, and spinach. Those green onions were regrown from kitchen scraps -- after cutting one to cook with I'd save the roots in a cup of water on the windowsill, and plant them after they started regrowing. This works with green onion a lot better than it did with bok choy.

Hopi Dye Sunflower. I planted some of these in pots last year, but they got too big for the pots, and when I tried to transplant one from the pot to the ground, its roots were damaged and it died.

(I was really upset. I cried.)

Anyway, the lesson I learned was "don't transplant sunflowers, put them directly where they have enough room to grow to full size" so I'm trying that this year.

Tomato seedlings. I had a tomato plant up here on the sunny balcony last year. The rodents got all the tomatoes, until I built an enclosure for the balcony (yes that means I've built three separate squirrel-proof enclosures) but after that the plant only grew two more tomatoes -- I ate one and the other one went rotten.

Late last fall I took that rotten tomato, split it into three parts, buried them in the pot, and forgot about it. I had given up on it regrowing when this spring I saw three little circles of sprouts coming up from where I buried the three chunks of rotten tomato. I thinned them out and moved a bunch to these separate makeshift pots, which are now balanced on the railing where they can get lots of light. I'll need to figure out where to put them when they start getting big -- I might give most of them away to neighbors, I have over twenty and I only have space for one or two.

More of the tomato seedlings, and also a bell pepper seedling that, yes you guessed it, I planted from a seed I saved from last year's bell pepper.

Last modified May 2, 2021, 7:13 a.m..

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