For the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to motivate myself to write my first blog post for 2020. We’re only five months into the year and already so much has happened. We learned of Kobe Bryant’s death in January. That already seems like ages ago. Do you even remember that we had a presidential impeachment trial or that wildfires burned down large swaths of Australia this year? The only words I can use to describe 2020 are dumpster fire.
It’s been an exhausting few months. COVID-19 added a nice topping of cream cheese frosting to the layers of chaos and uncertainty, forcing us to quarantine at home for weeks. During the pandemic, gardening became fashionable when people had nowhere to go and nothing to do. But as you all know, I was into gardening before it became the latest trend.
My garden has been in struggle mode for the last summer or two. Last fall, I decided this summer was going to be different. I was going to have the garden I deserved with luscious tomatoes and overflowing vegetables. I even took a gardening class and learned about all the things I had been doing wrong. I’ll share what I did to improve this year’s garden in upcoming posts.
Another view of the garden and the disintegrating garden box
Another reason I’ve been struggling is the racial inequality that has been brought to the forefront by COVID-19 and even more police killings of black and brown folks. I usually don’t talk about my personal experiences with racism. Like being told in first grade another child wouldn’t play with me because I was brown or walking around in a nearby neighborhood in junior high and being told to go back to Africa or the fear that runs through me when a cop pulls be me over because I don’t want to be the next Sandra Bland or being told I’m articulate (here’s a hint, that is not a compliment.) These are things I am forced to deal with because of the color of my skin.
But I think it can only help if we have honest and open conversations about the history of this country and what’s happening now. If you’re wondering why the protests and violence are happening, read this great piece from The Root. I’m also going to drop this here- 75 things white people can do for racial justice. Change won’t happen unless white people step up too.
During uncertain times due to the pandemic, protests and civil unrest, gardening brings me joy. Tending to vegetables connects me with nature and allows me to focus on something other than what’s going on in the world. I treasure my time in the garden. We all could use a little bit of diversion and self-care right now.
My last post was nearly two years ago in August 2017. Like unasked for summer sequels, Veggie Garden Virgin is back. I’d like to pretend I’m writing again for my large number of fans, but in reality my reader base is smaller than the number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
I meant to close out the blog in fall 2017 but things didn’t work out that way. Picture it- Dominican Republic, October 2017. First day off the ship of an eight day cruise and Steve and I are jumping off waterfalls, ignoring all advice from TLC. Long story short- Steve landed in the water wrong, hurt his back, rode a donkey down the hills we had hiked up because he couldn’t walk and drank copious amounts of rum to deal with the pain. We didn’t realize his back was broken until we got back to the States a week later.
That set off three months of recovery and pretty much putting everything on hold. But don’t worry, Steve is doing fine now but he’s been cured of attempting adventurous activities.
Back to the present day- I started my garden pretty late this year, at the end of May. I don’t have a good reason for starting so late besides procrastination. Before planting, I did get a soil test from NC Cooperative Extension. It showed the fertilizer level was way too high. This is a result of adding multiple applications of fertilizer the previous two summers to encourage growth .
Soil quality is important to having a successful garden. With sample results in hand, I went to the garden store to ask the experts how I should proceed. They instructed me to add blood meal to the soil to counteract the fertilizer. I worked blood meal into the garden before planting broccoli, pepper, tomato, cucumber and strawberries. I know strawberries aren’t in season, but they sold us a 2 for 1 in case the plants didn’t produce. I love a good deal, so why not?
I decided to finally get around to restarting the blog. We’ll see how things go this summer. I’m hoping to avoid the problems of the past.
I’ve had the same problem for all three years of my garden. I do a good job of trimming plants and keeping them under control when they’re first growing. But about halfway through the growing seasons I think, I got this. The plants are fine. As long as they’re growing that’s good.
Junglesque tomato plants
Wrong. As in past years, I let my garden get out of control. In Steve’s words, my tomato plants “looked like a forest.” My plan was to train the squash to grow on a trellis but I didn’t quite get around to doing that. So right now, the squash has taken over the middle of the garden.
If you don’t prune back your plants, they’ll focus on growing foliage instead of vegetables. All those pretty, deep green leaves aren’t actually adding to the plant’s ability to produce delicious crops. I spent some time last weekend trimming back the tomatoes and squash. We’ll see if that increases the yield.
On another note, this will be the final year for Veggie Garden Virgin. I started the blog two years ago to share lessons learned. I also hoped it would take off. Even though it never did, I had fun writing it. Looking back I’ve written less and less each year to only about once a month this season.
I hope the blog has been helpful and somewhat entertaining. I’ll do one final post next month. Thanks for reading!
I have more gardening problems, although not 99 like Jay-Z. Yes, I know I’m still stuck in the 90s but these references are the first ones that pop into my head. I suppose I should make it a top goal this summer to familiarize myself with more recent music so I have fresher pop culture references.
Holes in cucumber plant leaves
Shriveled tomato plant leaves
Back on topic, the garden is in semi-struggle mode. I realize I’m a about month behind because I had to replant in late June. On the bright side, the squash, basil and rosemary plants look strong.
Unfortunately I had to email NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners again last week about the remaining plants. There were holes in the cucumber plant leaves and shriveling leaves on the tomato plants. I thought the shriveled leaves may be the result of the heat and the holes from some type of pest. The Master Gardeners responded quickly as usual and delivered the bad news.
“This damage doesn’t look typical to that of insects eating leaves. In the first picture the leaves look torn with little tissue missing and that looks like mechanical injury to me. I see you have chicken wire around the garden so it’s hard to imagine something walked through there but that’s the kind of thing that would cause mechanical injury. The other pictures look like some sort of disease (fungal, bacterial or viral). Note the wilting of the leaf edges – they are not bitten. It’s hard to tell from these pictures just which disease it is…”
To combat the fungus, I first tried using a milk and water mixture. When that didn’t stop the progress of the fungal invasion, I had to take it up a step. I purchased an organic fungicide, Serenade by Bayer which can be used up to the day of harvest. It’s been less than a week so we’ll see if this is the solution to the garden’s pest and fungicide issues.
I just want to give a shout out for the quick diagnosis by NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. They are a great resource. If you’re in North Carolina, you should definitely take advantage. Despite my ongoing gardening problems, NC Cooperative Extension definitely isn’t one of them!
The bounty from my garden this year- hopefully more to come :/
I always thought of June 21 as simply the first day of summer. But apparently a new holiday has popped up that may surpass the summer solstice in importance. My coworkers informed me that June 21 is also National Selfie Day.
I am an anti-selfie taker. I can never find the correct flattering angle and end up with crazy Charles Manson eyes whenever I attempt one. But at my coworkers’ urging, I decided to take a gardening selfie in honor of the special day. As you can see, results were mixed.
Selfie attempt #2, again with the crazy eyes
On to more relevant gardening news. After my old seeds debacle, the garden looks great! We’ve had a lot of rain lately so everything is growing well. Even the squash seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago have sprouted. Using fresh seeds makes all the difference.
I had to do some additional garden maintenance such as spraying an organic pesticide to protect the plants and staking the tomato plants for extra support.
One thing about gardening that always makes me sad is weeding out seedlings. Instructions for the squash seeds said to plant three seeds per hill and narrow down to one seedling per hill at about 2” in height. I wish I could keep them all but I remember how large the plants got last summer.
I feel like I’m on the way to success, just not with selfie taking.
It’s about a month into the garden and I have to say it’s not turning out like I hoped. I’d even say it’s a disaster. Not a Fyre Festival level disaster; there are no stranded tourists or class action lawsuits involved here. But where I should have the beginnings of my vegetable garden, I have nothing.
It started with the decision to use seeds I had leftover from last year. I thought I was being smart and economical. Apparently I was being neither. I planted squash, cucumber, carrots, lettuce and pepper seeds during the first week of May and waited for the seedlings to make their way to the surface.
During week three I recognized several of the green things as weeds and picked them. I wasn’t sure about the others still left so I contacted one of the Master Gardeners in my local Cooperative Extension office. After a couple of email communications where I explained what was going on, this was their response:
“Sorry Marissa. I don’t think you are going to see anything from those seeds this year. Seeds are best purchased fresh each season or collect your own and plant them the following season.”
Perhaps I was getting a little cocky in year three of the garden and thought I knew it all. But I admit I feel like a complete failure and committed a total rookie mistake.
Newly purchased seedlings
I had two options to fix this. I could start from scratch and plant fresh seeds. That meant I wouldn’t have any produce until late August or September. Option two involved purchasing vegetable plants and transplanting them. I went with option two so I could still enjoy fresh vegetables during the summer months.
Purchasing the plants felt like cheating but at least I know I’ll have squash, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and herbs to look forward to.
Two lessons I learned from my mistakes and hope you do too:
Don’t use old seeds!
If you don’t recognize what’s growing in your garden as a plant, it’s probably a weed.
It’s amazing how fast time flies. More than six months have passed since I closed down the garden last fall. So much has happened in that time; even a couple things I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime.
First, my beloved Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! It took 108 years but it was well worth the wait. Even as I write this, the Cubs are barely above .500 and third to last in their division. But I’m not panicking since I’m still basking in the glow of the win and am currently wearing my World Series Champion t-shirt. Thanks for the Christmas gift Mom!
The other thing I didn’t think possible was America electing a reality show star to the presidency. Honestly, I’m still dumbfounded. This is a man who thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive, wonders why the two sides couldn’t come to agreement in the Civil War and didn’t know being president would be so hard.
But this is not a political blog; we’re here to talk about gardening! Specifically vegetable gardening. To recap last year: briefly abundant squash, very abundant cucumber, out of control tomatoes and issues with various fungi and pests.
Since this is the third year of Veggie Garden Virgin, I’m hoping to avoid the pitfalls of last couple of years and have a very successful yield this summer. You’ll have to follow the blog this summer to see if I can achieve this!
It’s that time of year again. Days are getting shorter and the temperature is cooling off which means vegetable production has slowed considerably. I really miss the July garden when I was picking cucumbers, tomatoes and squash almost daily.
On another sad note, my cucumbers and squash plants were slowly dying, so I pulled them up. In a fit of frustration, I also got rid of the three pepper plants. Maybe not the best idea, but I could feel them mocking me in how they continued to grow but refused to produce peppers. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have taken their failure to yield so personally.
After so much hard work this spring and summer, it’s hard to say goodbye as the garden winds down. So take a moment with me to reflect on this year’s growing season in a slideshow set to the Boys II Men classic, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.
Thanks for following my garden adventures this year!
I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I posted to the blog. In the past I’ve had long absences due to the World Cup or vacations. This time it was the Olympics. I make no apologies; I am an Olympicophile. I watched much as I possibly could even if it meant staying up late and dealing with an Olympic hangover the next morning.
The Olympics ended a week ago and I’m still going through withdrawal. On the bright side, the USA track and field team did awesome. Lots of middle distance and distance medals. Throw in some drama with dropped baton passes, disqualifications and even a brave finish after falling and tearing an ACL.
Squash growing with baby squash blooming
During the time all of this was going on, something strange started happening in my garden. Disappearing squash. I would see squash blooms and then fruit similar to the photo to the right, but a couple of days later there would be nothing. I went on the case to investigate the cause of the disappearing squash.
There seem to be two basic causes. The first is that something is eating the immature plants and the second is that there hasn’t been enough pollination of the plants for them to survive. I think there is a mix of both happening here. Since decline of the bee population, there haven’t been enough to properly pollinate plants. I also think I have garden pests who are feeding on the plants.
To solve this, I need to be more vigilant about treating my plants with organic pesticides to keep pests out and do the job of cross pollinating plants if bees aren’t around.
Unfortunately it looks like the squash growing days are numbered. Below are photos of my plants in July and just yesterday. Production is definitely winding down. I’ve been told by a master gardener this is normal. While disappointing, I’ll just have to enjoy the last few squash of late summer.
In keeping with the ’90s* rap theme from last week’s post which was inspired by Notorious B.I.G., this week’s post is inspired by LL Cool J. I was sure my garden was in decline, but I was very wrong!
I’ve had some recent issues with my squash and cucumbers. The leaves on both plants were changing colors and dying. It also seemed like they were producing less. Based on a master gardener recommendation, last week I used fish fertilizer around the base of the plants. Looks like the extra TLC made a difference; the plants are now thriving.
I’ll have to remember rather than panicking and jumping to worst case scenarios, to instead take a step back and be optimistic. This problem is why I concluded that Steve had early-onset Alzheimer’s when I saw he was watching the same movies over and over. I thought he’d forgotten that he had already seen the films. After calming down, I realized that he just likes watching his favorite movies multiple times. This is something I’ll definitely continue working on in the future.
Anyway, photos of my growing squash and cucumbers below.
*Notice how the decade for the 1990s is properly notated at the beginning of the blog post? 90’s here would not be correct since the usage is not possessive. Just a slightly unrelated rant because I recently saw “Stop in and try our hamburger’s” on a restaurant sign. When did plural become possessive?!?!?