Welcome to this installment of tales from Patch's vegetable patch! We are growing veggies in the community garden at L-W East, with hopes of donating fresh produce to the Frankfort Township Food Pantry. This is update number four, for those of you keeping track. You can read one, two, and three now or later. (Or never, that's cool too).
Big news before I forget--
I saw a deer Wednesday night at 9:05 when I was fixing to leave the patch, so my hypothesis that they'd tired of the construction on 30 and all moved away is disproven. There's at least one, and she's a big girl.
- My first strawberry was ready to pick Thursday evening (I was there during the rain). I ate it on the spot. It was yummy. And while we're talking about strawberries, on Tuesday I saw some ants near the plants but not on Wednesday or Thursday. Is this cause for concern? Do they particularly like strawberries?
- I was recognized for the first time in the patch by a Patch reader on Wednesday! I was wishing I had some swag on hand. I will from now on have a gift or two for Patch readers in my car, so if you see me, say hello! You can't miss me: I park my silver Honda right next to plot 130.
And on to the issues at hand: deadheading, transplanting, etc.
A while back, I saw that many dried-up blossoms on the marigolds, so I Googled how to appropriately deadhead marigolds. (Turns out, it's not tricky).
Also, shortly after I got all the tomatoes and peppers in the ground, one of my gardening neighbors (I need a catchy nickname for us community gardeners; I'll gladly hear your ideas) suggested I trim off all the shoots and leaves from the tomato plants below the ones that have started producing. I was hesitant, plus I had nothing with which to do such trimming.
I knew already that there are rules for deadheading, at least regarding campanulas, and I had no clue how to maintain a tomato plant, so I decided I needed to have another talk with Jane the Plant Maven at Alsip. Jane explained that it's a good idea to remove any part of a plant that's dead or withered because the plant's energy is better used on the rest of the plant. Also, taking drying or dead blossoms off flowers is beautifying because the plant kicks into survival mode (producing more buds) when it realizes that a whole bunch of seeds are gone. When Jane demonstrated on a dahlia, she instructed me to remove the whole stem, not just the flower.
I'd also been told by accomplished gardners not to water the tomatoes as much as the peppers, but Jane said while they're still establishing themselves, it's a good idea to water the tomatoes pretty deeply. So I have been. (Plus, it's been really hot, so I figure they're thirsty).
With a firm grasp on watering and deadheading, I decided it was past time to figure out a more efficient means of weeding than my current method of completely by hand, aka "stupid and painful." The day after I finished clearing the plot, another gardner had shown me a special hoe with an open blade that would have been perfect for clearing. I described it to a fellow at Alsip, but there was nothing like it there. I went to Home Depot and there it was! It's called an "action hoe," so I immediately knew the right name for my new gardening tool: Faith. (Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will get the joke). It's an effective weed assassin, let me tell you.
I still haven't heard from Gretchen (is it time to give up the fantasy of having help?) so the space I'd saved for her is sitting there unused. On Tuesday, I decided I'd transplant the seedlings I'd started at home, a bunch of okra and cucumber plants. Since okra is southern, I figured it would do well in all this heat and sun.
A friend told me about square foot gardening, where you plant in squares rather than rows. It's a better use of space than rows, which are just a holdover from farming where equipment dictates that crops be in tidy lines. There's no reason a personal garden needs to be in rows, really. So I implemented this philosophy in the way I put the okra and cukes in. I'm actually surprised at myself for having put the tomatoes and peppers in rows. (I'm generally a two different colored Chuck Taylors, beer out of the bottle kind of gal.)
I thought the hardest work was behind me when I'd finished clearing the plot, but getting these plants in the ground was a lot of work. I filled the wheelbarrow full of compost, dredged up the areas I planned to use, combined the compost and some potting soil with the dredged up soil, added some water, and put the seedlings in, adding more soil directly around them.
I picked up some nasturtium seeds at Alsip because in my flower bed at home the bunnies haven't touched my nasturtiums. Also, I have recently discovered that they're tasty in salads. Nasturtiums do well in poor soil (with fertilizer they grow more leaves but fewer flowers), so I just threw them in regular dirt after sanding them a bit to help with germination. When I was done, I watered my whole garden. Sadly, on Wednesday, many of the okra and cucumber plants looked very unhappy. On Thursday, the same ones looked bad, but I just left them alone. I really hope I don't lose all of them. I don't know what I did wrong; I mean, I did exactly what the Internet told me to do.
Tonight I hummed some Lynyrd Skynyrd to my garden to help the okra feel more at home. (Well, do you have a better suggestion?)
I wanted to find some potting soil with no fertilizer to plant nasturtium seeds in pots at home, but if such a thing exists, I couldn't find it. (I picked out some of the plant food in the soil I already had and am hoping for the best.) Will let you know how they do.
How can I save the okra and the cukes? Should I kill the ants? If so, how? And what is a good nickname for community gardners? "Garcoms"? "Greenies"? "Deadheads"? (Oh, wait, that last one is taken).