Tag Archives: gardening

Making Something Simple Seem Complicated

TomatoesOrganic Gardening magazine is one of the subscriptions I look forward to getting in my mailbox.  The latest issue has a whole article on tomatoes with a few different contributors.  I like growing tomatoes as much as the next person, and I’ve had my share of successes and failures.  But I still keep at it hoping for the best.   With the current trend of gardening and local food is still on an upswing, I feel as though encouraging everyone that has even the littlest of space to try to garden is called for (even if all you have is a sunny balcony, you can plant tomatoes in a container and grow a variety of herbs).  My biggest beef came with this quote from chef Alex Lee.  It was even highlighted on the page:

“Successfully growing tomatoes begins with a ‘classic compost pile’ made with the right mix…”

Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but it sounds awfully like “this is the RIGHT way to do it”, which can be a discouraging sentiment to hear.  Not everybody has room or access or materials for a compost pile.  In reading Gayla Trail’s book Grow Great Grub, she has a fantastic photo of somebody growing tomatoes in an alley.  That is the way to do it!  Work with what you have.  If you haven’t grown tomatoes before, buy a plant or two, find a sunny spot and plunk them in the ground.  Or if you don’t have access to actual earth, get a container, fill it with dirt, and plant it there.  Water regularly and check for predators (bunnies, bugs or neighbors) and usually by mid to late summer, you will have tomatoes.

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated or scientific.  There are people that like to make it that way, but it isn’t necessary.  There also isn’t a wrong way to garden.  There is your way.

So buy a plant (or two or three), find a patch of earth and put it in.  Tend to it and it will be sure to reward you.

Why I Garden

With gardening still in an upswing of popularity due to the growth of the organic and local food movement, I started to think about what motivates me to garden and what I get out of it, other than dirty clothes and sore muscles.

At it’s most basic, gardening to me is like performing magic.  Like Jack and his magic beans, I plant a tiny little seed (or multitudes of them) and at the height of the season I have a plant that is thousands of times bigger than that little seed that started it all.   It takes me back to my childhood, completing something and taking it to my mother and saying “Look what I did!”.  Every time a sprout peeks its head above the soil, I get a little giddy.  The success of getting an actual plant from a tiny seed never gets old.  Even now, as an adult, I often drag my kids or my husband out into the garden to point at a little seedling and with a huge smile on my face say, “Look what I did!”

Another big part of my garden is the solitude that it offers me.  I am a loner by nature, and gravitate toward individual type pursuits (reading, knitting, most crafty stuff).  There’s something very soothing and spiritual about spending a cool, quiet morning checking on my plants and pulling weeds in complete silence.  There is a time during the day after all the kids have gone to school and those that work outside of the house have set off to their jobs when everything seems to be in sync.  The mild morning sun slowly warms up the air, the dew is still clinging to the grass, there’s something very clean and fresh about the quality of the air.  Then I start to hear everything around me.  Cardinals dart in and out of my yard, calling to each other around the block.  Occasionally the hawks will voice their displeasure about me being in the yard and invading their turf.  The squirrels and chipmunks come out to explore and forage, often chasing each other up, down, and between trees.  Bees and wasps often come to visit, sometimes landing on me to see if I’m a flower, resulting in a gently wave of my hand to encourage them to move on (more the bees than wasps, I kind of wander away from the wasps until they leave).  Everything looks so…green in the morning.  And there is a feeling of oneness I get with nature at that time.  My breathing slows and my ears perk up and I soak in everything using all my senses.  Even the feel and smell of the soil & compost.

There is a big anthill at the edge of my garden (carpenter ants), and it’s amusing to watch them carrying a piece of mulch back to their nest.  They work so hard, sometimes struggling under the weight of the wood they picked, but they don’t ever give up.  I only hope they keep going after the mulch and not the bottom edge of my planting bed, but honestly, I’m not that fussed.  I invaded their turf, not the other way around, and I try not to forget this fact when a rabbit has decided to nibble on my plants or birds try to filch my berries.

Gardening to me is not really about mastering nature or subduing it.  It is about becoming a part of it.  Celebrating the cycle of life that often plays out in my garden.  There are births (germination), deaths (some premature) and naughty children (invasive plants), but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why do you garden?

Raspberries (Round 2)

Raspberry2
Of the many things we were fortunate to inherit with the purchase of our house three years ago, one of my favorites is the raspberry patch in the back yard.  When we moved in that first spring, our neighbors informed us that there were rasberries at the back of our property.  The back was so overgrown that I had a difficult time distinguishing the raspberry plants from the weeds.  The berries had yet to even flower, so I looked for the tell-tale “thorny” stems and cleared out the patch.  The first year we didn’t get too many, considering they hadn’t been taken care of for quite some time, and I also wanted a season of observation so I could figure out what we had and where.  Between researching raspberries, and my observations throughout the summer, I determined that we had an everbearing variety.  What luck!

The beauty of everbearing raspberries is that there are two distinct “seasons” in which you can harvest.  The first harvest develops on the canes that are entering their second year.  I do my pruning in the spring, when it is easiest to tell what are old canes and what are second year canes.  Old canes have more of a grey, dried wood look to them and should be pruned down to the ground, they will not bear fruit.  Second year canes, which will give you berries sometime in early to mid-July, will have a reddish-brown color to them, and they have stuck around from the previous year.

Second Year CaneNote the reddish-brown color of the cane.  This is indicative of a second year cane.

Second Year Cane (dying off)Notice how the end is turning gray?  By next spring the entire cane will be gray and ready to be pruned down.  It is done producing fruit.

First year canes will be the new canes that start growing in the spring.  I find that after a few good harvests in July, there is about a month or so of downtime until the first year canes start producing fruit.  Today was the first day I was able to pick a few ripe raspberries.  Depending on the weather and sun conditions, I should have a decent harvest in about a week or so.  There is a good amount of fruit on the canes and I imagine that I’ll have 2-3 big harvests before they start fading into the fall.

First Year CaneA first year cane with ripening fruit.  Notice the green color on the cane.  Leaf damage by Japanese beetles is evident.

In my opinion, the best choice for raspberries are the everbearing, especially if you have a houseful of berry lovers.  I suppose the main reason for planting and keeping single-bearing plants would be to try different varieties.  If you haven’t grown raspberries, and you have a nice sized, sunny patch that could use some plants, I would suggest you try some type of berry.  Since I don’t grow them, I can’t comment on blueberries or blackberries, but if they are anything like raspberries, they are easy to grow and tend to, and every year it seems the patch grows a bit and gives us more berries to enjoy.

As a final note, many people strongly suggest trellising your berries in some way.  Mine never were (they are not planted in any kind of orderly fashion) and I have had no major issues with them.  Some of the plants toward the middle of the patch can be a bit challenging to reach, but they are definitely worth the effort.  I have had no problem with disease, however my biggest issue is with Japanese beetles.  If left unchecked, they can decimate a patch in an amazingly short time (which I discovered that first summer).  Last year I went out every morning and evening with a bowl of soapy water and removed as many as I could by hand.  This year I don’t have as many (possibly due to my work last year), but I anticipate more next year considering my laissez-faire attitude about removing them this year.