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April 27, 2009

Let the farmer's tan begin!

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This weekend was the perfect gardening weather -- sunny but mild temperatures, not too hot or too cool -- a combination which lures you into believing many things can grow and flourish in your garden, so you buy more than you intended because you are riding high on hope and a dream. A dream of tomatoes and herbs and shiny eggplants all growing peacefully with each other. A dream of a 600-pound pumpkin stretching its vines around tall green cornstalks.

Well, it's early still. Might as well enjoy the hope while we can.

There's nothing better than working in the yard until you're drenched with sweat from exertion and dirty and smelly and surrounded by seedlings. I should work in a garden center, just being around seedlings makes me giddy. And my yard is becoming a testament to my love of science experiments, because what greater science experiment is there?

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This is my kitchen garden. On the far left and far right are my dad's heirloom chili peppers, recently pruned and now thick with new leaves. Tucked in a back corner on the far left is marjoram, and in the middle along the back edge I've planted cilantro, dill and basil. In the front I have thyme (both English and lemon varieties) along with oregano. By far my favorite plants to grow are herbs -- I love them. They're pretty and useful and they smell amazing. I've grown herbs and succulents for most of my life, so over time I've mostly figured out what works and what doesn't and still it's always a surprise to see what takes off and what fades away each year in the garden. In this house I've had the best success with marjoram and basil, but I still like growing a wide variety to see what will flourish where. I like having all the herbs crammed in together like that in a small space, one year I grew them in a Rubbermaid tub out on the patio and I had six or seven different herbs planted and they all just took off. It keeps me motivated to clip them regularly which makes me more motivated to try cooking unusual recipes to use my herbs.

But vegetable gardening is still sort of new to me. I spent most of my childhood weeding between rows of my Dad's garden and plucking fat tomato worms off the vines, but I never did any of the garden-making stuff myself like siting the garden and deciding which plants to grow and all that. Prior to moving into this house, most of my personal veggie-growing experience was limited to a tomato plant in a plastic pot on the patio. Since starting my gardening science experiment I have discovered I can grow zucchini like nobody's business and I've had good success with pumpkins but failure with pretty much everything else. Mostly this is my fault, not watering everything enough and being lazy in general. This year I've decided to commit 100% to my garden and see if I can actually grow enough good stuff to justify the amount of money I'm spending on gardening supplies.

The first step was to figure out what I like to eat most (besides potatoes, which I'm not ready for yet.) That's how I decided on corn, tomatoes, bell peppers and especially cucumbers. Add to that some squash and some pumpkins and the random eggplant and that's what I invested in this year.

I'm most excited about trying to grow corn! This is the first patch, small but enough space for three staggered rows of corn and one pumpkin seedling.

Before:
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After:
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You may be saying, have you gone CRAZY? You can't grow corn there! You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you're looking for. My dad's garden was always long and lush with several rows of corn planted in neat aisles. Mine is not. I know corn is wind-pollinated, but I don't see why you have to maintain perfect row formation. This is kind of a staggered splay of corn, but I measured so each is about 12 inches apart, except for two seedlings I couldn't separate. And with the wind we get here, pollination should not be a problem. Notice too that I didn't pull up the ice plant growing randomly on the soil. I just dumped mulch on top. I can't bear to pull up something so pretty, so maybe it will grow in and around the corn stalks and mingle with the pumpkin.

As you can probably guess, this was not the original game plan for my Great Corn Field. I planned to put the corn field out back, alongside my raised garden bed. However, after I bought the corn plants, I started digging up the proposed corn field and discovered there are bricks buried all under the sod. Bricks. In the soil. Were the old residents trying to grow a barbecue pit or something? Weird. But it became rapidly apparent there was no way I could dig up all the bricks in the short window of time known as my weekend. So that's why I had to plant the corn elsewhere. I figure it's serendipity -- the best science experiments have different test groups, right? Next weekend I'll work on digging up the bricks and planting more corn in the back and we'll have a grow-off! Corn vs. Corn! Worst case scenario, nothing grows. Best case scenario I have enough corn for the apocalypse.

The raised bed out back is happy to be filled with plants again.

Before:
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After:
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In the cages in each corner are cucumbers, with a tomato in the middle. Normally I would never try a tomato out back, it gets full sun all day and it's so hot out here that the only tomato success I've ever had is in patio containers under the covered porch. But at the garden center I noticed this variety of tomato called Heatwave -- allegedly the perfect tomato for hot climates. Well, that is just a dare. I accept your duel.

The best and wackiest thing I did this year was to break my budget limit and splurge on these:

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They make me laugh! It seems wrong, growing things upside down, but I'm fascinated to see if it works! I planted a Roma tomato in one, a cherry tomato in another and the last one has a lone cucumber seedling. I am determined to grow a cucumber this year, even if it costs me a billion dollars.

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This is Clarence. He lives in my yard and has trained me to feed him peanuts. I think Darwin would be amazed at the evolution of suburban wildlife... they have learned to make human city-dwellers do their bidding and buy them peanuts. I was out planting the corn and I noticed a little movement to my left and there he was, just a few inches away, staring at me. Then he made his little squirrel noise, which I guess is squirrelese for "Get me a peanut!" and so I did, and off we went. All afternoon Clarence would fetch a peanut and then run around the yard looking for the perfect place to hide it. There are peanuts all over my damn yard.

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The blue jays like peanuts too:

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This one comes over and grabs them out of the bowl. He watches Clarence sometimes to see where the squirrel is hiding a peanut, then the blue jay swoops in after him and digs it up. He's very smart. Sometimes he perches on one of the patio chairs and yells at me until I bring him peanuts or sunflower seeds. The cats love to watch all of this from the big windows that face the garden:

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I am happiest out in the yard. No radio, no internet, no TV or phone or email. Just me and some dirt and a cold beer and some peanuts for all.

Posted by laurie at April 27, 2009 8:01 AM