Gardening for People who Kill Plants

Jack and I have about an acre of back garden, stretching out behind our house. People are always surprised by the amount of space we have. Last year, we decided to go all in on a vegetable garden.

Probably we should have remembered a few things:

  1. I have killed spider plants.
  2. Jack considers gardening a form of punishment for all the crimes he ever thought of committing, even if he didn’t. He dislikes dirt, green leafy vegetables, and time spent in the sun.
  3. I am frightened of most bugs. I once screamed when a ladybug flew toward me.
  4. We were going to be in Scotland for a month in the height of summer.

Other than that, we were golden: plenty of land, easy access to seeds, and an inherited plethora of gardening tools—none of which we knew how to use. Jack held up a hoe and said, “How am I supposed to shovel dirt with this?”

I actually gave it a try before realizing, you know, it wasn’t the shovel…..

Growing up, we had gardens, but my dad did all the stuff like prepping the rows with stakes, string taut between them to help you keep your rows straight. He did the plowing. My sister and I just came along and did the finger-sticking and seed-planting. It was fun to drill down into the dirt and then plop a corn kernel in. Or follow along behind his row of hilled dirt and sprinkle carrot seed.

Doing it as an adult, you realize how hard the work is. First thing we had to figure out which plants were okay with walnut trees. A former student visited and told us about this weird thing called the wood wide web, where trees talk to each other under the earth. Mostly walnut trees plan the death of other plants through excretion of a chemical called juglone. Literally, walnut trees are like bad politicians: they want it all, they want it for themselves, and they want to take it from you. Trying to grow anything in the nightshade family would be a no go unless we got raised beds, my student told us.

And I thought, “why would we grow a deadly plant? Who puts anything to sleep in a garden?”

Yep, it was that bad. We threw some boxes in, put gardening cloth in the bottom, and called them raised beds. When we planted tomatoes in them (proud of our new knowledge that these were in fact a nightshade family member, I might add) they held water and drowned the little guys. Tomatoes hate having their feet wet, we learned that first year.

Then we planted peas. They came up, interspersed with the carrots and broccoli we also planted. Those nice straight with stakes? Ha.  Basically, the whole place looked like someone tripped while carrying a seed tray. (Which is not far off. I sneezed and they fell.)

The broccoli grew – and grew, and grew, and grew, like Jack’s infamous beanstalk. It never put out a single head, but once we learned that broccoli leaves were edible, well, game-changer.

The cauliflower did put out a single head. Literally.

We gave up on hoeing these ungrateful wretches and left for Scotland. When we returned, the asparagus had little weird red balls on its fronds (we found later that these were seeds) the broccoli reaching for the sky, and the black raspberries in the back part of our yard had come for the tomatoes. We never did get them separated.

This year, things will be different. This year….. we will buy our produce from the farmer’s market.

Adding Two Rooms to our Home

Jack and I have a big back yard. We wound up fencing it into two halves because, chickens. The other day, I referred to “the outside room” and Jack didn’t ask what I meant, just said “inner room or outer room?”

Twenty-five years of marriage counts for something in the mind reading department, but we also came to this conclusion out of common sense. The backyard added two rooms to our home. The inner room is for gracious entertaining, has most of my light garden (solar stuff that’s so pretty at night) and the flowers. The outer room keeps the chickens, the main gardens, the fruit bushes and the nut trees. (Black walnuts are why we have two gardens; some plants is juglone safe, some ain’t. Juglone is the stuff black walnuts put out while their roots are down there in the wood wide web talking to each other. Never mind cats; it’s black walnuts as seek world dominance, y’all.)

Neither of us were ever big gardeners. We grew heirloom tomatoes because I love to try blue and purple and green and yellow things that “should be” red. We grew potatoes because Jack is Scottish, and if you’re a gardener in Scotland, you are talking root vegetables. Gardening in that country takes place August 10-15.

Jack and I have always enjoyed turning something into nothing–which is an upscale way of saying “how cheaply can we do this?” We put down leftover fertilizer bags to kill weeds, dug up rocks to weight and drain tomato buckets, and otherwise tried to keep from growing veggies that cost $2.25 each once you tallied all that went into producing them. It’s been fun, not least because it looks so silly. Old chicken wire stuck to poles from a tent we no longer have, bound by an ancient blue polyester dress, make our gate. Someone gave us a wine-making tank and we took a piece of guttering that fell down and made a rain spout to fill it for watering. (Hauling 12 buckets a day will get you in shape fast, kids.)

And we drilled holes in the bottoms of about ninety-eleven-hundred plastic buckets leftover from kitty litter, which annoyed Jack no end. He didn’t mind drilling the holes to give the tomatoes we planted proper drainage. He just didn’t like validating my recurring theme that someday all those buckets we kept piling in the basement (some of which we MOVED with from our former bookstore home) would “come in handy someday.” When it turned out I was right, Jack knew there would be no stopping my future hoarding tendencies on household detritus.

He’s kinda right. We have milk jugs piled up so we can make self-watering drip containers, and an old gate salvaged from friends who said “you want this?” It’s leaning against one of the infamous walnut trees, waiting for its day. Gardeners may kinda by nature (no pun intended) be hoarders. Dunno; this is only our second year having fun with the inner and outer outside rooms of our home. Keep you posted. Meamwhile, we keep the inner room clean for visitors and stash all the stuff in the outer room, guarded by the chickens.