Ripped Off Twice

I love playing in the dirt. I love planting things and watching them grow. I love harvesting my vegetables, eating them and preserving the surplus. The first year we moved here, we designed a large garden and built raised beds to grow a myriad of vegetables and fruits for the next year. Or rather, I designed the garden and Mitch built the raised beds and installed the fence around the perimeter to protect it from the dogs. We had a truck dump eight yards of garden soil to fill the beds. We over calculated how much we needed and ended up with a surplus of about two yards of dirt.

The first gardening year, I was a bit ambitious and planted zucchini and cucumber from seed. Needless to say, I grew, ate, gave away and preserved close to a ton of fresh zucchini and cucumbers. At least that’s what it felt like. The next year, I paired it back a bit and only planted three zucchini, but I planted cucumber from seed. I still had too many zucchini and ended up trying my hand at pickling cucumbers. I made dill pickles and sweet spicy pickles. They turned out pretty good for a first attempt.

This year I decided to scale the zucchini and cucumber way back. I only bought one zucchini plant that had two little starts in the pot and one cucumber plant with three little starts in the pot. I got adventurous and bought a cantaloupe plant with two little starts. I bought all of the starts from one of the big box home improvement/gardening stores. The plants all looked healthy when I planted them. After a month of growth, all of the plants had blooms and were growing big.

Two weeks ago I was inspecting the cucumbers and noticed some tiny black bugs on the leaves. I turned the leaf over and was horrified that the underside of the leaves were covered in these tiny black bugs, even the blooms had tiny black bugs all over them. Aphids! Oh my god, I have aphids. Now what? I googled how to control aphids, hoping for a natural remedy. Ladybugs are a predator, but looking at the infestation I had I wasn’t sure there were enough ladybugs in the state of Washington to eat their way through my cucumbers and rid me of the aphids. I decided the next option was insecticidal soap and neem oil. Those two didn’t seem as devastating to the rest of the insect population, so I carefully sprayed the cucumbers with the insecticidal soap. I checked the zucchini and cantaloupe too and yep, I had aphids on them too. A week later I sprayed the cucumbers, zucchini and cantaloupe with the neem oil, hoping that if I keep rotating between the two, I might get rid of the aphids before they spread to my tomatoes and peppers.

I returned from a business trip and was going through the garden inspecting my plants saw a cucumber that was ripe and picked it. As soon as I picked it and inspected it I realized that it wasn’t a cucumber, it was a zucchini. The zucchini plants were mislabeled as cucumbers and now I had five zucchini plants instead of two, no cucumbers and the bonus of an aphid infestation. I am really regretting my decision to even have a garden this year. Plus I will never buy another plant from that store again.

I am giving serious consideration to ripping out the zucchini, cantaloupe and the “cucumber” plants and hope that the aphids go to the yard recycling heaven and feasts to their hearts content someplace else.

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I’ve Learned My Lesson

I’ve always loved gardening, planting plants and seeds then watching them grow. Playing in the dirt is relaxing and hard work at the same time. Dirt and plants don’t talk out loud to you, don’t ask questions or care how you look and are just content to have you pay attention to them. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest from the Midwest, I’ve learned a lot about the way plants grow here. I’ve read books and talked to Master Gardeners. I’ve paid attention to the weather patterns, discovering that while everyone believes it rains every day here, it doesn’t. Our late falls, winters and springs are wet and rainy, but come summer and the tap turns off, this year with a vengeance. At present counting, we are at fifty-six days with no rain, a new record. I decided to plant a huge raised bed garden for vegetables and fruits.

I drew up plan for a large garden area with eight raised beds, four – five foot by ten foot raised beds and four – five-foot square raised beds and Mitch built them. Pretty ambitious I know, but I hadn’t had a garden in two years and was itching to play in the dirt. Well I got my wish and boy did I ever get things to grow. I was warned by experienced gardeners to be very careful when planting, because everything grows well here.

I planted one of the small beds with cucumber seeds and at first, I was disappointed at the small spindly little plants. Silly me, I just needed to be patient. The raised bed is overflowing with a tangled web of cucumber vines, hiding cucumbers that seem to grow over night.

I planted one of the large beds with strawberry plants, almost all came from my neighbor, and now I must go out every day and stick the runners back in the bed, because they’ve covered the bed and are trying to colonize my other beds. I planted three rows of green bean seeds and have already picked four buckets full of green beans and more are growing.

I bought a seed packet of zucchini seeds and a packet of summer squash seeds. Growing success is a gross understatement, because I have one five foot by ten foot raised bed covered from end to end with three and a half foot tall plants and am picking five and six zucchini a day, that doesn’t include the six to eight squash I find hiding under the giant leaves every day.

I have been scouring Pinterest and Facebook for zucchini recipes. I have been thinking of writing a cookbook and now I can write a whole chapter on just zucchini and squash recipes. I’ve frozen six bags of zucchini and squash, have learned to make zucchini spaghetti, zucchini tots and zucchini fries. I swear my hair is getting a green tint to it.

I’ve given so much zucchini and squash away to my neighbors that now if they see me coming with or without anything in my hands, they run inside and close the curtains, until I go by.

I’ve learned my lesson, next year I will buy two zucchini plants and maybe one squash plant. You don’t have to hit me over the head with a zucchini.

Sacred Ground

I’ve come to the conclusion we live on sacred ground. For real, our house is on hallowed ground. I’m surprised the builder was even allowed to build here and it must have been a real challenge to lay the foundation and not disturb the buried. Our house sits on an ancient rock burial ground. That has to be the only explanation. Our property is where they brought the rocks, large and small when they died to be buried for thousands of years.

Sounds goofy right, but that has to be it, because no matter where I try to dig a hole, I dig more rock than dirt. Smooth glacier rocks that come in all sizes, from the size of a quarter to the size of a football. Imagine putting the shovel point in the dirt and stepping down on the edge of the shovel to slice into the dirt and the shovel slams into a rock or group of rocks, the shovel twists, the handle follows the twist and whacks you in the chin, then your foot slips off of the shovel, scrapes your foot and you twist your knee. This is followed by a very descriptive diatribe that sends the birds flying. Now imagine doing this over and over again to fish out a multitude of rocks, so you can get a hole wide enough and deep enough to plant something, anything. It’s a good thing I bought a truck load of dirt earlier in the spring, just to fill in the holes.

All of our neighbors have these really nice landscaped yards and we have rocks. Lots and lots of rocks, hidden just under surface of our yard. Maybe that’s why there was no landscaping done when we bought the house. Either they knew it was sacred land and didn’t want to disturb the rock spirits or all of the other builders dumped their rocks here and left us to deal with the little buggers. I would like to think our land is special, that sounds more fun, but in reality, it’s probably the latter. We got dumped on, literally.

Could it Be?

Dare I say the words?  I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t even think it.   I’m not a superstitious person, not usually anyway, but sometimes it just seems that from my mouth to Mother Nature’s ear.  Last year everyone called it the “Winter that didn’t Happen” and this year it’s been the “Winter that won’t go Away”.  It’s now May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, and we’ve been beset with snow and cold miserable weather across a fair amount of the country since February.

I wanted to plant radishes and lettuce while the weather was still cool, that didn’t happen.  No cool weather, but lots of cold wet icky weather.  So no fresh radishes or lettuce this year.  Last week my son had to cover his beds with a cold frame to protect the young plant shoots of his onions, potatoes, lettuce, etc.  Next weekend is Mother’s Day, the official day to plant tomatoes and other warm weather plants.  But I don’t know, the highs have been only in the forties and fifties, so the ground hasn’t had a chance to warm up much.

Today, though the sky is brighter, there is still cloud cover but the temperatures are warmer.  The high today is supposed to get up in the sixties, woo hoo.  The forecast for the week is looking optimistic, highs in the seventies, okay I can live with that.  One of our fears is that we will go from winter to summer, boom with no transition.  Just one day it will go from cold to blazing hot.

Back to my original question, dare I say the words?  I guess I’ll take a chance, here goes, “Maybe it is finally Spring”.  There I said it, cross your fingers.

I’ve Been Acclimatized

I’ve been acclimatized!  It all started last winter.  We had a very mild dry winter, no complaints here.  That weather pattern carried on into spring, delivering a warmer, drier than normal spring, still very few complaints.  I was able to get my garden planted earlier, did a bunch of dividing and transplanting plants.  I even fertilized and spread weed killer on the yard.  That’s when the rain officially stopped here.  Finally we have had the summer from hell, literally.  This has been the driest year on record and one of the hottest in history.  Absolutely miserable.  We’ve had to water, water and water constantly, driving to me consider getting a second job just to pay the water bill.

Finally the sweltering heat dropped down from the hundreds to a more normal realm of the eighties and low nineties.  Yesterday I walked out of work to go to lunch and was greeted with eighty six degree temperatures and thought it felt very comfortable and mild.  Can you believe that, eighty six degrees and I thought it felt very comfortable and even a little cool with the wind blowing?  I had to look at the thermometer just to confirm the actual temperature.  This morning we took the dogs on their morning walk at 4:30 and it was sixty five degrees, where was my jacket?  This does not bode well for me when we revert back to our normal freezing winter. 

I may have to start wintering in Florida.

And The Heat Goes On

The heat and the drought just keeps coming.  It’s like a blast furnace each time you walk outside.   Taking the dogs on walks is short and slow.  They don’t want to be out in the heat anymore than we do.  Of course this is the year that we’ve added two raised beds to grow more vegetables.  Two more beds means two times more watering, which translates to a much higher water bill.  This is a double edged sword for me.  I love the taste of home grown tomatoes, nothing like a big juicy home grown tomato.  With this drought we have to water almost every day just to keep the plants from withering. 

I’m also the utility police at home.  I walk around turning lights off, raising or lowering the thermostat and turning the faucet off in mid tooth brushing.  I am just plain cheap when it comes to wasting electricity, gas and water.  I rant on about saving energy, conserving water and recycling everything we can possibly recycle.  Mitch made and installed three rain barrels around the house so I can water the gardens with rainwater.  This year all of the rain barrels are bone dry, no water to even dribble out. 

We decided to use soaker hoses to accomplish watering more efficiently.  The problem was that the three raised beds were too far apart so we were wasting a lot of water in between.  Mitch solved this by cutting up the seventy five foot hose into three sections which he snaked through each bed then connected the spaces in between with regular hose pieces.  This has worked out very well for us.  Now we’re only watering the vegetable beds and not everything in between.  Of course the yard has gone dormant and I’m hoping will recover next spring. 

Whether you believe in global warming or not, this weather pattern sucks and I’m ready for it to be over.

Flashcards

I think I’ve come up with the perfect solution to our groundskeeper’s good plant vs weed recognition problem.  Flashcards.  Very simple yet elegant as a solution.  Flashcards work for kids in school.  Math and alphabet flashcards have been used for decades.  So maybe plant flashcards would work.  I would take pictures of all the different plants growing around the lake and laminate the photos to plastic cards.  I can draw a circle with a slash through the middle of photo of a weed and even type a description below the photo.  Something like, “kill on sight” or maybe “wanted dead and decimated” for a weed and “diplomatic immunity” or “endangered species” for a keeper plant.  This may slow down the weed eating process around here, but eventually hopefully the groundskeeper will get it and maybe some poor plant souls will be spared the weapon of plant destruction.   Especially the ones I’ve paid money to put in the ground.

The flashcards could be put on a ring and hang from his belt for easy plant recognition access.  The groundskeeper would walk along flip up and peruse the flashcard to scan the photos searching to determine if the plants are public enemy #1 or keepers.  Who knows maybe flashcards will catch on for gardeners everywhere.  I wonder if I should apply for a patent.