Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gardening For Repeat Beginners

At work, I have a particular client I speak with at least once a week about an ongoing project. And always, he also wants to chat about gardening.  He's an avid gardener and somewhere along the way I must've given him the impression that I am one as well. Now it's too late to pump the brakes and tell him that the only flora in my care are a handful of house plants slowly dying in my kitchen window. 

Still, our regular chats about Tomatomania and Swiss chard served as reminders that I always meant to be a gardening enthusiast. 

In fact, I'd only dabbled in the gardening arts for a few months while we rented our house in Pasadena. I really half-assed the whole operation, carving out a 2 x 3 plot of dirt in one corner and burying a tomato plant, some zucchini seeds and a couple habanero pepper seedlings. I basically forgot the garden existed, yet the tomatoes and peppers grew proudly, producing more fruits than I could find use for. The zucchini never got a fair shot. The tiny seeds became mighty plants with dark, expansive leaves, but just as flowers began to bloom and give way to zucchini, they were murdered by the landlord's gardener, who merrily stomped all over them while trimming the nearby hedges. He should've been stripped of his title.

Other than that incident, I was encouraged by how effortless gardening seemed to be. All I had to do was nothing and I had a limitless supply of fresh salsa ingredients at my fingertips. One weekend, on a whim, I tossed a handful of sunflower seeds into the dirt and within a month they were 8 feet tall with great big pan faces, lurking conspiratorially in the corner and freaking me out.

So, now that I have my own house with my own yard, and since gardening is such a breeze,  it makes perfect sense that I get down and dirty and start a little garden of my own.

It began, weeks ago, with seeds. Mother mailed me a couple of different seed packets, including tomatoes and bell peppers. It's too bad that I didn't inherit her green thumb, which is really more of a green forearm. When she left after this Christmas, I noticed she'd miraculously revived my sad houseplants, turning them into perky green versions of their former selves. (Three of them have since died. I just... I'm terrible.)

Anyway, I went out to the store to get a seedling planter with an irrigation tray and some special seedling soil. After about 2 weeks, I had a promising little crop. Gardening was just as simple as I'd remembered.

The next task was clearing space for the garden.

On the side of the house is an otherwise useless patch of land that gets sun for a good portion of the day. All we needed to do was clear away the row of allium plants in the way. I felt bad getting rid of them, but you can't fight city hall, or some idiom that's more appropriate.

I grabbed a shovel, ready to break ground and make progress. I jammed it into the dirt, pulled up, and nothing happened. I tried again and again but the plant did not budge. I stood with both feet on the shovel, using my full weight (all 105 lbs... haha, hilarious) as leverage. I may as well have been attempting to unearth an oak. How could this be? A difficult task? You mean this garden isn't going to build itself? This goes against everything I'd believed to be true. I threw down the shovel and gave it a week.

On Saturday morning, I tasked Devin with the plant removal. He had them all uprooted in under fifteen minutes. I think we can all clearly deduce that I did a solid job of loosening them the previous weekend.

And get this! We didn't have to toss them out. Smartly, Devin moved them to the backyard, where we needed a solution to cover up some unattractive dirt patches.


With the plants gone, we were left with roots. Lots and lots of roots. An intricate and never-ending web of white, wet, creepy roots that took hours to thoroughly remove.

Eventually, finally, we had (mostly) clear land. Then, it was time to construct the garden bed. We'd elected to go with a raised garden bed because...Actually,  I have no idea why we went with a raised garden bed. But we did.

I'd looked up a few building tutorials on youtube, which tended to be 8 minutes of some guy rambling on, followed by 20 seconds of "screw the pieces of wood together at the corners." So I basically had the gist of what needed to be accomplished.

Remembering there was some spare lumber in the garage, left behind by the previous owners, I chose to rummage and see if we could make do with what we had.

And guess what. I found precisely what we needed. 3 beams, each 6 feet long. Everything's coming up Milhouse!

I began by cutting one of the three pieces into two even halves using a hand saw. Then, I dragged the wood beams over to the gardening site and within 30 minutes, had screwed them together at the corners.

Then we made a quick trip to Home Depot for bags o' dirt and a few more seedlings to add to the garden.

I filled up my 6' x 3' bed using 6 cubic feet of soil.

By the end of the day I was BEAT. I used the last of my energy to plant my seedlings, both home grown and store bought. Here's how it all looked. 

Truthfully, this was a stupid time to take a picture because I'd just watered and all the leaves were weighted down. They didn't look that wilty a minute earlier. 

It was a very full, very busy, very tiring day, but I think the hardest part is over because, as I keep saying, gardening is easy!

I'm just kidding. After 24 hours the garden is already looking doomed. I came home from work to find one of my tomato plants looking like hell, another looking just okay, and the third totally absent. I'm literally losing plants, people!

Also, I didn't mention this before because I was so damn pleased with myself, but I tried planting sunflower seeds in the backyard, anticipating the same phenomenal results as before, but I didn't get so much as one sprout.

Why has my luck changed? Did our previous home sit atop miracle dirt? What gives?

Stay tuned for my next post, "The Garden's Inevitable Demise."

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