Hitting Reset

071305_silverqueengrabThis is, apparently, something of a recurring theme for me lately. As loyal readers know, Plants On Deck recently relocated to East Nashville after over a decade on a 10×10 deck in South Philly, leaving dozens of pots and containers, a couple of orphaned blueberries, and a much-loved but aging and slivered little blue deck behind.

Philly’s unrelenting sun, dead calm 71615_melondays, and the harsh heat reflecting from endless miles of pavement and cheek-by-jowl row homes that felt like brick ovens, along with murderous hot nights and long dry weeks, made it tough going for landless container gardeners like myself. Water had to be hauled up the sladder two to three times per day, and despite the well-intended efforts of neighbors, friends, and house-sitters, returning from vacation always marked the beginning of the end: it was simply impossible to water enough and the ever-present aphids, finding the one patch of green in Pennsport, were unstoppable.

070405_tomatohunt3Nashville is hot. Damn hot. But honestly, the brutal edge that made August in Philly feel like what I imagine Mercury must feel like is largely absent here. (Granted, it’s still July.) And the soil here, it grows stuff! This year, returning from vacation meant harvesting nearly 40 cucumbers, 10 cups of basil, three muskmelons, a quart of plum tomatoes, a generous bunch of chard, a half pound of green beans, and heaps of luscious herbs.

Now, after several delicious Silver Queen centered meals, I’ve yanked the corn and spent beans, rerouted the feral Kentucky Wonder pole beans to the property-line fence and have planted a dozen more Royal Burgundy bush beans and spinach seeds. A second garden in late July may be too much to hope for, but then again, pretty much everything about this patch of land, right down to the arrowhead, has been a surprise.

Speaking of reset, while I recognize that Plants On Deck may no longer be the most appropriate name for these gardening meanderings, it’s here to stay. Put the platter on the deck, lower the needle, and keep on rocking, Music City.

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Hey Self: Wenke Wink

Sometimes, I’m a little too Dutch frugal for my own good. Or for the good of my garden, for that matter.

hurricane plantsBack in May, when the lovely gentleman from the Gardens of Babylon dropped off $10-$15 worth of starts (from hometown nursery back in Southwest Michigan, Wenke’s) along with the shipment of soil, my little transplanted East Nashvillian (and admittedly cheapskate) heart skipped a beat.  I felt like I’d won a kismet lottery: free veggies! From Kalamazoo to Nashville! Clearly it was meant to be.

No, the corn wasn’t the variety I’d hoped to plant, nor were the 0623_dillcaterpillarcucumbers and peppers. Dill? Who needs dill? Oh, what the heck, I’ll find room. Lemongrass? Hmm, that could be useful. At any rate, the three bush cucumbers would only take up one measly square each and, so really, what could go wrong?

Well, those “bush cucumbers” weren’t really bush and two of them weren’t really cucumbers at all. Like I said, who needs dill? The bottleneck gourd is long gone, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull perfectly healthy Athena muskmelons (Gah! Dutch strikes again.) And now, it’s far too late. The garden belongs to them.

PLANTS ON DECK 2015: Hey Self, revised and updated

0623_mrstripeyMr. Stripey tomato (1 plant/2 sf)

  • As of 6/23 the plants look pretty good (some yellowing along the bottom) and we have some blooms, but no fruits
  • Since mid-May he’s been fertilized, organically, twice a month
  • The two Mr. S’s planted along the south lawn are growing similarly.

Roma Tomato and Red Cherry (front of house, planted 4/25)roma tomato

  • They are just starting to go gangbusters; however, I’m a little worried that as the days grow shorter (morning sun only — in shade by 1:00 at summer solstice), their fruits will be cut short
  • Plant more yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

bush zucchini (3 plants/4 sf)bush zucchini

  • I love these guys! And so does the Hurricane. Looks like we have a new veggie vying for green bean’s top spot
  • Their location, in the south west corner, works well and although they’re cheating into the neighboring square a little, 3 plants/4 sf appear to be working thus far
  • Plant more

basil (4 plants/1 sf)

  • I mean, it’s cool to have basil leaves the size of your hand, but giant basil it is so not our favorite. It’s pretty and yes, gigantic, but it doesn’t pack the punch we like our basil to deliver
  • These got squashed in the first row, SW quadrant, between the tomato and the bush cucumber that isn’t, so lack of sun is slowing them down
  • Several were planted at the front of the house and have been transplanted to the herb garden where there is more sun.
  • Plant more, plant differently.

marigolds (8 plants/2 sf):

  • These French dwarfs didn’t stand a chance. Next year big, tall African marigolds need to keep the tomatoes company
  • Plant more flowers, not just marigolds. Need butterflies and bees

bush cucumber (3 plants/3 sf 1 mystery, full-size)

  • It is impossible to plant too crazed cucumbermany cucumbers — the Hurricane will eat them the day they ripen.
  • Yes, Endurer, you said this in April and again in May. When I thought I had planted three Spacemasters
  • I did not
  • Fortunately, rather than pitch any, I planted three along the south side of the house. (Go D-team!)
  • Plant more — bush varieties for the raised bed and trailing varieties for the south wall.

chard [seed] (16-24ish/2 sf)0623_eatenchard

  • Figure out what’s eating the chard — it’s not us and diatomaceous earth ain’t doing much
  • Designate one bed to be planted largely with spring vegetables and stick lotsa’ chard and spinach in it
  • This year I staggered the seeds —  8 plants maturing at one time is not sufficient, 16 should do the trick
  • Plant more

romaine lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • These were terrific!steak caesar
  • We enjoyed the outer leaves on sandwiches for weeks and the grand finale — featuring Porter Road Butcher’s steak — Caesar was sublime
  • They are done and gone by early/mid June
  • Planted in the third row, these were sheltered in the front by the crazed cucumber and in the back by towering Silver Queen. An excellent location, actually. By the time they had finished, the zucchini, creeping cucurbit, and sprawling Purple Royalty were happy to take over the real estate.
  • Plant more (both in the spring bed and in the summer bed as described above)

butter leaf lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • Meh
  • Plant more heat-tolerant varieties

purple royalty bush beans [seeds] (18/3 sf)0623_purpleroyalty

  • That staggered planting thing? Well, it’s a good idea in theory, but in this house, we need at least 18 plants/3 SF  sowed at the same time to yield enough for a meal
  • I thought that bush beans were pretty compact, it turns out they’re not. Not really. These princes have sprawled over the end of the bed, broken in the wind and choked out the peppers
  • Plant more, do not plant in the front row; try the second/third rows

Kentucky Wonder pole beans [seeds] ) (12/2 sf)Kentucky Wonder

  • Too soon to tell, but they have shot right off the ends of their 4′ poles and are smothering the 6’+ Silver Queen
  • Plant in the back row!

red bell pepper (3 plants/3sf)

Silver Queen corn (12 plants/4 sf)

  • It’s too soon to say
  • Consider planting along the chain-link fence?

muskmelon 2 4 plants/4 sf):athena cantelope

  • Oops
  • NE corner seems to be a great location
  • One musk melon should do the trick

Peppers To The Front!

sun-starved peppersIn the “Hey, Self” department: peppers to the front! It’s been an educational month since the plants hit the beds. In just a month, the wee starts and teeny seeds have all but exploded.

The Kentucky Wonder pole beans exceeded their 5′ poles and are climbing amongst the Silver Queen corn, the so-called bush cucumbers (freebies from Gardens of Babylon) are anything but bushy (but they’re spreading like kudzu), Athena melons are creeping across the lawn (not sure how that corner’s getting mowed), a lush (but largely flowerless) Mr. Stripy gives me both hope and pause, and the bush beans are nearly toppling over their own weight.

Here’s the thing: as beans are generally anemic, stunted, doomed plants here at Plants On Deck, I planted the bush variety to the front of the bed, thinking the strong peppers, located just behind, would soar above them, taking the light they needed.

Evidently, these Kentucky Wonders and Purple Royals are a little better suited to Tennessee’s soil than to Philadelphia’s and to raised bed gardens than to gallon buckets. Their vigorous growth has far out-paced that of the peppers, leaving them entirely in the dark.

Move it or lose it, I figured, and just yesterday I yanked the peppers, redistributing them into the sunny herb garden. The three empty squares have already been seeded with spinach, because hey, why not?bell pepper plant

Hey, Self: Shelter From the Storm, Bush Bean Edition

After too many years of failed experiments with beans, I was delighted to plant several dozen seeds into the inaugural raised bed. Bush, Pole, and Black-Eyed Peas — all of them! The Hurricane loves snapping beans nearly as much as eating them, and sitting on the porch, snapping beans, has to be one of my fondest childhood gardening memories.

Strangely, they all seemed pretty happy and it looked like they just might make it onto the porch and onto a plate. Until a raging thunderstorm blew through, leaving all sorts of house-related drainage problems in its wake as well as cruelly snapping bush bean limbs from their trunks.

royal purple bush beans after the stormThese Royalty Purple bush beans are scattered throughout the 4×8 raised bed and were planted on a 15-day staggered schedule. They’re packed in pretty tight, six to a square foot, to provide support for one another and shade for the pods on hot summer days. Still, the winds whipped a little too hard for the earliest seeded Royals, taking up real estate at the south/front edge of the bed.

So, Hey Self: next year remember to plant the bush beans along the penultimate/northern row of the bed. Allowing sturdier, shorter plants to offer some shelter from the storm. Besides, it’s good form to rotate from year-to-year.

 

Shattered Glass

g.i. joe, beheadedThis East Nashville yard is a minefield of shattered glass (not to mention dozens of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers, pull-tab Miller Lite empties, SlimFast cans, ten-penny nails, horse shoes, and one creepy vintage GI Joe head.)

Fortunately, the only blood shed has been my own. Thus far. And since the Hurricane is pretty obsessive about her Elsa and Anna flip flops, I hope it stays that way.

Except for bug guts.

The raised beds are crawling with ants and I’ve already squashed the first sprinkling of unidentified pink insect eggs and smattering of aphids. Cockroaches skitter along the front path and a slug has made its way across the Endurer’s foot. I squeal at the former, he at the latter.

So Plants On Deck is out for blood. Bug blood.

Shockingly, food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) has never been a bug-killer of choice for me. Largely because I couldn’t find it in Philly’s garden shops. But hey, guess what? Those hours wandering the fluorescent aisles of the Home Depot and Lowes haven’t been wasted. Along with the 120 pounds of topsoil, two bags of mulch, paver sand and about a ton of  paver base, DE has been acquired!

Rain is likely, so I’ll hold off on applying the fossilized diatom exoskeletons until things dry out, but bugs, your days are numbered. And although food, pet, and kid safe, these prehistoric miracles are like ground glass to creepy-crawlers and slice into little bug bellies, killing ’em dead.

Making a List, Part II

4x8 raised bed planThe good folks at Gardens of Babylon were kind enough to deliver a couple of yards a dirt, shovel them directly into the completed bed, remove a hunk of concrete from the yard, offer gardening advice, recommend local businesses, and donate a few abandoned cucumber, corn, pepper, and dill starts to the cause. After 10 years of gardening, POD finally has a garden center crush.

How to use this new-found space and garden center bounty was another challenge altogether. Having spent the icy winter locked in an apartment in West Nashville, you’d think that hours of methodical research and careful planning would have already been conducted. But no. There were houses to sell and buy, boxes to unpack and pack again, a Hurricane to tend to, a whole new city to navigate, unhappy cats to wrangle, and massive amounts of fretting to be done.

imageAlthough it’s embarrassing and utterly unlike most posts on this blog, a quick Google image search for “square foot garden” is about all the research that went into this one. Reports seem to vary on the amount of space needed per plant per square foot — and the most useful graphic from Territoral Seeds seems a little tight — so POD attempted to play it both safe (allowing two square feet for the tomato and a full square foot per cucumber, for example) and try to cram as much as possible into the inaugural bed.

imageSo here’s the list, followed by plants per square foot:

Mr. Stripey tomato (1 plant/2 sf)
bush zucchini (3 plants/4 sf)
basil (4 plants/1 sf)
marigolds (8 plants/2 sf)
bush cucumber (3 plants/3 sf)
chard [seed] (16-24ish/2 sf)
romaine lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)
butter leaf lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)
purple bush beans [seeds] (18/3 sf)
red bell pepper (3 plants/3sf)
corn (12 plants/4 sf)
melon 2 plants/4 sf)
Kentucky Wonder pole beans [seeds] ) (12/2 sf)

Planted in Lockeland Springs, East Nashville, Saturday, May 9.

Making a List: Part I

raised bed gardenThe only containers may be full of geraniums this year, but that does’t mean POD has been taking it easy. We’re yanking weeks, tossing grubs to the birds, scything the lawn, sweating, and working on almighty red necks and farmers tans. Happily, the Endurer was kind enough to wrap up a marathon moving weekend by hacking together the first of many raised beds.

In the end, POD’s two-bed shopping list looked like this: 12 1x8x8 cedar (no chemical treatments and, we hope, fairly weather-resistant) boards, 8 5′ rods of electrical conduit (inexpensive supports for the 8′ sides), 16 2″corner brackets, and two cubic yards of dirt. Although the wallet was about $400 lighter, one hopes that unlike container gardening of yore, this will be a investment that pays off in no time.

All of this set the stage for this gardener to enjoy her Mother’s Day weekend by doing a little digging. Which ended up being a lot of digging, but that’s another story for another time.