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Monday, August 6, 2012

Growing Food – Sort Of

Every year, I try to grow food. Years ago, I put in several crops, including corn, eggplant, squash.

Now I'm down to two crops – three if you count strawberries, which grow by themselves,  for the chipmunks. I grow cayenne and other peppers because I like spicy. And I grow tomatoes because most of the ones in stores taste like cardboard and ought to be illegal.

So, as usual I planted my two crops in pots in late May – after frost danger was past. Since then, it seems the weather has played only two tunes: Rain and drought, alternating between the two.



During that time, I've carried enough water to those plants to float a boat. I kept them alive, but the patio tomato vine broke in half sometime in July, leaving half the original fruit. I reasoned that was a good thing, as the half vine needed less water. 

Onward I gamely struggled, dragging my two plants to August, trying to protect them from heat, rot, drought. I dusted them with diatomaceous earth to fend off slugs (see picture below), which materialize whenever rain interrupts drought for a day.


I picked those two tomatoes recently. By the time I cut away all the rot, about two bites were left. The others have been stuck on green for weeks. And they're still hard as stones.

As for the other crop, here's the container of four peppers, followed by an image of my harvest so far: a giant cow horn that apparently managed to take in steroids from the air.



A cayenne  this size would be terrific if it had any fire in it, but unlike other green cayennes I've eaten, this one was as mild as a bell pepper. Meanwhile, others in the pot show no signs of turning red. Or hot.

So, what does this all mean?

Except for herbs, food-growing eludes me; I did not get the gene, even though my parents were masterful food growers. I do not like trying to survive  crop-destroying critters and weather in order to eke out iffy crops. It makes much more sense for me to leave food-growing to those who can. Meanwhile, I'll try hard to buy locally grown produce at seasonal markets.

Every year I have to re-learn these truths.

Well, no more. I'm done. From now on, I'll focus on my day job: ornamental gardening.

18 comments:

  1. Amen. Amen.

    I do not subject myself to the frustrations of food crops, other than a few strawberries (for the chipmunks, as you say) and blueberries (enough for one muffin.). And an awesome basil plant. No, no, no. Food is to be bought from farmers. I am not a farmer. Neither are you, apparently.

    Welcome to the club.

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    1. Thank you, thank you. It feels good to once and for all get back to the gardening I born to practice.

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  2. One positive thought I had when I read this, Lee. Your Father would have been proud of you for trying and given you an "A for effort."

    Don't you wonder how on earth farmers keep coming back each year for more of the headache and heartache in trying to feed families and the world. It's always drought, or wet, or pests or something to destroy the crops before they can make.

    I'm almost done just trying to grow for fun. But, like you, I keep on keeping on, thinking next year will be better.

    To borrow a quote I read just the other day, "The Summer Sunrise is Always Free." How glad I am.

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    1. Indeed, Barbara, farmers are a tough, hard-working group. They deserve a good income, and I'd feel better paying them directly, which is why I like the local farmers markets.

      I like that sunrise quote.

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  3. Lee May,

    Have you tried growing cherry tomatoes?

    I had a rough time growing a full-size tomato last year (Big Boy, I think it was called. Or maybe Early Boy?).

    So I switched to cherry - and grape - tomatoes this year and had MUCH better success.

    Try Sun Gold (a sweet cherry) and Riesentraube (a prolific red grape tomato) if you can find them. They both withstood multiple days of 100+ degree temperatures with minimal fertilizer or other assistance in my middle TN clay garden.

    As for water, plant the seedlings deep in the ground and they will sprout extra roots. They may even send up secondary shoots. I barely fertilized mine. Just a little earthworm compost at planting, some pulverized eggshells one time and recently some seaweed-molasses mix around the base. Oh and I only water them (deeply) twice a week, and that's if we've had no rain. Constant water encourages shallow roots. Deep watering once or twice a week encourages deep roots. At least that's what I've read and what seems to have worked here.

    Of course, I do understand your frustration with pests. They mutilated several of my crops this year, particularly collard greens and beans, but I do feel that growing food at home is one of the great joys in life. Sometimes it's just a matter of picking the right plant or the right crop to make it a little easier on ourselves, particularly if we garden organically! :)

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    1. Yes, indeed, I have grown cherry tomatoes in the past, and I did much better with them. Great taste, too. Not sticking with them was a mistake. What was I thinking, going to the big ones.

      I know you believe in growing food organically, and obviously you do it better than I do, so I look forward to learning from your blog. Cheers.

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  4. Sadly, most of my tomatoes are still green. Vegetable growing is not for the faint of heart (unless you live in the South.) Sometimes, when I visit my family back in New Orleans, my mother will point out a gigantic basil bush and say "I just threw some seeds down on the ground and look how big it is."

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    1. Indeed, I remember those days of Southern gardening, shoving a plant into the ground and jumping back, lest it grow all over you. Now, my heart is faint, my will unwilling. But, you're still toiling, yes?

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  5. Hi Lee, I wrote a very similar post lamenting my lack of success with veggies. Why are they so darn hard to grow? I am not ready to give up just yet though. The little successes keep me going.

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    1. Hey, Jennifer, I've seen your successes on your blog, and they're huuuge compared to mine. But I know they ain't easy, so I salute you. Cheers!

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  6. Whew! Glad we aren't the only ones! My husband and I do the same thing every year. He LOVES his hot peppers and usually gets a good crop of cayennes that he eats all summer. Tomatoes...we aren't very good at tomatoes. But this year, all his cayennes look like something from Chernobyl - just like yours, only twice as fat. ??? And some are curly. Not very hot, either...very strange! Is this a cayenne conspiracy where they switched all the plants??? Good post!

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    1. Hmmm, Kathy, I'm beginning to wonder about the giant cayennes. So, let's not get beyond one taste, as they're not hot anyway. Thanks on the post. Here's to better peppers – Cheers!

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  7. I am re-learning vegetable gardening for the Texas summers. It's frustrating to say the least, but i"m getting better. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and have two watermelons growing. We won't talk about the pumpkins, nor the strawberries...they both started off strong and have taken a nose dive.

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    1. If I have it rough up here, I can only imagine what it must be like for you, with Texas-sized challenges. I admire your stamina.

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  8. I actually gave up growing tomatoes for several years because the plants always died a hideous death and produced weird fruit. But propelled forward by a husband desperate for a non-grocery store tomato, I figured out a few tricks - a big pot, a heat, humidity, disease resistant tomato seedling, lots of organic fertilizer, compost enriched potting soil, full sun, Tums in the planting hole, a sturdy, square tomato cage, and thin metal stakes to keep the main stem safe from storms. I'll be harvesting tomatoes tomorrow. I hope they don't taste like cardboard.

    Try again next year!! Just tweak your methods a bit. As for your peppers, try watering with hot sauce. :o)

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    1. Tammy, you are one determined and creative tomato grower. Amazing what a gardener will do for love of a spouse. 'Preciate knowing your method. Maybe I'll feel better about trying again next year. Maybe.

      Meanwhile, let me know if you get real 'maters or cardboard.

      And, yeah, how 'bout I harvest my watery peppers and pour Tabasco on 'em, just to get that spicy crunch. Ummmm, good.

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  9. Oh, Lee ... don't give up on the peppers. Tomatoes I can see since it is now easy to find mouth-watering heirlooms at any number of farmer's markets and produce stands, but hot peppers? Yes, some years they are hotter than others, but you just cannot find the combination of fresh sweet and spicy hot unless you pick them from your garden. I'm having trouble with my tomatoes (also potted) this year also, but the hot peppers are fantastic. Come see and I'll let you taste.

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    1. Thanks, Joene, I'm definitely looking forward to a tasting. The thought is making my head sweat. Really.

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