How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’ve just had a glorious week at the Chautauqua Institution in NY with my family and my parents.  This year I really detached from everything – which is largely why you’e not heard much from me.  I needed a break and while I was taking that break I learned SO much.  Personal growth aside, I had a fabulous week learning more about gardening.

I got to take a class on garden design with one of my mothers (I am lucky enough to have two) and while I am not much for aesthetic gardening,  have to say that it just may be time to turn over a new leaf (yes, I know it was too easy – grown away – har har – somebody stop me).  I spent a week learning a lot about perennial gardening from the nicest collection of gardeners.  For once I was the spring chicken in the room, and I have to say I was delighted to be so.  These folks got me so charged up I began having wild and ambitious ideas about changes to make to our little piece of the suburbs – even changes that can’t be eaten.

Whilst spending all this time smelling the roses, or the butterfly bushes I prefer, I also did some long overdue reading pertinent to food gardening.  I am just too practical to go all floral – and besides, I’ll need snacks while I’m pruning (or whatever it is I’ll have to do if I go through with all these flower based plans…. I brought my copy of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture with me on my trip and devoured a good half of it.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about permaculture for the backyard.  Hunh?

Permaculture is, and this is my own terrible definition, growing plants in a way that most closely recreates the interactions between living things in the natural environment.  The bad thing about permaculture? You have to learn a lot and the plants that many suggest are not as readily available as the ones most yard gardeners are accustomed to using.  The GREAT thing about permaculture? If you get it right, you don’t have to do NEARLY as much WORK.  The plants feed each other, attract appropriate pests, the soil stays healthy and angel choirs sing 24/7.  Okay, that last bit was over the top, but seriously if this works as they say, and there’s a growing number of people who say that it does, I am in, at least a little. Let the research on perennial vegetables and fruit and nut trees begin!

My borrowed blister beetle photo.

Now that I am home with all this information, I have to face my current situation. I spent the morning saving the lawn and the shrubs from the weeds. I tore out two long dead shrubs with visions of flowering things in my head.  My boy and I spent the afternoon reclaiming the veggie patch from weeds.  WOW what a week (okay more than a week) of rain and reasonable temps did for the weeds. We harvested while we weeded and ended up bringing in quite a haul given what it looked like when we started.  Still no tomatoes, but plenty of blister beetles.

IMG_9649The good news is that their presence in the garden likely means we’ll have a few less grasshoppers at some point (the larvae eat the grasshopper eggs), but they are damaging to veggie crops, so I went straight for the big gun (well, the biggest one I will use on food crops) and applied Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew. Thank you for eating the grasshoppers; no, you can’t stay. And you harlequin beetles over there on the kale, you’re going too.  Sorry. No, really, I’m a little sorry.  Yeah, I’m weird.

My aesthetic lanscape also took a hit in the bug damage department.  A few of the shrubs that line our front walk seem to have been consumed by some sort of tent caterpillar.  They were healthy when we left and now…. Truth to tell, I don’t like these shrubs anyway – who plants pricker bushes on the front walk? Welcome, don’t touch, owwwwwwww.


Healthy Shrub

Healthy Shrub


Nearly Dead Shrub

IMG_9664I gave these a dose of Captain Jack’s as well, just in case any of the little buggers were still in there and are getting ready to move on to things I DO care about.  Now I have an excuse to pull those dead ones and replace them. YAY! I’ll add these to the list I made of plants that are dead, dying, or misplaced that I get to pull up and add to the deer barrier bramble behind the fence (the latest in a long line of deer disuasion devices while we look for a new canine friend). What I really need to do is find a way to bottle some of this enthusiasm for use in the spring. In the meantime, I’ll be tearing things out, reading about perennial edibles and lookables, and building new beds with Amazon boxes, leaves, and soil. How does your garden grow?

Daggone Bambi. Get Out Of My Patch!

IMG_9504So I thought I had her licked, and then I forgot. I completely FORGOT the first rule of varmint repelling.  NEVER assume that the one method you’ve been using will continue to work.  As much as they found that measure compelling at first, one day, one of those critters figures your crap out.  And then know what happens? Well, I’ll tell you.  As soon as that rogue deer figures out that the Ivory soap hanging all around the garden just smells bad, but won’t actually hurt them, you will come out to find that EVERY SINGLE ONE of the green tomatoes you’ve been eyeing with glee will be gone. And it won’t just be the tomatoes, it will be the branch the tomato was on.

And while she’s in there she’ll knock off a few branches of happily producing pepper plants. THEN she’ll eat some more of the strawberry plants that stopped producing a while ago, walk all through the bit you’ve been preparing for planting, rough up the cucumber plants, and step on the potatoes on her way out the other side.  Bulls in china shops got nothing on the deer.

IMG_9505 IMG_9506 IMG_9507

So, I went commercial.  I got some critter repellent to scatter that smells weird.  I sprinkled it heavily around the periphery of the garden. The soap is still out there, just in case that continues to be convincing to any of these giant pests. Tomorrow I intend to apply the age old, totally free, and at least effective for rabbits remedy.  Bigg Sis and I don’t share this information with just anybody… but seems to me that the good of the garden is a worthy cause, so I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna pee in a jar.

Yep, that’s what I said. I’m gonna pee in a jar and then pour it around the periphery of the garden. Yep, pee. And no, I’m not going to pour it on the garden itself or the veggies, so you don’t have to be icked out. I am going to find out if the trick that has ALWAYS worked for rabbits will do anything about these daggone deer. If my own supply proves inadequate, I guess I’ll have to buy some of the stuff with the gosh awful coyote pee everybody uses to protect their flowers around here… enjoying the garden, except for that heinous smell.  I’m trying not to be discouraged. I really am, but it’s hard.

A Maryland garden is empty without tomatoes and I’m on year 4 of looking like I might not get any for one reason or another. I talk it over with people who know what they’re doing, my garden guru at the garden center, I read, and my plants do great. And then SOMETHING goes wrong.  A few years ago the squirrels stole just about everything. The last two years stinkbugs did the plants in. This year things were looking pretty good, and then she came. And I’ve had to share (and by share I mean I get nothing). When I share from my garden, I like it to be because of my bounty, not because my repellent measures have become obsolete.

I will remember the first rule of critter control. I will stop assuming anything is working and just introduce new stinks every two weeks and see how that goes.  As for my long term plans, I think we’d darn well better have a dog by next sumer or I’m buying all my tomatoes at the farmers’ market. Soap, egg solids, pee… whatever, none of it works like a dog who really likes to chase deer. Miss you little buddy.