The First Plants: Tomatoes and Peppers

garden, photography

We have six varieties of tomatoes which we’ve picked up from a bunch of different places based on a bunch of different recommendations. They were the first thing we planted last week, along with a few pepper plants.

img_0709

First, Sister and I measured out the garden plot. As it turns out, the posts aren’t exactly evenly spaced, so the straight line down the center looks a little off. But it’s fine. We tied twine to make four quadrants and planned out roughly where everything would go based on (wait for it, it’s going to sound so impressive) the direction of the sun and height of the plants.

I know, you guys.

I know.

IMG_1097 2

That’s me and the very first plant! Woo! It was a labor of love because Sister and I lawn-mowed and rototilled all day and were just trying to get something in the ground before the rain was coming.

img_0706

Then we drove the stakes in next to the plants. Neighbor Bill from a few posts back told us to put the stakes in at the same time because to do it later would risk damaging the root systems of the plants.

img_0710

We hurried to get a few pepper plants in the ground. Basic bell peppers: green, orange, and purple.

IMG_0832

For our tomato varieties we have:

  • Beefsteak
    • The classic tomato. It will be thick-skinned and dark red. They might require a cage later on to support the vines because the tomatoes get so heavy. Great for slicing.
  • Brandywine
    • Large heirloom variety. Probably will be pinkish. They have a tangy taste and will also probably need cages as the vines grow “vigorously”.
  • Grapette
    • These are hybrid little guys and grow in clusters, thus the “grape” in their name. They promise to be delightful.
  • Ruth’s Perfect
    • Here is the description for Ruth’s Perfect (purchased from Tomato Lady at the Troy Market) “Variety is almost completely problem free. Produces abundant amounts of 7oz., 2-3″, perfectly round, red fruit. Exceptionally flavorful.” Well, that sounds amazing.
  • Yellow Pear Cherry
    • Another heirloom variety. Produces little yellow pear-shaped tomatoes. Apparently will grow between 6-12 feet tall!! Oh boy. We are in for some major tomato joy in a few months.
  • Mortgage Lifter
    • We talked about this one earlier, but here is another description of this guy, “This variety has become very popular in recent years, after being developed by M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia. After crossing varieties for 6 years and selecting the best, he introduced this beauty that he named Mortgage Lifter in the 1940’s after he sold plants for $1 each and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house.”

IMG_0817

One thing we did was based on some last-minute words-of-wisdom from Uncle Gee. He told us that his grandfather (Pop, around these parts) (he of the greenest of green thumbs) gave him some tomato planting advice when Uncle Gee was a youngster. Evidently, if you plant the tomatoes a bit deeper than you would think to plant them, so that the fuzzy stem of the plant is about an inch or two beneath the soil, it will become part of the roots and strengthen the existing root system, thus increasing the tomato yield.

We’ll see, Pop. We’ll see!

Mish-Mash Catch Up

dirt on my face, garden, gardening tips, mish mash, photography, small town life

So, where did I leave off in recounting my garden exploits? This past week has been so busy with actually getting plants in the ground and trying to beat the impending four-day rain storms that I am pretty far behind. Here is what we have covered thus far:

  • Tilling the ground
  • A promised post about rototilling which I can sum up briefly like this: it’s like walking a giant, huge, slobbering dog that likes to throw rocks at you and is pulling at his leash for about three straight hours. It made me feel ACCOMPLISHED.
img_0680

Work gloves! Machinery! Ahh!

  • Hey, I started Pilates last week! It was hard! Apparently, I have something called a “core”?
  • This blog is nothing but a meandering stream-of-consciousness, isn’t it? Ah, well.
  • Fence posts and fencing. Update: Claire and I finished putting up the last “wall” of fencing and tidying it up, then a few days later I decided we needed another fence post and we used our newly-created post-hole digging skills to knock it out of the park. Also: ow. See above: “having a core”
IMG_0533

In preparing the soil, we removed approx. 7 tons loads of rocks. Insert emoji with the nervous smile and a lot of teeth that looks kind of like a grimace and kind of like it’s wearing braces.

After all that, I decided it was time to learn about soil additives. Now, that is a thing that really intimidates me about gardening because it involves words I haven’t heard since high school Chemistry and I didn’t really understand what they meant then, either.* In fact, the morning on which I said, “I need to learn about soil additives!” was also the morning that I woke up, brushed my teeth, went downstairs, poured a coffee, had something to eat, sat on the sofa, opened a crossword book, and then Claire woke me up three hours later.

img_0718

Yup, there is dirt on my face in this picture, too. Do you sense a theme?

Okay.

I am talking, of course, about:

  • nitrogen
  • phosphate
  • fish emulsion (?)
  • potassium
  • and other things

assume the correct way to get potassium in the ground is to mash up bananas and go scatter them around?

As we have previously discussed, gardeners are so excited and happy to share advice. One nice lady, after filling me in on why the local bagel cafe is now CLOSED*** also offered me the advice that Neptune’s Harvest Fish Oil was the way forward if I wanted the best plants ever. Obviously, I promptly bought it on Amazon. (Related tangent: In this best of countries, you can order ANYTHING on Amazon and it is delivered within 2 days for free!! Anything! Milky spore powder to kill grubs**** or a book on how to paint flowers or an entire bag of worm castings, which is a nice way to say the refuse that worms leave behind after gorging themselves on organic material.) (Which brings me to my next point.)

Worm leavings.

Evidently, they are magic for your garden.

IMG_0596

Yes, I have a gardening blog. Interested?

Anyway, this post is kind of not that useful for anyone else trying to figure this stuff out, because I have not figured it out. I am confused about fertilizer, also about worm castings, also about milky spore powder. In the end, I just used…a little bit of everything that was not a very harmful chemical substance.*****

And then there is the question of mulching, which I also don’t understand. It turns out that gardening involves a lot more than just sticking some seeds in the ground. And yet, it also mostly involves sticking some seeds in the ground and letting the rain and the sun do most of the work. It is a beautiful mystery.

IMG_0837

Back yard majesty.

Other mish-mash catch up:

Remember that fun game I invented about finding a home for the worms instead of mangling them until they are “beeding” is still super fun for the toddlers in my life.

IMG_0748

This girl loves worms.

And speaking of the toddlers in my life, this illustrated epic story tells the tale of a girl who held onto a rainbow even as a ‘rupting volcano shot rocks at her.

IMG_0670

And that is all for today’s post…not because I have run out of words, but because the country internet is so slow I can’t possibly stand to sit here another moment! Until next time!

* Nitrogen, for example. Yeah, yeah, it’s an “element” but what does it mean when one thing leaches nitrogen out of the soil, and another thing puts nitrogen in the soil, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out and FISH EMULSION is the way forward, a Knowledgeable and Wise Old Gardener at the Garden Center** wrinkles her nose at you and volunteers the information that she would never add nitrogen to her garden.

** Otherwise known as a KWOGGC

*** TAX EVASION, GUYS! CARBOHYDRATE-RELATED TAX EVASION!

**** I DON’T EVEN KNOW

***** How many asterisks are too many asterisks? But what this footnote is really about is that Sister and I went to the store to buy grub killer because grubs are bad, but all the grub killers said things like, “THIS KILLS GRUBS AND 150 OTHER CREATURES” and we looked at each other and thought, “How is that not going to kill us?” so the grubs stay for now. Until I figure out what milky spore powder is.

Picking Out Plants & the Mortgage Lifter

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life
IMG_0381

AHHHHHHHHHH IT IS TOO BEAUTIFUL

Here is how last Saturday went:

 

I was trying to change my shoes while driving the car. That’s not the point of this story, though, it is just essential background information. Sister went into the local coffee roasting place* and when she came out, she had a free mug! So, I decided I would go in and get myself some organic dark-chocolate-covered cherries and a free mug of my own. I went inside and was glad to see the place had expanded and was full of people picking out coffees and nut butters.

But something felt weird.

I looked down.

And yes! I had two different shoes on!

Me: I have two different shoes on.

Lady behind the counter: You sure do!

Lady behind the counter: Would you like a free mug?

IMG_0399

Here is also how our Saturday went:

We were driving up to Target** and SUDDENLY it seemed there was a plastic bag floating up over the hood of the car.

Sister: Alex? Is that our headlight?

Me: Why yes Claire, I believe it is.

And INDEED IT WAS. So we bought duct tape and taped that sucker on, because we are nothing if not resourceful and also good at driving old cars.***

IMG_0565

Here is how our Saturday proceeded:

We went to Uncle Gee and Aunt T’s house and followed them over to the Country Caretaker, which is their favorite garden center. There are so many garden centers! I LOVE THEM ALL.

IMG_0388

I confessed total ignorance to the nice people that worked there and they helped me out by talking about different kinds of tomatoes. We bought: Grapettes, Beef Steak, Brandywine, and one called the Mortgage Lifter, so called because the guy who created this type of tomato apparently used the proceeds to pay off his mortgage! The garden center tomato person told me they will turn red, and then yellow, and then gold, and will be delicious. Can’t wait!!

We got some cucumber plants, peppers, flower seeds, snapdragons, arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, and yellow squash. I CANNOT WAIT TO EAT THEM.

Uncle Gee also lent us a bunch of garden implements and tools which have proven to be essential.

IMG_0382

 

IMG_0389

Look! There’s no dirt on my face!

Following that, our Saturday continued thusly:

Sister and I went to what used to be a church and heard a solo piano concert by Ben Cosgrove, who composes beautiful instrumental pieces inspired by landscapes. It was an hour well spent. There were a few odd ducks there. And by “few” I mean everyone seemed to be wearing loose-fitting linen clothing? But the music! So, so beautiful. Here is a link, go listen to him and buy his new album:

https://bencosgrove.bandcamp.com/album/salt

IMG_0564

 

IMG_0612

The plants are living here until the garden is ready. We figure if they’re up close to the house the deer will STAY AWAY FROM MY PLANTS, YOU HEAR ME, DEER?

Here is how our Saturday ended:

With a visit from Aunt K, who we were so happy to see, and a nice, fun chat in Aunt W’s living room, and a pizza. It was a good day.

*Whenever possible, I am trying not to go into stores. There are so many of them here. They are so full of THINGS and it’s overwhelming. The stores I like are Garden Centers, Produce Stands, and Hardware Stores. Those, I can handle. Everything else needs to get drones to drop things off at my front door.

** Hoo boy. There’s a place to send you into paroxysms of culture shock.

*** This seems like a good time to reference the little local news tidbit I read in the paper this week. It is called LIBERATE THE EARTH and involves a group called the Artichoke Dance Company. Here is the blurb: “There will be a Wearable Art/Costume Workshop on Friday, May 26 at 7pm…Participants will create beautiful wearable items from recycled plastic bags to serve as costumes for Saturday’s performance. Please bring plastic bags to the workshop.”****

****NO!

 

Breaking Ground

friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth

The ground has been broken and that makes me happy!

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to getting the grass off the ground and the garden full of dirt. Options included the back-breaking pick-axe and shovel (sounded hard), hiring someone to rototill (sounded expensive), or finding a plow (sounded impossible).

Uncle G told us it would be easiest to find someone with a plow, though I don’t think he thought we could actually do it. Sister looked at me–I looked at Sister–and we knew that we knew someone who would have the answer.

So Sister texted Bill to ask if he knew anyone with a plow and he–being Bill–ended up in our yard the very next evening with a giant backhoe and a friend named Tom. They also bought a manual post-hole digger and an auger.

Earlier that day…

Me: Sister, we need to find something to dig holes with for fence posts

Sister: Like what?

Me: I don’t know. Google it?

Sister (after Googling): …is it…an auger?

Both of us: What IS an auger, anyway?

IMG_0427

This was in the driveway when we pulled in

Knowing that Bill was coming meant that I had to CHOOSE A LOCATION.

Look, on the best of days I might be able to make a decision quickly. On all other days, I find decision-making tough. I start to think, and over-think, and over-think the over-thinking and before you know it, a lot of time has passed and I have thought of many an eventuality–all increasingly farfetched–and have paralyzed myself. I worry about disappointing people, I worry mostly about making the WRONG choice, or somehow making a decision that is less than perfect. I have operated for a long time on the assumption that there is always one right choice and everything else is a mistake or wrong. I am working on changing that perspective, but Rome wasn’t built in a day (neither is this garden). I am working on thinking that if I put the garden in the back right corner where there is a little too much morning shade or the back left corner or on the side of the house or not…I am learning that there might not be ONE right answer.

Anyway.

I asked everyone for their thoughts because I was panicking a little bit.

I asked Aunt W and Uncle M, I asked their neighbor who I’d never met before, I asked Aunt S and Uncle G, I talked to Sister, Mom, Dad, Brother 1 and Brother 2, I asked Cousin A and and I asked and I asked and finally I arrived at a decision, which was mainly because there was a giant backhoe in the driveway when I got home. Ha.

I think part of this process is learning to trust my own judgment. Maybe my own decision making is just fine.

I am pretty happy with where the ground was broken.

IMG_0433

Onward:

  • We staked out a 15×20 foot plot
  • Bill brought the backhoe around to the side of the house and operated it like he does it every day of his life
  • The backhoe peeled the sod back kind of like an ice cream scoop and soft ice cream. It was so effortless.
  • Bill broke the sod up, patted it down, tore it apart, and scattered it. If Bill operated one of those toy-cranes at an arcade, I bet he’d get every stuffed animal in the case.

IMG_0431

IMG_0429

Meanwhile, I continue to adjust to people who have a sense of humor. After more than a year in the Netherlands, where sarcasm is wasted, there has been more than one interaction like this:

Me: It was good to meet you, Tom. Thanks so much for coming over!

Tom: Actually, my name is William.

Me (flustered): Wait, seriously? That’s awful. I’m so sorry. I thought your name was Tom. Oh man. What a disaster. Unbelievable. This is so awkward. And Claire just asked me what your name was and I told her it was Tom. Oh gosh. Oh dear. Here, you know what? Take my wallet. Actually, just take the house.

Bill: His name is Tom. He was just joking.

Me: Oh.

As Bill operated the backhoe with a truly inspiring amount of dexterity, Tom chatted with me and Sister about his wife and how she died, how he came to know the Lord, and lots of little fun facts.

Tom: The round stones are called Cobbles. Or Cobs, if you’re in the stone business.

Me (points to big rock): Oh. What’s that one called?

Tom (looks at me out of the corner of his eye): That’s called a rock.

IMG_0566

Finally, they brought around the auger and got to work. First they thought they would drill 14 holes, but the auger is tough, and then it was 12 holes, but the auger is really tough, so then it was 10 holes.

Holes which ended up needing some work, but that’s a post for another day.

Basically, this particular experience taught me to continue to ask for help and also that everything is easier when you have community and some friends who are willing to hop on their backhoe with another buddy and drive it a few miles up the road and park it in your lawn and break up the sod for you.

I have also learned what an auger is.

IMG_0469

Sister jumping for joy