Budding Vegetables & Gardening Zen

You can only read so many books and web articles about vegetable gardening before you just have to sack up and do whatever is that you have been reading about. By reading and reading and reading, we ended up putting off transplanting for a really long time. Luckily, it hasn’t done any lasting harm to our plants. Check out the buds on the tomato, jalapeno, and bell pepper plants. I am woman! I make vegetable!

What’s that you say? You can’t see the buds? Well, they’re really small, OK?

Annnnnnyway, some form of procrastination leaked into the rest of our original planting schedule and temporarily poisoned our will to plant. I don’t know why we kept putting it off, but eventually we were reading packets that said to plant “2 to 4 weeks after temps reach 65 degrees” or some degree indicative of early springtime. It is so not early springtime anymore. But who cares, I say! I laugh in the face of seed packets! I am woman! I make–you get the point.

So last night when I got home from work, feeling a little tired, a little discouraged, a little envious of other organizations’ websites, whatever, I decided June 12 seemed like a perfect time to plant my early spring vegetables. You know, I just went for it. Who cares if it’s not radish season anymore according to some packet? It’s always radish season in my heart. So I got Jordan to drill some holes in some buckets, and we planted. Radishes. Lettuce. Zucchini. Cucumbers. Carrots. Just like that.

And I felt connected to Ceres, goddess of grain and harvest, as predicted in my cost benefit analysis of vegetable gardening. And I went inside feeling calm–respite gleaned by burying treasures and digging in dirt.

Blog Absence Explained; Seedling Progress

Charlotte is something like the second or third worst city in the United States for seasonal allergies and I happen to be the second or third most allergic person in Charlotte. Not a very happy situation. Since we had such a warm winter, the pollen started very early (late February) and we still have brown strands of irritants covering our front yard.

The bad news is that I have fallen off the wagon of tracking our seedlings’ progress and planting new seeds due to uncontrollable sniffling, sneezing, and general allergy induced sickness. The good news is we hardened off our first batch of seedlings and they are thriving on our back deck! We’ve also had a lot of rain and haven’t really needed to water our plants. Nature is finally doing something in our favor.

I believe it might be time to say goodbye to the weaker plants and transplant the stronger ones to larger pots. Today would be the perfect day if we hadn’t wasted the entire morning watching Yard Crashers and wishing Ahmed Hassan would come make our backyard an oasis instead of the jungle that currently plays host to the boldest squirrels that ever lived, several bird families, fearless neighborhood cats, and raccoons and possums who wake us up in the middle of the night by walking around on our deck. But that is a story for another day.

Off to figure out container size and whether or not I can use companion planting in said containers. This container gardening stuff is pretty complicated!

SproutRobot / AlexRobot

A friend recently told me about a new website that promises to help gardeners schedule when to plant plants based on zip codes/zones. Just like Ouch Pouch toe pads and Cubism, someone has gone and invented my invention before I had a chance to do it myself. Part of my overall plans in starting this blog, including but not limited to world domination, has been usurped by a website cleverly named SproutRobot.com.

Visit the website, put in your zip code, and the robot will populate a planting schedule based on your zone. Now, you can do this yourself by buying seeds, reading the packet’s directions and then organizing the seeds in order of their planting dates. But if that is two too many steps for you, Sprout Robot may be your answer. Once you create an account, you can check the vegetables that you are planning on growing and the robot will customize your planting schedule for you.

With every website (or really anything) that promises to solve all of your problems, there are always drawbacks. Some problems to start:

  1. I am pretty certain that the Robot promised to email me when I was supposed to start my tomatoes and bell peppers but I don’t have an email. (Come on, Robot! Automatic reminders that I don’t have to put in my calendar? Don’t fail me there!)
  2. The Robot doesn’t know about every single herb that I want to plant so I’ll still have to supplement my Robot generated schedule with my own herb planting schedule.

Besides the little issues listed above, I think it’s a helpful site and hopefully will only get better as time goes on. According to the site it is time to plant my tomatoes and bell peppers indoors! We’ll see how Jordan and I do with planting seeds–it can’t be that hard, right?

Purchasing Seeds for Container Gardening

Another beautiful Saturday and we couldn’t stand to stay inside. We also happened to run out of coffee so instead of just going to the store to buy new beans, we went out for breakfast. Yay!

Since we were already out and since we hadn’t purchased any seeds yet, we decided to visit the coolest hardware store on the planet, Blackhawk Hardware (I didn’t get paid to say that, I just love the store). It’s probably not the cheapest place, but at least it’s locally owned with friendly, helpful workers who can point lost puppies in the right direction. Plus, they carry lots of heirloom varieties and no GMO seeds.

Upon reaching the seed aisle, after the fast-panting and tail-wagging subsided, we looked at all the vegetable seeds and chose the ones that would work best for us. I really wanted to buy the weirdest stuff like kohlrabi, amaranth, bok choy, and multi-colored beans but I was convinced to stick with what we actually eat the most often. Sigh, it’s good advice but not nearly as fun.

Here’s what we ended up with:

PEPPER chile, Early Jalapeno, Capsicum annuum
We buy jalapenos all the time for use in soups, salsa, and guacamole and we always have to buy too many at Trader Joe’s. We’ll probably just have one plant and use the leftovers to make hot pepper jelly to eat with cheese and crackers. Mmm.

TOMATO bush, Better Bush, Lycopersicon lycopersicum (hybrid)
This was a no-brainer. Everyone knows that tomatoes from the store are just gross. They’ve been genetically modified to withstand long bumpy rides across the country and to be the same size (huge) and same color (orangey red). I’ll probably sneak back to the store and buy three more varieties because I like tomatoes so much.

RADISH, Easter Egg Blend, Raphanus sativus
Totally succumbed to the drawing of purple, white, pink and red radishes on the packet. Radishes with a little bit of salt are like heaven to me. These will be eaten as a snack at work every day that they are available.

PEPPER bell, Jewel-Toned Bell Peppers
Bell peppers cost $4 each at Harris Teeter. Nuff said.

LETTUCE leaf, Salad Bowl Blend, Lactuca sativa
The lettuce we buy always gets slimy before we have a chance to eat it all. I hope this will particular mix will work as a cut and come again plant so we have lettuce all season long!

CARROT, Carnival Blend, Daucus carota sativus
Again, the yellow, pink, white, purple and orange carrots on the packet made me do it. I’m not sure how well these will do in a container but I’m willing to give it a whirl for pink and purple carrots.

CUCUMBER, Spacemaster, Cucumis sativus
“Spacemaster is the solution!” I will keep my cukes in their own container so they don’t overrun my garden and harvest small guys to make pickles and eat the others raw with my radish snack.

SQUASH Summer, Black Beauty Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo
I wasn’t originally going to get zucchinis but the packet said, “this highly productive bush type plant takes up little garden space” and I’m a trusting person.

PARSNIP, All American, Pastinaca sativa
I think parsnips are underrated. I like them best in chicken soup with carrots, but I also plan to mash or fry them up with other root vegetables like rutabagas, beets, and potatoes. Why not?

BRUSSELS SPROUTS, Long Island Improved, Brassica oleracea (Gemmifera group)
I couldn’t resist! I don’t even know if this is possible. I just love brussels sprouts so much that I had to try it. If I can get one stalk with a handful of little sprouts I’ll have succeeded. I want everyone in the world to love brussels sprouts as much as I do and I am on a mini-mission to convince the world that brussels are the best. That should be a bumper sticker.

One question remains: did we bite off more than we can chew? I haven’t even started planning the herb/edible flower portion of the garden. Eek.

Frugal Gardening Tips: Recycled Containers, Water Conservation, & Natural Insect Repellant

I’ve been doing a lot of aggressive reading lately. Reading becomes a sport when you check out too many books at once from the library. Trigger happy and manic, I reserved all these gardening books in about 2 minutes, not bothering to think, “Alex, is there really enough time to read all these books before they start costing you a precious $0.25/day/book?”

Now, faced with a looming deadline, I can’t afford to waste any time leisurely meandering my way through my stack of pretty books. If I put as much energy into exercising as I do into reading, I might be a really good athlete instead of someone who is overly educated on very specific topics like how to make your own worm poop. But believe you me, that information is going to come in handy soon and the ability to run for longer than a minute–well, that could be handy too… Moving on!

I did finish You Grow Girl and it’s as I feared: I love it. I love everything about it. If I were to write a book on gardening, it would be this book. If I could live inside a gardening book, I would nestle between the section on growing edible flowers and the entire chapter on how to combat evil, nasty bugs and diseases. And although it is clearly written for the female audience, I do believe men would find it helpful too. Jordan may want to skip the chapter on sewing a gardening tool belt, but otherwise it’s got amazing bits of information on every single page.

Here are some things I learned that I never knew before:

  • You can use pretty much anything as a container for seed starting and growing.
    When I first started this project, I thought I would need to buy lots and lots of expensive containers and gardening gear. That is not true! I have begun to collect pretty much anything that can have holes drilled into it. My seeds will be started in toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, yogurt cups, butter containers; tin cans, plastic buckets, trash cans, old tupperware–all kinds of junk will be repurposed into suitable housing for my veggies and herbs!
  • You don’t have to buy an expensive rain barrel to conserve and collect water.
    You can buy a rain barrel if you want to, or you can make your own. However, there are lots of ways to collect water throughout the day. We can save the water from our showers and sinks that runs while we wait for it to warm up, rain water can be collected in buckets placed on the porch, we can reuse our pasta, leftover tea, and laundry water. Who says our water bill has to be high this summer? I laugh in the face of the water company!
  • You can combat insects and woodland creatures naturally without expensive and/or environmentally harmful sprays.
    You can use companion planting, i.e. planting something that attracts good bugs that will eat bad bugs next to a plant that attracts bad bugs, to go on the offense for you; you can lay down copper pennies to keep slugs and snails at bay (I feel slightly bad about this one because the copper shocks the poor guys); and burning frankincense, yes the stuff that the wise men brought to baby Jesus, discourages birds, squirrels, and cats from taking up residence in the garden.

FYI, I am not looking forward to plotting ways to murder the bad insects that will inevitably invade my sweet garden. I already know that I will be a ruthless killer. And isn’t gardening supposed to be peaceful?

The Cost of Vegetable Container Gardening

Recently, while wearing my non-profit arts warrior hat, I was asked to write a cost benefit analysis (CBA) for a project I was researching. It was incredibly difficult and took me a shamefully long time to complete. The good news is that I completed it. And I learned how to calculate the payback time for an investment and got to imagine the intangible costs and benefits of turning my co-workers’ lives upside down. Fun!

What I’ve come to realize is that doing a CBA is really the prudent thing to do before jumping head first into this vegetable gardening thing. Maybe I’ll even learn something. No need to tell me I am probably over-thinking it. “Always be prepared,” I say! I never say that.

Cost Benefit Analysis: Vegetable Gardening

Implementation Initial Cost
Contract Labor 0
Capital Costs (i.e. reusable supplies) 80
Internal Planning Exorbitant sum/hour
Puppy Training Exorbitant sum/hour
Ongoing Avg. Annual Cost
Maintenance (soil/fertilizer) 100
Operational Cost (plants & seeds) 90
Additional Water Cost 35
Intangible Costs  
Loss of free time  
Heat stroke  
Increased inter-office conflict  
Ongoing Avg. Annual Benefit
Grocery Store Savings ($20 * 28 hopeful weeks) 560
Intangible Benefits  
Feelings of self-worth and pride  
Connection to Ceres, goddess of grain and harvest  
Development of a positive environment of teamwork and cooperation
TOTAL BENEFIT (first year) $255
TOTAL BENEFIT (ongoing) $335
Payback Time (Months after initial investment) 9.96

As one can see from my listing of costs and benefits, it appears that container vegetable gardening will actually save us money once we purchase the obligatory pots, containers, gloves, tools, soil, seeds, and transplants. I do so hope that our crops will be bountiful and bug free!

Next step: pick up unknown amount of hastily ordered library books on vegetable container gardening and consume.

P.S. The peach plant with the bugs is disoriented about the season and has decided to pretend it’s autumn. Sad, unloved peach tree.