Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rooting into Gardening

I've killed a few houseplants out of neglect and over watering, a regular brown thumb. In my defense, frequent moves over the decades meant that flora and fauna changed regularly and were taken for granted. However, now, I'm putting down roots and paying attention.

The plagues of gardening in Southern Ohio are clay soil, critters, and the small labor pool, me. 
My first garden tool was handed to me by my husband as he returned to Japan for the fall and winter months. Composting mainly requires a pitchfork and a willingness to do it. Tea leaves, vegetable scraps, and yard wastes are tossed every few days by the handy tool until eventually you strike black gold. Earthworms accumulating in a corner of the yard ensure the rest. The pile in the sink takes on a distinct odor when neglected too long (mostly due to the weather). The magical transformation of waste into soil is a powerful motivator with a yard full of clay.
With five robins staking out our yard at any given time, I worried about the robins eating up all the worms, but they both appear to keep coming back. 
Robins, don't strike me as bright. They persistently built nests on our front porch eves even though we've removed the mud, twigs, and eventually eggs, they brought. To make the pillars and eves less hospitable, we placed chicken wire along the tops of the coveted dwelling spaces. We hung a plastic owl, a predator, from clear fishing line to bob and float about in the wind to scare them away. Although a nest did not get completed, a robin laid an egg at the top of a pillar anyway. We weren't sure what to do. We optimistically waited for the egg to hatch and noted with the laying of the egg, there was no more nest building activities. After a few weeks, my husband removed the egg (for fear of a potential smell hazard) only to have the robins resume building work. With a stroke of inspiration, I put two blue plastic easter eggs in the same spot and the robins have stayed away. Save your money, don't buy a fake owl. Instead use plastic easter eggs to wave off the nesting robins.
An orange colored bug with black spots hung about on my cucumber leaves for several weeks. Turns out this look alike ladybug bug fooled me, but I have bug issues and prefer to ignore them. My husband pointed out that if a bug is sitting on the leaves with a trail of holes, it's a clue that the bug is not of the helping kind. What to do? Flip them into a dish of soapy water so they can't climb out and dispose of them later. Ten bugs and a few squeals later, I debugged my garden. It would be helpful to read about the natural predators of a few bugs, but my imagination is as squeamish as I am-- part of being a visual learner is that I don't like to learn about things I don't like to see in my mind, namely bugs.

Bunnies nibble daily on the edible flowers, but beyond a small patch I have for vegetables with a rabbit fence, I've no plans for chasing them off.

Squirrels ate my first yuzu lemon. They would be on my hit list if I had one. I think they thought it was a walnut which is also small and green. There are six yuzu perking along now, thanks to the bees which are better pollinators than the paint brush used in early spring to pollinate it while still indoors. Bumble bees are good bugs that I like.

My tomatoes think they're Jack's beanstalk-- they are taller than me. My tomato crop so far? One, one cherry tomato. Cut the tops off of skyward reaching tomato plants to get them to fruit. Stake tomatoes when you plant them, it's just easier and less likely to destroy leaves and stems that you are nurturing. Next year, I won't plant tomatoes next to the cucumbers because the vines grow into each other and become an entangled mess. It gets kind of wild when plants actually grow, bloom, and fruit altogether which is hard to imagine when planting seeds and seedlings, especially for the first time.

The few things I have cultivated in pots here and there are herbs. Mint takes over and is best confined. Cutback herbs like basil, sage, and mint before it flowers. I recollect one of the pilots in Bahrain got some manure for his garden and ended up with a basil bush whereas mine resemble a bunch of sticks.

The focus of my garden is on Japanese produce not available locally. I have found that daikon giant white radish grow very nicely in Ohio thanks to the abundant rainfall of summer. Shiso (perilla), aka shiso (red perilla), kabocha pumpkin, engan French green beens, and cucumbers (long and skinny kind) grow well too. The Japanese hot peppers and carrots have yet to make an appearance.

Airflow stops mosquitoes-- no chemicals necessary. I wish the neighbors who neglect vines and weeds that stop the flow of the chi were onboard with this. Pockets of dead air protect the mosquitoes. The antidote is sunlight and air flow. Get a fan!

My last garden realization is that a produce auction or farmers market offers all the food with less of the labor. Consider harvest times to avoid vacation spells, what you will use or eat,  and how you will save it. Produce, from the garden or purchased, is work too. To make the most of it, you have to put it up in some form or eat loads of it at once. In the meantime, I'm working on my jamming, drying, and pickling skills, but that is for another day.

My garden patch