I'm not sure this is the soundest way to embrace my un-word of the year, but it's a start, right? Last year, I admitted that I fear gardening. I said that I was going to go crazy and blow a bunch of money (OK, not a fortune, but a dumb amount to just throw away) on another attempt at gardening, and that if it was a bust it would be my last.
Well, I don't think it was a bust. I planted zucchini and yellow squash; I got zero zucchini (that lived to be harvested), but maybe half a dozen tasty yellow squash. I planted red and green bell peppers, and got a handful of under-sized peppers. But my red peppers had way more flavor than the ones you get in the store. I planted eggplant, but put them out too early (they are super-cold-sensitive), and later I bought a larger seedling, which did bear an eggplant (actually, in the end, so did the one I nearly killed with cold), but in both cases, my timing was off - there were two eggplant still growing, hard as baseballs, when the first frost of fall hit. I will try one more time this year, keeping them inside until it gets nice and warm, but I'm not going to invest in very many. I think this is a crop for experts only. I got lots of ears of corn, but most of them were only half fertilized; very tasty, but very small. After struggling to keep basil alive, I finally got a bumper crop; I still haven't finished the big bag of leaves I froze. And my strawberries refused to put out the runners that are one of the hallmarks of the plant (and bore a pretty pathetic crop), so I gave up and bought them some neighbors (with strawberries in their second year, that should be unnecessary). And then they went psycho. They spent the rest of the summer trying to escape their borders and put out shoots on the brick patio, and I had to keep pushing them back. They also sprouted a second crop of berries, just to teach me not to underestimate them, I guess.
My rosemary, oregano, and thyme grew enormous from tiny starter plants, and they are still alive in giant pots on my porch. (Though the oregano has suffered all winter, and in the last few weeks, the rosemary is starting to look unhealthy, too. I'm not sure how to account for that - it is an evergreen, and plenty cold-hardy, and I have it sheltered, just in case.) That means I don't have to buy any more this year; I can put the big pots outside when it gets warm and harvest whatever I want as they get their summer growth spurt, and I can focus all my herb-growing energy (and seed money!) on the basil. (Of course the one herb that I use in quantity and doesn't dry well is also the only annual.)
My sunflowers were OK; they would have been better if I put them out earlier (i.e., when you're supposed to). Another thing I put out too late was the zinnias, but they did magnificently anyway. I am of course planting them again this year, and this time going with the extra-big Benary Giant variety that Miss Victoria recommends so highly. The lilies and gladioli did less well than I was hoping, but maybe they just had some growing pains and will be better in their second year. Also in their second year (having at least over-wintered in the ground) will be my Knockout roses, some English lavender that clearly is still alive but has not grown at all, and a whole bunch of daffodil bulbs I put in in fall. Oh, and my indoor lemon tree. It grew outside last summer in the heat, and appears very healthy - but when I brought it in in fall, it had two tiny lemons growing, and a bunch of un-opened flower buds, and they have frozen in time. Of dozens of flower buds, only a few have opened in four months, and the lemons are exactly the same size. Not dried out or blackened or rotted - as fresh-looking as the day I brought them in. Very strange. On the one hand, it means the lemon tree can survive its indoor/outdoor status fine. On the other hand, it means it isn't going to be offering me any lemons in winter. Maybe if I found it a warmer room? I don't have anything else with adequate sun, though!
In other words, I would say I got a solid D for the garden last year. But since prior years have resulted in a resounding F - with appropriate comments including, "What garden?" and "Where do you claim to have planted things?" it is a huge turn-around. Which will justify an even greater expenditure of energy (though less money) this year. And I'm making some significant strategic changes. First, I will be going with seeds instead of seedlings. I switched to seedlings last year because they require less work, but I can get a lot more plants (in case of casualties) out of a seed packet, and spend a lot less as well. And the selection of seedlings is quite limited, but I can get almost any variety of seeds. I'm also not dependent on when the stores get seedlings in - I can plant things at their optimum planting time (if I'm on the ball). And I can try new things (I'm planning to seed leeks and scallions) with a relatively small investment (wise, given that I screw everything up at least a couple of times).
Therefore, obviously, another change is that I'm going to be starting earlier (I will start seed pots next weekend). I'm also working on the ground more. I'm going to rip out dead stalks from last year this coming weekend as well, and after some research, I think next weekend is not too early to spread chicken manure (a friend of mine who is a good gardener swears by it), mixed with cheap potting soil, and then cover the whole mess with a really thick layer of really inexpensive (un-dyed - I love the color of the black stuff, but that dye is nasty, and will stain your nails for weeks) wood-chip mulch. I was going to spread cardboard and soak it to prevent weeds from starting (by the time vegetables are supposed to go in, the weeds in my raised beds are about two feet tall. They have an outrageous natural advantage), but the internet tells me that mulching will prevent the weeds, and I'm going to give that a shot, since I would be putting mulch down eventually anyway. If I can skip the back-breaking two-feet-of-weeds-removal-process that I have to do every year before planting, I can grow everything from seed and still invest less time in the whole endeavor. (I'm also not demolishing anything this year, so I may have some extra time. Of course, I am hoping to build a new front porch. And a paved patio in the back. Conceivably that could be time-consuming.)
Oh, and, yes - I am actually admitting that I've never used fertilizer before. My mother, who is mentally ill and cannot remember what day it is, where she is or where I am, or what age she is (even to the nearest decade), actually laughed at me when I said that I thought fertilizer might help my garden. "You think?" she said. So I guess it is that obvious, and that necessary. I will note that - mental illness notwithstanding - if I live many more decades I will never surpass my mother at gardening, baking, or ironing. (My baked goods are of course exceptionally delicious, but hers looked like something off a magazine cover. I don't even attempt that sort of thing.)
If anyone is interested (I know better), I will share the little schematic of my planned garden. I may even take weekly (cell phone, of course) pictures of my gardening efforts this summer, just to enjoy later. I could post them, too, of course.