About Me

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Montgomery, Alabama, United States
I'm a Zone 8. I'm doing a little gardening to satisfy a curiosity to see whether or not I can do it. People make it look so easy-- what's stopping me from making it work? Contrary to my name ("Hana" means flower in Japanese) I have a history of killing plants. Well, most of them. Let's see how this one goes!

Friday, May 2, 2008

My Monthly Update?

Man, I am no good at documenting progress. Apparently I was nominated for a weird little blog award for having a blog that could elicit mirth both from my knee-slappingly witty writing and from my fruitless foibles. This is a catastrophe, after all, and not everything goes as planned.

I indeed have dirt mounds in the backyard, but next to them (where the dirt used to be but now is replaced by compost, organic matter, and, er, other stuff) are my two little beds, connected in an L-shape (let's not think of too many negative things that start with L quite yet!) with veggie plants in them.

I wasn't totally lying when I said that "Today is planting day!" I should have actually said "Today starts planting week" as the weather kind of hampered progress a bit. I did manage to put in tomatoes with cute little marigolds and basils around them and construct two bean teepees with trellis netting strung between them. Of course, because it was planting week and not planting day I allowed for such catastrophes as the entire teepee/trellis complex getting flattened by strong winds--which they did that very night-- and luckily waited to test the structural integrity of the thing before planting anything around it. I didn't push the poles into the ground far enough the first time, but with the aid of the boyfriend (who is almost a foot taller than I am and therefore taller than the poles) we got them into a nice, steady position and they have survived high winds and thunderstorms with ease so far. I'm strangely happy about the teepees because I went online to search for the proper way to lash together tripods and was able to follow the instructions without a problem. Of course there were straight-forward instructions and illustrations, but I was happy nonetheless at my cleverness.

Oh, you want photographic proof! I didn't take any when I first sunk the things into the ground. After all, it was sort of depressing-looking, what with 5"-tall tomato seedlings, sad-looking squash transplants, and most of the seeds for the trellis and the teepees underground. In all honesty I felt a bit embarrassed because I look at other people's ideas of "seedlings" and they have foot and a half-tall monsters growing fruit already. So in a way, I kind of avoided the blog because it was sort of like illustrating my defeat.

BUUUT. A couple weeks ago I realized that things were starting to look up. A couple rain storms had kept me out of the garden since the only reason I found myself outdoors at the time was to water the thing. Miraculously, after a week or so of neglect, I noticed that my tomatoes were orders of magnitude larger (I have found this was a trend-- as soon as I started ignoring my seedlings in cups they did better. What the heck!). Without my "help" (other than picking off aphids) they were flourishing, and it made me ever so happy.

But, I will emphasize again, this is a catastrophe, and my first real nemeses appeared last week, just when I was reveling in the progress of the garden.

1. Those little green caterpillar-on-a-string things
You all remember my lovely, lush, fragrant chocolate mint plant that I loved so much? Two days, two different caterpillars, and the entire thing is completely stripped of leaves. Completely. Stripped. Of leaves. I really ought to take a picture because it is so amazing, but the carnage is more than even I can handle. I have found them on almost every species of plant I have, including tomatoes, beans, and curcubits. I really hate them, but I'm just thankful that they are easily extracted without stinging me.

2. Aphids
Okay, these guys aren't so bad because they've only appeared in numbers that I can easily pick off by hand, but they have been slowly eroding away the leaves on everything. They're quite satisfying to squish, though.

3. Leaf-hopper nymphs
OKAY it's a little difficult for me to express how incredibly upsetting these little things are without going on a curse-laden tirade. I even have pictures if you do not know what I'm talking about:

A little family of these guys came through and literally devastated my tomato plants. How they work their evil little voodoo is by sticking their hideous little mouthparts into the stem of the plant and kill by sucking out its vital juices. One alone will make a nice hickey-looking bruise that weakens the stem at that point (usually at ground-level). But I found up to 6 of them at a time surrounding the stems of my tomatoes one morning, and they had so weakened the stems that a couple of my plants nearly died and had to be re-buried in order for more roots to form.

This is one such victim. You will notice the drinking straw collar that is now around its base. I had originally put them on when they first went into the ground to protect the skinny, tender stems from cutworm damage. After a couple weeks I removed them because I didn't want the stems to rot, just in case the collars were holding in too much moisture. After the hopper nymph attack, I had to put them right back on. The logic is this: the collar will protect them against cutworm as well as these leaf-hoppers, which prefer to feed next to the ground where they are camouflaged, and if the hoppers do end up feeding, then they will be higher up the stem and easier to spot.

This plant got pretty damaged in the attack and is also in recovery. I should have taken pictures, but there was a gash that went through almost clean to the other side by the time I got to it.

Hardcore collaring. This guy has a pretty beefy stem, so I had to employ a regular straw AND a boba tea straw.

But not everything has been catastrophic. The rest of my tomatoes have taken off, and I think I see some buds beginning to form. I may get some fruit yet! (You can really tell which tomato plants got hacked up, though. Really sad):

A different, more flattering angle:

The squashes I transplanted in don't look too hot, but I have read innumerable times that squash doesn't care to be transplanted. I ignored all warnings, but at least I have a couple making blossoms:

And the whole trellis complex doesn't look terribly bad:

I bought a little pepper plant from HEB called "Paul Grande" (whatever that means) and while nobody has been able to tell me what I should be expecting, I was able to get a neat picture of its blossom:

Of course I had to plant beans around the teepees, and I already have ones that found the poles are are starting to wind around. I find pole beans to be incredibly cute:

I planted some cucumbers and squashes on the opposite end of the net from the transplants. They will probably be crowded at first, but I intend to thin them out as they get bigger:

I recently began corresponding with a kindly older gentleman from the Seattle area who grows an heirloom Chinese runner bean that gardening friends of his have called Insuk's Wang Kong runner bean, in honor of his Korean wife, Insuk. He actually sent these to me after I requested some squash seeds that he had been keen to share on the site, but I'll get to those later. The beans are quite enormous and lovely, but the plant is so fast-growing that I'm amazed. I planted some in the garden, but the ones I am looking forward to seeing are the ones I planted next to trees in the back yard:

Jim (the kindly older gentleman) also sent me some seeds from a squash that originates in Adapazari, Turkey. It's apparently quite large and sweet like a pumpkin, and I couldn't resist the offer to try out some of the seeds. The thing popped out of the ground amazingly fast, and the leaves are astonishingly large. I am not sure what took over my camera when I snapped this picture, but it came out such a wonderfully alien green color and looks quite artsy (compared to everything else I photograph):

So overall, things are going fairly well. Things that got damaged are making a recovery, and things that are new in the ground are coming up strong and fast. I enjoy the serenity that comes with a peaceful day of gardening, and I also enjoy the feeling of triumph when I'm able to bring a seemingly dead plant back to life.

I hope that this blog doesn't turn into something depressing. Right now my garden is a happy place, as it should be.

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