You win some garlic, you lose some squash

I have to keep reminding myself that gardening is a learning experience. Otherwise I might allow the frustration to overwhelm the joy.

As of last Sunday, our garden is completely planted and ready for spring. We did this in several steps. A little more than a month ago, we planted all of the cold weather plants – the garlic, shallots, bush beans, carrots, swiss chard, and potatoes. A few weeks later, we transplanted the seedlings – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and butternut squash. I tried transplanting the sunflowers, but it was pretty clear from the beginning that they were a lost cause. At that time, Chris and I also constructed our fence, to keep the local herd of deer from seeing our seedlings as their personal snack bar. Finally, last weekend, I got around to sowing the rest of the seeds straight into the ground – spinach, basil, zucchini, and broccoli. I know broccoli is typically a cold-weather plant, but I figured planting it from seed in the middle of August wasn’t a great idea either. I would have planted everything much earlier, but between my long bike rides on Saturdays and the continuous rain on Sundays, there was never a good time. We’ll see what happens.

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There have been a few successes so far. My potatoes – one plant in particular – are growing at an incredible rate.

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My beautiful potato plant.

The other root and bulb vegetables are also doing fairly well. The shallots and garlic are looking healthy, which is great because I cook with them all of the time and they’re perfect for storage. The carrots are doing okay, although they’re rather small. One of the bush bean plants is doing well too, although one totally wilted and died.

Unfortunately, my pampered seedling transplants haven’t been nearly so hardy. My healthy butternut squash looked like was struck by a plague, wilting and then just collapsing. (I keep hoping one will say, “I’m not dead yet!” but I have bigger problems if the plants start talking.) A few of the tomatoes are maintaining their size without growing, but most had their leaves turn ugly greens and browns. The peppers and eggplants had similar results. I think there were several contributing factors to this sorry state of affairs. The first and foremost in my mind is the weather. I know it’s spring, but the temperature and precipitation has been extremely unpredictable this year. We had torrential rain (although not like some parts of the country…), we had temperatures in the high 80s, we had nights in the low 40s. The poor seedlings were overwhelmed! They had sensory overload, so much as plants have senses (not much). The other major contributing factor was completely my fault. I completely forgot to weather the seeds at all before putting them in the ground. You’re supposed to leave the seedlings outside for several days with some protection (like a cold frame) before planting them into the ground. Instead, I moved them straight from the warm, comforting surroundings of our guest room to the harsh, cold, wet ground. I must have sent them into shock. Then, of course, when you consider how many of them had mold, my low success rate isn’t surprising, albeit still disappointing.

Thankfully, I had some seedlings left over after the initial planting, which Chris replanted two weeks ago. He put in new butternut squash, tomatoes, and eggplant.

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A replanted butternut squash, still not doing great.

Sadly, he also made a frustrating mistake. We were planning on planting an herb garden on our back deck, our Zone One from Gaia’s Garden. It’s the area that both needs the most attention/ pampering and gets the most use. It would be a kitchen garden, where we could walk out the back door to pick a few herbs as needed. The only thing we had grown for it so far was oregano, which was doing surprisingly well in the seedling box. At least it was until Chris left it outside after he planted everything else. Like every other night that week, it rained…..and the oregano turned into more of a sponge than a plant. Luckily, we hadn’t gotten around to purchasing the herb box yet.

Then, yesterday, bringing my bike home from its tune-up, I found yet another indignity had struck my garden. I saw this:

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In fact, I found several spots of them, all just as attractive as that one. At first, I thought it was a particularly ugly fungus. But as I tried to pick it up with a piece of cardboard, I discovered it had the consistency of pudding. Ugh. My second thought was some kind of bug had invaded our garden and laid large patches of gelatinous eggs. Either way, I did not want it in my soil any longer. Using my spade, I started scooping out the offending layers of leaves and soil. Much to my concern, I found more of it under the surface, down a layer or two. Determined to rid my garden of this threat, I got as much as I could, put it in doubled-up plastic bags, and threw it in the garbage.

After I had washed off my hands, afraid of what on earth it could be, I Googled it. Thank goodness for the Internet. Fortunately, what I found was a bit of a relief. My gooey visitor was actually a slime mold, with the lovely nickname of the “dog vomit” slime mold. As it tends to grow in wet mulch, I suspect it arrived because the rain had left the lasagna garden’s layers of leaves very damp. Although there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it, it doesn’t seem to pose an actual danger to my plants, except look gross. This article, where Fuligo septica was featured as the “Fungus of the Month” (even though it’s not really a fungus), actually has a rather affectionate look at what it is. One of my favorite comics, XKCD, also has a good take on it. The movie The Blob is based on slime molds, interestingly enough. I suppose as long as it doesn’t start taking over Rockville, I shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

So between slime molds, regular molds, erratic weather, mild incompetence, and just general bad luck, I’ve had a heck of a time raising a garden already. It’s certainly had it’s downs and also a few ups. I particularly look forward to pasta with fresh garlic and shallots in the fall. While each experience doesn’t necessarily make me stronger, I hope it does make me smarter, and more able to support my family, friends and neighbors with real, good food in the future.

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7 Responses to You win some garlic, you lose some squash

  1. Sarah Franklin says:

    The joys and frustrations of gardening! You can still plant some squash from see right in the ground. Plant it really close to the beans, they love each other. Looking forward to seeing what you get!

    • They’re both part of the Three Sisters! Remember that one from elementary school. I originally put the butternut squash with the fava beans, but I think only one of the fava bean plants came up. The pole beans did much better for whatever reason. I tried to apply some permaculture principles, but I mainly did it by matching plants that fruit at different times so they wouldn’t be crowding each other as much. I also staggered plants of the same species so that they weren’t a monoculture. I think if the stuff I just put in doesn’t succeed, I’ll just try again.

      If we both have enough, we can have an exchange at church!

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