My Experience Growing Vegetables
Ready to Plant Our Vegetable Garden
Anticipation of Fresh Vegetables
As an experiment in helping our grocery tab, as well as having more healthy, fresh and organic veggies to eat, we planted a garden this year. The results were somewhat disappointing.
First, we have very sandy soil, and belatedly discovered that perhaps we should have fed the plants more than water after the initial tilling in of enriched soil and plant food.
Next, we planted 2 tomato plants, which turned out to be a mistake when there are just 2 of us, and only I like tomatoes...but not as a steady diet. The varieties we planted were "Early Girl" and "Big 100." The former were smallish--not much larger than a ping-pong ball, the latter were tiny--about the size of large grapes.
Those were both too small for use in sandwiches..but size information was not given on the tags in the nursery. Both varieties, however, were prolific. I was giving tomatoes away all season!
I've never planted a serious vegetable garden before. I played with some carrots and radishes in my mom's garden during my childhood, and it was fun to watch them grow. However, back then, it was not important to the grocery budget.
My next round of attempting a vegetable garden was when my own kids were young. We lived in Pacifica, CA at that time. I should have known better. The weather in Pacifica is pathetic. In fact, many of us referred to the town as "Pathetica."
Located about 15 minutes south of San Francisco, it shares the same foggy summer climate, only more so, being right on the Pacific Ocean. We lived at the top of the hill, about a mile from the ocean, but that did not save us from the fog.
Being on a hilltop provided its own challenges to vegetable growing: we were essentially on bedrock. We could easily have gone into business selling ballast, so full of rocks was our soil. One year, I grew a three-pronged carrot with a rock in its center. Sadly, it was not the kind of rock that might adorn your finger set in a ring.
Then there were the tomato plants. The first attempt grew, but never ripened in the cold climate. I ended up digging out my great-aunt's recipe for Piccalilli (a relish made from green tomatoes).
On the second attempt, I found a variety called "San Francisco Fog," supposedly adapted/hybridized for growing where summers are cool. Wonderful! And as an added bonus, I planted them under the vent for the clothes dryer...nice little microclimate for some added heat. That year I got some ripe tomatoes.
The next year, however, we had a new washer and dryer, and the vent had to be moved and no longer vented into the backyard.
That was the last time I had tried growing vegetables. The year was about 1979.
Back to the Present Future
Fast-forward to 2010 and the beginning of this hub. Among our other experiments were yellow bell peppers, eggplant and corn.
I never tried corn before, and we both love it. Alas, it must have needed more water than the 2 or 3 gallons a day I provided (seemed like a lot to me), and many more nutrients. We did get corn, and were amazed at how tall it got and how fast. The corn, however, was not up to snuff. It was chewy and rubbery, not crisp, (and it was not the cooking--I have cooked corn on the cob lots of times and the store-bought comes out fine), but the thought of fresh corn not 5 minutes off the plant sounded wonderful.
The eggplants were started from seed, and planted back in March. Having read that eggplant "takes up a lot of real estate on the ground," we planted the seeds in a large plantpot. Ah, another mistake. Apparently, all the energy went to roots, and it was "forever" before the plants even sprouted, and another "forever" before they reached any respectable size, and, you guessed it--another "forever" before we had blossoms and finally fruit.
In the end, it was all for naught. We did get fruit on the plant, and a lovely purple they were. However, thinking of the size of eggplant I see in the stores, I was waiting for it to get much larger. (No, I had not chosen the "mini" size seed packet.) Well, sir, they never got much bigger than a tennis ball, and then the color went away and they turned a sickly yellowish color like a faded bruise. Yuck.
Tomatoes and CornClick thumbnail to view full-size
California has odd summers. It is dry and hot in our central valley where most of our agriculture takes place. We are on the edge of that area, and share that weather. Now and then, it will rain in the mountains during the summer, but you don't get regular 'summer squalls' such as they do in the New England states. Back there, everything is green and lush in the summer, and dries out and turns all the pretty colors in the fall. Then they get snow.
Out here, everything is dry and brown in the summer, and starts to green up in the fall and winter with our rainy season. It does not snow until you get above about the 3,000 foot elevation mark.
Summer eventually came to a close, the rainy season arrived, and that was the end of the veggie story. Maybe another year, maybe not.
All I know is, if I do decide to plant more vegetables next summer, I will install a drip system for watering, so that all I need to do is turn on the valve, instead of bending over the plant moats with a hose for half an hour a day. Too hard on the old back!
The drip system should be simple enough to install--the area already has a sprinkler system--all I'd need to do would be to cap off one sprinkler head, and replace the other with the drip head to attach the various hoses to feed each plant.
For some reason, I was advised not to use the sprinklers, on the grounds that water should be kept off the plant leaves.
Oh, really? Hmmm... I wonder if Mother Nature has ever received that instruction? I'm fairly certain they grow corn, tomatoes and lots of other things, in parts of the country where it rains in the summer...and I'm pretty sure Mom Nature does not hand out umbrellas to the plants.
Update: Yet Another Attempt
Well, folks, the drip system was a miserable failure. The rate was so slow that it would have had to run most of the day for any appreciable amount of water to irrigate the plants. That necessitated supplemental watering by hand, anyway.
In disgust, and somewhat tired out, we left the area lie fallow for a year. Then, in 2017, we got all ambitious, and dug up the entire area, and installed proper piping and sprinkler system for each planting area, using "mushroom" sprinklers, that keep the water below the leaves, and theoretically just water the roots.
It was a lot of hard work, and took us a week! (In our younger days, we could have done the project in a weekend!)
The Sprinkler Project, Spring 2017Click thumbnail to view full-size
On to the Planting
With a decent watering system now in place, and controlled by manual valves, we thought we had it made. Well, we nearly did.
However, our project caused us to be a bit late getting plants into the ground, so, things were late to bloom and ripen.
Then, we discovered that the most prolific of the plants, jalapeno peppers, were way more than we could use ourselves, so more donations to the neighbors!
We planted the large 'beefsteak' tomatoes, as well as cherry tomatoes. The big ones are perfect for sandwiches: one slice exactly fits a slice of bread. The small ones are great in salads.
The eggplant, however, while somewhat prolific, was the smaller 'Japanese' variety, and some we were able to use; others rather dried out or rotted on the vine. Turns out, It's very hard to judge how much to plant for just 2 or 3 people!
Spinach was a total failure, as were the cucumbers, cantaloupe, onion sets, squash, and strawberries. In the latter case, we'd get one berry ripening at a time, and never enough to collect to use for dessert or snacking.
Swiss Chard was a smashing success--too much so--more veggies to donate hither, thither, and yon! It choked out the string beans.
Some ResultsClick thumbnail to view full-size
I don't know. At this point, the entire area has been taken over by weeds, a good deal of which are vicious stinging nettles!
I feel tired just thinking about planting again. Not to mention, the borders we made need revamping, to corral water and keep it from migrating away from the plants and under the fence into the neighbor's yard. The area is beside the short end of the house, from front yard to backyard, and the ground drops about 3 feet in 25. We have neither the physical ability nor the money to get it graded level.
But, as of this writing, it's the tail end of January 2018, and we need to get an earlier start by far than we did last year. Stay tuned.
(all photos by author)
© 2010 Liz Elias