My Experience Growing Vegetables
Anticipation of Fresh Vegetables
As an experiment in helping our grocery tab, we planted a few vegetables 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, 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 refer 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 micro-climate 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 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.
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.
Maybe I Should Read One of These:
Summer has come to a close, the rainy season has arrived, and that's the end of the veggie story. Maybe next 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.