Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Agonies and Ecstasies of a Neophyte Gardener

The repository of all my hopes, dreams, and salad fixings...
...or, "How I Blew Over $50 Tuesday at Home Depot Because of a Damn Raccoon."

For as long as I've lived here I've stared out at the raised garden plot out back and thought "I really should try putting in a garden." My neighbor speaks with rapt wonderment about the tomatoes the previous owner could coax out of the only sunny patch on the whole yard..

Well, what a difference psyching yourself up for eight years can make!

Instead of just sitting inside all summer on the internet (like you're probably doing), this year I'm taking a chunk of that time to be"The Farmer on His Dell."  Since I was determined to put up or shut up, and Chris is a "doer," we have started out what I'm calling "Garden 1.0." (That we're not on the road every other weekend for once helps, too.) Previously an annual tangle of weeds I'd apathetically chop down either once a Summer or when it got to be ten feet tall (whichever came first), it's now fulfilling it's destiny as an honest-to-goodness "food-growing-place-thingy."

We decided together what to plant. I dreamed big, picturing crops of such yield I'd have to kvetch about learning how to can things. Meanwhile the Sensible One figured out just how few plants we'd actually need. It turns out that if you garden in a manner that's even marginally correct they thrive to the point where a 6'x24' plot of land can quickly choke on its own bounty.

First came the job I would have given up on if done solo: we weeded. Once done, it depressed me to realize that the maintenance yanking was going to be an open-ended affair. (Right now there's some weird succulent volunteers threatening to take over like Triffids.) I started some seedlings as further commitment to the cause. Going a step beyond, I even sent off a soil sample for analysis. The plot of dirt was ruled fairly fertile, though mostly clay. Evidently low on potassium, it also completely lacks the archaeological treasures or victims of Mob hits I always daydreamed we'd dig up back there as soon as we started digging. Seriously, it was such a running fantasy that I admit to being let down to only find more dirt under all that dirt.
The seedlings were so sluggish we wound up getting some starter plants in order to get things going. Who knew nursing new life would be so difficult in a house with no direct sunlight? Still, I felt real pride when we had them all planted, even if they did feel a little like cheating (No Garden Left Behind). I watered faithfully, fertilized as instructed, and watched a few tentative baby veggies start to grow. One little green bell pepper, in particular, broke out ahead of the pack; expanding rapidly enough to make it all feel worthwhile.


We left town for a few days at the beginning of June. On returning I found that prodigy pepper gone. Its stem had been jaggedly snapped. Only emptiness remained. I then noticed the holes. Our delicate green and purple cabbage leaves were still standing at attention, but the looked like moldy slices of Lorraine Swiss.

I took it all in... and then (may have) overreacted a bit.

"So please, please, grow for me..."
First came panic. I wanted to call Chris (in lieu of my first choice, the National Guard), but finally settled on texting about the "theft." This was before a sense of loss and violation set in that I can only imagine to be like that which leads the burgled to go buy guns and vote Republican. I felt powerless. It seemed I needed the payoff of that damned Pepper (now with the capitalized proper name to respect his noble, victim status). It was swelling with the finally-realized dreams that I'd stopped deferring. I couldn't control much over the last rough few months but, dammit, at least I was growing things! I was just crushed over that Pepper.

Then... I got mad. "How dare those fuzzy-wuzzy widdle woodland creatures have the temerity to use MY garden to avoid starving to death? How dare they enjoy nature's bounty?" I was going to go all Mr. McGregor on their asses.

I'm not proud to say it, but I Googled furiously for ideas about organic pest repellants... knowing full well I'd wind up buying whatever struck the balance of having only minor hazard warnings and the lowest pricing. Lists were made into the wee hours and, soon after day break (say, around 1PM or so) I hauled out to Home Depot.

The first hour was spent just browsing (which, in my defense as that sounds excessive, included about 10 minutes spent traversing the whole store to find the can and then backtrack. Those stores are big!) as I took metal side trips to mull over installing a brick ring around the Elm out front. (Sounds good until you realize you need sixty bricks which run well over a buck apiece there...)

In the end I settled on 3 different repellants. They're all (relatively) organic. Two can even be used on the fruits and veggies themselves. The first is for the leaf nibblers and is pretty much pepper spray in water with a dash of  soap. It stank admirably of spiciness and foamed ominously as I applied it to the leaves. If they were people I'd have that "Occupy Pepper-Spraying Cop" meme beat all to hell.

The second was a shake canister filled with what looked to be dead bugs and peppers. It's for perimeters, scattered to ward off raccoons and squirrels (a special problem lately to be explained another day) and can also be applied directly to plants. I preferred to shake it out in the same sort of heavy line the Winchester boys use on Supernatural when they pour the salt necessary to make their mystical-plot-device-demon-barriers. I all but shouted "Thou Shalt Not Pass."

It's the third, though, that is the charm. All you really need to know about this deer and rabbit repellent is that the main ingredient is "putrescent egg solids." Again. Putrescent egg solids. I applied it as an outer ring around the raccoon shake; making an eggy moat of death. (Couldn't hurt.) The bottle suggests you apply it only on a still, dry day and I understand why. The stench is far more richly rotten than you're imagining. Nope. Still worse. One slight breeze and you're gagging. I finished as soon as I could, pausing frequently to struggle with keeping dinner down, then ran inside to peel off my clothes for fear there could have been back-splash. I would sulfurbomb the whole house!

I also got 3' x 50' roll of Garden Fence fence (the redundancy there being built into the brand name), but I'm waiting on help figuring installation a two-man job. Attempting it solo, I'd either rip off a finger or swear my way into a frustration-induced heart attack. The original pick was a 4' tall one but realized we had to swing our legs over this thing several times a day, every day That would have been a veggie Alcatraz, but I'd rather use chemical weapons and a possibly more critter-friendly wall, that gore myself. (There's a thought. Raccoon heads on pikes, "Game of Thrones" style.)

"I blew too much money. None of this might work. I still need to fertilize and transfer some pots and I worry they're not getting enough water and on and on..." A Gentleman Farmer's laundry list of gentle anxieties. In the end, if I get one damn tomato (or bell pepper) out of the deal, I'll consider it a triumph of "Accomplishing What I Set Out To Do."

If the haul is more than one lowly 'mater, you can bet I'll share. I'll be proud of my accomplishment, and also gracious in the power-tripping control of our captive, grown-like-veal vegetables; penned in the yard and allowed no visitation rights with Flopsy, Bambi, or Rocket Raccoon. Instead, their delicious, tummy-filling fates will get decided by Chris and I, "Warden Old McDonald."

(Yes, I know he had livestock, but I don't know that many farmers.)

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