I had high hopes for this year’s garden. Warm, springtime weather rolls in here a little earlier than the date marked in our calendar. It was February and time to sow some seeds.
All the packing and sorting in my garage uncovered my garden pots, seed starting pots, and a big bag of plastic bottles I had saved over the last year. Covered in dust and cobwebs, I found my garden supplies exactly where I dumped them in disgust last August, after losing my entire garden in the battle against white fly and summer heat. I was going to try container gardening again. This time would be different.
Armed with my seed packets, compost we cooked over the summer and fall, pots, plastic bottles and a whole lot of Pinterest, we started the garden outside the second weekend in February. We started outside because it was already warm out, and our rental house had no sunny windows. Not one. It was great for our summer cooling bills, but bad for plants. Our houseplants hated this place. There were casualties.
We instead used little seed starting green houses and soda bottles cut in half to cover our pots and protect the seeds from washing out from rain or freezing in a sudden cold snap. We used a soil mixture akin to Mel’s seed starting mix. It was very successful, and our summer garden sprouted and grew.
The problem with gardening in a rental home is many landlords frown upon digging up a nice, neat, HOA approved, golf-course-worthy lawn in favor of a dirt square of vegetables. I decided to go around this little obstacle by planting all my seed babies in pots.
They were easy to move around and were temporary. I have my garden, the landlord has their lawn. Everybody is happy.
Container gardening is a wonderful alternative to in-the-ground gardening for people who live in places that lack the yard area for traditional gardening, or spaces where raised beds are inappropriate , like my rental house. It is a great solution for apartments, also. All you need is enough space for a few pots and some good sun. Viola! You have a garden. Extra bonus to the fact that if it fails you can hide it all away like it never happened, and not stare at a barren dirt patch as a permanent reminder of ghosts of gardens past.
Our garden flourished a little faster than anticipated. Soon all our outdoor tables were covered in small pots and coffee cans of healthy vegetable and herb plants, and a couple sad houseplants. By March the weather was warm enough to move our sad little houseplants outside for some fresh air and sunshine, also. We hoped they would be encouraged to grow by their leafy sisters.
Then the rains came. The very day we moved our seedlings from the cramped backyard to their new place, storms rolled in. It had been a wet winter. This was a welcome change to the years of drought we had been experiencing. It had great timing. The rain began to fall just after we had loaded our last box into our pickup, locked the doors for the final time, and said goodbye to our city home.
We could not dig a garden plot, nor build raised garden bed in our new place, either. Instead, we went with large pots for our transplants. We filled the bottoms with some rock, then with some homemade Mel’s mix. What is container gardening of not extreme square foot gardening, anyway? At least that was the justification in my head.
After a couple of hours of filling pots and moving them around to the perfect sunny spots, we were done, and our summer garden was on its way.
Then came more rain. One of the troubles of container gardening is the tendency for soil amendments to wash out of the pots. We had to be diligent in fertilizing and also making sure our plants drained properly. The rains were nearly constant, and the threat of drowning was ever-present in our garden.
It thrived, though. Our bush steak tomatoes performed well from the beginning of the summer. If we could avoid concentric cracks from the heavy rains, they yielded many huge fruit. Our chickens appreciated receiving those tomatoes unworthy of going into our kitchen.
Our only issue was fungus. It was a constant battle. Between soil amendments, anti fungal treatments and agressive pruning, we managed to keep it at bay.
Our patio princess variety tomato did not perform as well. It made a good effort though. The plants were stunted, but yielded some small, sweet fruit. It seemed more resistant to the fungus, but it did not enjoy the rains.
Our carnival bell peppers seemed like they didn’t want to grow at all. One plant grew and yielded peppers while five others stayed small, almost the size they were when transplanted. They remained green and healthy, just stunted and no blooms.
The herb garden suffered losses. Our dill succumbed to powdery mildew and our rosemary died from too much rain. The thyme and chives, however did much better. Our houseplants enjoyed the outdoors and grew more than we had ever seen them do in the years we have been caring for them. The sun and rain agrees with them, I suppose.
The battle of the fungus raged on, even after the rains began to subside. Our bush steak tomatoes kept fighting the good fight, though. They provided a bounty of fresh, sweet fruits all summer.
When tropical storm Bill rolled in, we moved our plants under the shelter of the workshop’s eves. Hoping to save them from torrential rain and wind. They made it through, but the fungus battle was taking its toll.
The summer heat arrived and with it some beautiful, not cracked tomatoes . This would mark the end of the Bush steak though. Eventually, they fell to the mighty fungus. We tried to nurse them back, but the 100°F+ weather and raging humidity was just more than it could bear.
We had very little trouble with garden pests, to our surprise. The bugs I found d were few, and we’re punished for trespassing by way of death by chicken. It was a welcome change from the pest heavy garden from the previous year.
Container gardening has another drawback, the pots get so warm that it cooks the roots of the plants. Keeping them watered was important. Missing so much as a day resulted in droopy plants and dropped fruit.
We had used a Pinterest idea when transplanting the garden initially. We used plastic jugs with holes drilled in them in each of our pots, I an effort to hold water in the pots and provide some cooling. My opinion is mixed about this technique. They did hold some water, letting it leach I to the pots more slowly, but not really. It also kept the soil from spilling out of the pots when watering. I do have my suspicion though, that this technique aided the fungus in the battle for the plants. I won’t be trying this again.
The peppers were not deterred. They seemed immune to fungus, and kept on keeping on. Aside from some predation by pesky grasshoppers , they have given us enough peppers to use in our daily cooking over the last couple months.
Although the rain and heat were our challenges this summer for the garden, we overcame it. As the sayings go, “Into every life, a little rain must fall” and “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. We must accept that their will be obstacles in life to overcome and challenges that make accomplishing our goals more.difficult. We have the choice of giving up or perseverance.
Well, I am.a chef, and the kitchen is where I thrive, heat be damned… and I happen to like the rain.
Now excuse me while I pull on my mud boots and go play in some puddles.