We have received a lot of tutelage throughout this initial foray into gardening. We needed it. I also need to get a little braver about venturing out on my own. This past weekend, all by myself, I bought one jalapeño, one bell pepper and one basil plant at the Saturday morning farmers market. I took the time to ask questions about where to plant our little basil sprout and learned that it’s best to cut the basil off at the stem so that the single stem can sprout into two and make a nice flavorful bush. Who knew? (I didn’t) Then I got home and actually cracked open the meticulously detailed Houston gardening guide and read that I should plant my peppers 18 inches by 18 inches. I took out a ruler, measured out the distance and planted each one in their respective center. Though the helpful vendor suggested planting basil near the equally thirsty tomato plants, my fear of further crowding them caused me to choose a nook in another bed.
On Sunday I finally gave our beds a much belated nutrient boost. Our compost heap, bottomless pit of leaves and food waste that it is, has yet to turn into something ready to make its debut on our beds. As much as I would have loved to use something of our own doing, I went ahead and bought a bag of humus/manure from Whole Foods. Successfully navigating the Sunday crowds with a bag of cow poop gave me the courage to launch into another information hunt about how to exactly distribute it. This time around the guide was a beyond my comprehension or energy. I had no idea how to go about testing soil acidity, but the recommendation to add ½ to 1 inch compost every few months echoed the instructions on the bag and my brief internet search, so I figured it would do. It’s actually been seven months since we first built the garden beds with no compost in between. I hope these little tomatoes are a sign that my ignorance won’t prevent a successful summer with a garden chock full of ingredients for fresh salsa.
My grocery budgeting ambitions have not exactly come to fruition quite yet. We somehow trimmed 10% off that first month and managed to remove another 25% in February, the loss of which we miraculously maintained in March in spite of our spring break eating out frenzy. As any fan of The Biggest Loser can attest, that type of percentage of loss is nothing to discount. I was just hoping to pull bigger numbers.
This past Saturday morning, I finally made time to visit Houston’s extensive farmers market. They had almost every ingredient I could want for in a grocery run. I walked away with a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, 10 oz honey, two pounds ground beef, one four pound chicken, a pound sausage, a pound medium shrimp and even 500 ML of olive oil for $82.70. I ran out of cash before I could make a vegetable purchase, but the cash shortage motivated me to move me outside into the garden for some greens. I was sure I had found the answer to our grocery budget short falling. We just needed to get back to the basics.
The weekend excursion also inspired a bout of “we can certainly survive solely on the harvest of our gardening efforts and the local bounty of the weekly market.” I have a penchant for the hardcore. I realized this over breakfast with friends on Sunday. We were discussing the Ironman aspirations of our friend when I piped up that I too had once wanted to finish an Ironman. Of course, I also wanted to summit Mt. Everest after reading Into Thin Air, still want to hike the Appalachian Trail, would have spent two years serving in the Peace Corps if not for meeting a certain someone and had every intention of working in the Kakuma refugee camp. I assumed my predisposition to finding enjoyment in pushing the limit had waned. After all, I now forgo long runs for slow walks with Wrigley, and I settled on moving to tame Rwanda where our only sacrifice was a lack of hot water and refrigeration. However, on Sunday morning I realized my energy had simply transferred to dreams of radical urban homesteading.
After one little trip, I excitedly told Ben I would hereafter bake weekly loaves of bread, blend his morning round of carrot juice, all the while thinking this was an insignificant start to what I could do. If only we had a few dozen mason jars, a chicken coop in the backyard and perhaps a goat or two. I now realize that the same internal drive that motivated me to run upwards of 23 miles alone to prepare for a marathon and considered making a bed in spite of the fact that we barely owned a hammer are one in the same. I guess it might bear some relation to the part of me that passionately desires taking on every single cause I discover, or my fourth grade self that became determined to be the first female president. And I figure it has at something to do with my budgeting perspective. Thankfully the love of my life helps remind me that maybe it’s not the worst thing if I don’t do everything, two hundred percent, all the time, but he still gets excited when I do bake that loaf of bread and juice those darn carrots.
Our neighbor walked by this morning as we were in the midst of a valiant 45-minute effort to clear the yard for an upcoming hedgerow. A bit ashamed at our pathetic efforts, I joked that we were working towards the coveted “yard of the month” acknowledgement sometime in the next three years. He responded that he is a member of our neighborhood garden club and our yard had actually been the subject of discussion this Saturday. Thankfully it was not our weedy lawn or the haphazard shrubs but actually something positive. Apparently the interest was in regards to our garden. Though I am sure many were wondering how two people so utterly incompetent yard-wise managed to have such three lush little beds.
Our first attempt at gardening, thanks entirely to the knowledge of our friend and the generosity of God, yielded a plentiful amount of delicious greens that I thankfully occasionally remembered to enjoy. In spite of our ignorance, lots of lettuce, arugula, kale, collards, herbs and a handful of turnips flourished in our garden. Of course, I can only imagine the horticultural victory had I actually read the gardening book beforehand. After seven months as a gardener (and one ten minute effort to finally peruse our handbook) I have learned a handful of probably obvious things. When our neighbor vaguely alluded to some interest in our gardening knowledge I proceeded to rattle off every possible minute piece of information, which I will now share with you completely unprompted.
- Tomato plants should be spaced 2 feet by 2 feet, not right next to each other and right next to the edge of the bed like someone may, or may have planted them before reading the book
- The trellis should be 5’ high, not the smallest, cheapest one that Lowes sells
- Oh, and you place them in the ground like an ice cream cone, not a dunce cap
- Turnips, among other veggies, should be thinned out to 3 inch by 3 inch in order to give them enough room to actually grow larger than a pea (though you might luck out and still get a dozen decent sized ones to enjoy avec bacon)
- Arugula can be trimmed down to a few inches in order to enjoy throughout the year
- The “pollen” on the collards that you washed off and ate might have been itty bitty bugs (Who said veggies don’t have protein!?!)
- Avocado trees really do not like the cold
- And fig trees are insanely resilient
When our friend helped us plant a garden last fall I knew that by the summer our yard would evolve into a verdant oasis of ripe produce. I think we might have a slightly larger learning curve.