Vegetables in the dirt, part 1

Copyright 2014 Gene Breshears.
The amazing thing is how many other purple garden ornaments from the store I was able to resist buying.
I am very late this year dealing with the yard. Now, we don’t have much of a yard, and I’m only responsible for a tiny fraction of it. Because we live in the front unit of a triplex, and the landlady pays someone to mow the lawn and trim the hedges, the only thing I take care of are two flower beds. One is about six feet long and three feet wide in front of the house, and the other is about 14 feet long and maybe a foot and a half wide along the driveway.

Since the people who mow the lawn don’t do weeds, I also go around the lawn with my weed weasel from time to time. The weed tool is one of those things with spikes that impale the root of the weed below the ground, so you yank out the weed and leave a little hole maybe 2 inches wide and 3 inches deep. After I pull a bunch of weeds, I go around with a bag of grass seed and a bag of potting soil. I drop a big pinch of seeds in the hole, then fill it with potting soil.

I didn’t think that part up. When Ray and I first moved into the place 18 years ago, the part of the lawn on the far side of the side walk was almost entirely weeds, while the part between the house and the sidewalk was about one-third weeds. The people who owned the place back then (before our current landlady bought it) just ran the mower over the weeds. So, Ray decided we needed to fix the lawn. We bought the weed weasel, and while I moved across the lawn on afternoon pulling leaves, he followed with the two bags.

This was after he got sick, but I think it was before the first round of chemotherapy. He wasn’t very strong, is the point, and needed a cane to walk, and had to rest often to catch his breath. But he was determined we would get the lawn looking like a lawn.

Because I’m not great with the heat, and Ray tired easily, we would work on the lawn for about an hour at a time. Most weekends we put in at least one shift working on the weeds or the flower beds.

I remember one Saturday evening when friends came over, about a month after we’d started our weed removal project. Most of the lawn was a kind of pale green, maybe an inch tall, but there were all these little patches of rich blue-green grass about three inches tall scattered across one section of the lawn. As we were talking about it, Ray started to worry that the landlord would be upset that we were planting faster-growing grass.

The landlord was happy we were willing to work on the yard at all, and even started dumping a portion of the lawn clippings into the compost pile Ray set up. Ray died a year and a half later, but I still think of him following me around the lawn with the bag of potting soil and grass seeds whenever I’m out working on the yard.

I have only pulled weeds two Saturdays this spring, back during the portion of March when I had my first string of consecutive weeks that I wasn’t sick with something. And I hadn’t done any work at all on the flower beds. I planted a lot of new tulip bulbs in the one bed last year. I didn’t dig up and thin out the grape hyacinths last year, nor the year before, so that bed is more than a little messed up. I also didn’t dig up and thin the irises last year. And I only did a light trimming back of the roses in the fall.

In short, the flower beds are a godawful mess.

But the flower beds were not the primary goal of this weekend. For the last few years I’ve been growing tomatoes in pots. Previous years I bought a few tomato plants in April, potted them, but since that’s a little early for tomatoes because it gets a little too cold overnight, I would keep the pots up agains the house. The brick wall absorbs sunlight all day, then radiants it at night. I’d move the pots out to a spot one the walkway where they get full sun only if the weather report predicted warm temperatures. Until late May or so, when I’d start leaving them out full time.

I only had three pots, so I would get three tomato plants. Last year I never got enough tomatoes at the same time to do more than have some snacks. One of the plants got some kind of blight last year that kept rotting the tomatoes before they were ripe, and the other two suffered a lot of leaf loss with the same little black spots.

Michael decided that what I needed wasn’t just more pots, but a more reliable watering system. He seemed to think that part of the reason we got the fungus or whatever it was was because I wasn’t watering enough.

So he ordered me this set of six pots with an under-root watering system, and a set of hoses and a fancy thing you connect the garden hose to.

I got a very late start on the day Saturday. Right now because of the bleeding ulcer, I’m not supposed to take anything with acetaminophen (tylenol) or ibuprofen (advil) at all. I haven’t been allowed to have aspirin since I got the first ulcers back in 2004. I’m allowed to take my prescription allergy medication, but not to supplement it for now. And that means, with the high pollen count we’ve been having, that I have pretty miserable sinus headaches all the time. Saturday was pretty bad.

I spent way more time wandering around the garden center picking out tomatoes, and a bunch of spot color flowers to put in the flower pots I keep on the porch, as well as the hanging baskets.

By the time I got home and we finished dinner, I had about an hour before the sun went down. I really wanted to get the tomatoes planted.

So I was outside, on the porch, reading the very inadequate instructions for the six-pot system while our neighbors were having a barbecue. I got the system assembled, got the first two tomato plants planted, and realized that I didn’t have anywhere near enough potting soil. It was 9 p.m., and the sun was at the horizon. Fortunately, Fred Meyer is open until 11. So I was able to pick up a bunch more bags of potting soil.

I kept planting and assembling. I had to get Michael’s help with wire cutters to shorten the legs on the wire tomato cages, because they can’t go into the soil very deep before they run into the under-root water reservoirs. But, I had the all six tomatoes in the under-soil pots, and three more in my existing pots by about 10:00. But I was doing only parts of the work by flashlight, because of all the little solar LED lights I have in the flower beds.

I went to hook up the under root water system and realized that things were much worse in the front flower bed that I thought. Did you know that crabgrass is insidious enough to outgrow irises? The crabgrass had grown round-and-round-and-round the coiled garden hose (I said I haven’t done much of anything with the flowers this year!), and pulling it out enough to use was way more work than I was hoping to do that late, but I got it out and strung over, then hooked it up and watched.

There’s nothing to see, but you could hear the water trickling into all six pots. It’s supposed to take up to 20 minutes on “a trickle” to fill the reservoirs, then overflow will start coming out of the sides of the pots. I watched for maybe 5 minutes before I decided that I ought to be doing something useful, so I carried the dead tomato plants from last year and the weeds and crabgrass I’d pulled up down to the yard waste bin.

Copyright 2014 Gene Breshears
Looking up our walkway. Six “self watering” pots on the left, my three older ones on the right, up against the azaleas.
When I got back, water and just started to come out of the sides of the pots. So I turned over the water, disconnected the hose, and grabbed my regular 3-gallon watering can. I filled the can with water and plant food, then watered the three regular tomato pots thoroughly, watered the top part of the soil of the fancy pots lightly, and watered the roses. Then I gathered up all the detritus of my endeavors, moved the pots into a configuration that left the walk way open, and collapsed on the couch.

It was a bit after 11 p.m. I didn’t stay up to do any writing.

But the tomatoes looked good Sunday morning!

Because I’m an old Southern woman and we’re supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don’t ask me those questions. I don’t know why, I don’t make the rules! β€” Ouiser, Steel Magnolias

2 thoughts on “Vegetables in the dirt, part 1

  1. We worked on our yard Sunday, and were not nearly so productive. But the yard and garden area looks much cleaner, and I can see options for the tomatoes I want to grow. I’m thinking pots as well, but don’t want to ruin Terry’s lawn… so I have him mulling over what he’d be most comfortable with that will still allow me soil depth. My garden boxes weren’t deep enough to retain any sort of water and it was a very sad thing last summer.

    Right now, I’ve just managed to free the asiatic lilies from the weeds (I have red, orange, yellow and pink!) and viciously trim back the rose. After about 6 years it might have finally gotten to the state that the cultivar of the “tree” has been choked out by the heartier root ball trying to send out runners. But we’ll see. I’ll give it a few weeks before I try the monumental task of pulling it out.

    We still have the front area to clean up, and I need to get baskets if I’m going to. But we had to wash and vacuum the cars. The pollen mask was heavy enough that we were both worrying about the state of things. I love Oregon. I do so hate the valley for collecting pollen though. πŸ˜›

    1. I know I did a lot, but it doesn’t look as much better than it did as I wish it did.

      But if I get weeding done next that will help a lot.

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