The Discordian Way to Garden

Sunni's picture

When I wrote in the introductory column to the most recent Sunni’s Salon that “we aren’t holding high hopes for a bumper crop of anything but lessons learned”, I wasn’t indulging in false modesty. And it is now official—as reports start to come in, even friends with self-professed brown thumbs are reaping their rewards. So, how does Sunni’s garden grow? Let’s go out to the patch to review the sorry state of affairs.

photo of PNW garden, summer 2008Before I recount our misadventures, I would like to state for the record that our weather has been totally uncooperative this year. What else can you call the unusual lack of rain, coupled with temperatures that veer between record highs and record lows with nary a pause? As I recorded, planting was delayed until June 16 by near-constant rain and very cool temperatures. Sure enough, I complained about the rain and it promptly stopped.

But I’m getting ahead of myself already. First, we did a poor and rushed job of preparing the garden plot. Lobo rented a tiller that looked impressive, but after he’d run it over the chosen patch twice, the ground was barely dug into. Part of that was no doubt due to the thick grass and moss carpeting the dirt. The snolfs had told me they wanted to help with garden prep, but after picking out two smallish buckets’ worth of rocks and helping with clod removal one afternoon, they declared themselves done until it was time to plant. So, I was left to dodge the rain showers with my manual implements of destruction solo. I pulled out rocks, removed clods of grass and moss, and broke up the remaining soil as best I could.

The rocks just kept coming—I’m starting to think they sprout here, like mushrooms. The showers just kept coming. And I was afraid that if I continued to devote my time to prepping the soil, there wouldn’t be enough summer left for a decent growing season. So, with about a third of the “tilled” area unprepped, we planted when the weather cleared enough for it.

“We” means the snolfs and I. Lobo’s older brood seemed completely uninterested in the garden project, except as a quaint curiosity—an ongoing exhibition of manual labor. Having done a decent job of helping me with the garden last year, I talked with the snolfs about garden responsibilities and necessities in advance; they assured me they’d do better this year. I like the idea of companion planting and other tactics to try to confuse pests, rather than using chemical warfare; so I didn’t put too much effort into planning rows, aside from trying to keep our varieties of corn somewhat contained. I did make raised rows in the garden, along with some hills for the squashes and melons.

seeds got washed out of rowsI expected the snolfs would be a tremendous help with quasi-random seed sowing, but in true chaos-generator fashion, they exceeded my expectations. They sowed seed randomly—sometimes by careful design, other times by just flinging handfuls of seed at the earth. To be fair, though, I’m sure it didn’t help that we ended up needing to water the rows, which caused some seeds to trickle down from them. To the left is a photo of what is supposed to be a row of corn, with seeds from a salad mix interspersed between the corn plants. There’s also supposed to cilantro growing in there somewhere; I think it’s playing shy.

We never saw any marigolds come up. Nor have we seen any of the other flower—I believe it was nasturtiums because their flowers are edible—we planted in the garden. That can’t be because we accidentally weeded all the seedlings, either: since almost every seed packet we bought had no seedling picture, we didn’t weed at all. I’ll come back to that. We also saw no peppers, aside from the ones that Lobo had bought prior to my arrival, and were thus good and rootbound when they got transplanted. I thought I knew how to handle potbound roots, but I thought wrong. They turned sickly yellow almost immediately. One did try to flower, but, hoping to encourage it to grow more before setting fruit, I nipped the flower. That must’ve also nipped its will to live.

Of course, we saw no pepper seedlings because somehow, the seed packets didn’t make their way outside on planting day. I discovered them on my desk a couple of weeks ago. Since we planted so late, and I was thinking the weather would warm up, I chose not to plant our cooler-weather crops—spinach, radishes, and the mustard seed which didn’t exist anyway since I’d forgotten to save a package of it for myself when I was giving it away whilst traveling.

Let us step aside for a moment now, and address an important subplot to the garden adventure. Aside from their interest in it, the snolfs understood that their efforts were part of their education—that includes the obvious lessons in horticulture but also ones in responsibility and keeping with long-term obligations. Thus it was that I decided not to buy enough hose to reach the garden for what little watering I thought might be necessary. Between the kids’ milk consumption and my reliance upon bottled drinking water, we had enough gallon jugs to make short work of the watering chores—and the effort would be good for all of us, thought I. Do I really need to say more on the wisdom of this aspect of the plan? Let’s leave it at this: the snolfs have not once asked to hook up the sprinkler and play in the water this summer.

Like last year, the snolfs cried when it—finally!—came time to thin the corn, which was the only thing coming up. They tried to transplant the thinned ones, and cried when they died. They cheered as the corn slowly grew, but grumbled as the growing corn required more water. Remember that we didn’t plan certain areas for certain crops? We also didn’t mark where things were planted as we went. And thus it appears that in true Murphyesque fashion, wherever a seedling deigned to appear it is accompanied by another desired seedling right beside it, further complicating the thinning process.

veggies and herbs amongst the weedsAnd of course, the weeds began encroaching. Emboldened by our apparent blind eyes, they advanced first in the rows that hadn’t been thoroughly prepared. This was, naturally, the southern area—where our most desired items were planted. By the time the tomatoes and herbs started peeking out of the ground, the grass was rampaging. Already angered because I’d dared to upend it, my efforts to use “natural” weed control sprays simply infuriated it. The grass laughed at my expensive, garlic-based spray and spread with increased vigor. The buttercups languished, secure in the knowledge that their leaves’ resemblance to my adored Italian parsley would provide sufficient protection for them to get well-rooted. Some unknown reddish weed took similar comfort in the fact that I couldn’t distinguish it from the beet seedlings.

And we can’t forget the animal accomplices. Birds loved to sit on the rows and hills, adding their seed-laden excrement to the general weedy mix. Despite various biological methods of keeping the slugs out—egg shell perimeters, diatomaceous earth, and Darlin’ Daughter’s semi-regular patrols—they feasted on some of the earliest viney seedlings. Springtails, encouraged by the dampness our regular watering provided, also came to the buffet. When the weather turned hot, we became host to grasshoppers. They’re still at it.

At this point, I think the snolfs have given up. They’ll water with me—I think mostly because they’re too sleepy in the mornings to try to come up with good objections. Also, they do care a little about the plants and don’t want them to die. Whenever I mention weeding they roll their eyes or look incredulous, then quickly change the subject or disappear. I, too, have too much invested into the project to completely abandon it. So, we water still, and I keep the weeds away from the plants that are doing okay.

Amazingly, we might yet get something of a harvest. Despite having just half a dozen leaves each, a few of the viney things—some sort of squash or melon; I can’t tell— have begun to flower. A few of the tomato plants are vigorously growing, and might just squeeze out a fruit or two before the cool sets in permanently. The corn is doing the best, but I don’t know if it’ll yield anything; I haven’t enough experience with it to hazard a prediction.

Even more amazing, every time I water I see new seedlings poking through the dirt—the basil is finally showing itself; some of the parsley is taking off; cilantro and some more viney things are appearing too. And I’m torn between welcoming them and adding them to the watering rotation and shouting, “Dammit, where have you been hiding?”

!

That sounds suspiciously like my gardening efforts. I am more of a "hunter-gatherer" than a "farmer". But I do try.

Yikes!

That sounds like something right out of the family annals (my name being Murphy). It was an enjoyable write-up of what sounds like an unmitigated disaster. I hope your luck is better next year.

Learning experience

Next year you will do better. It is a process.

It is best to start the seeds in pots, then transplant them when they sprout. This applies to the salad mix as well.

You may find that raised beds work better than tilled earth. After the initial work they are much easier. Weed and pest control efforts are much more focused and therefore more effective. Depending on how you build it, you can sit on the wall of the bed and do the work in greater comfort than kneeling or stooping.

For pictures, just use the Internet, I have found pictures of every plant I ever looked for.

Corn takes about 90 days to mature, ours is just about ready to harvest.

Garlic spray works well against some insects. It does not work against weeds and grass.

Beer traps for slugs are the best. For grasshoppers, we catch them (and other insects) then turn them into "bug juice" and spray the plants once a week. Works wonders.

I will post about out experience at some point.

Good luck!

Clarifying

Jorge, I know this season is an aberration in just about every way: given my move, I didn’t have time to plan nor plant seeds in advance; the snolfs should have their own garden plots for their experiments; and since we are renting this property, I made a conscious decision not to invest in a lot of infrastructure for the garden, including creating raised beds. And the weather has well and truly sucked. Yesterday our temps were in the 90s F; today it’s blustery and cool—I think we’ll be lucky to hit 70° F. I noticed while going for a walk the other evening that several trees are showing signs of stress from the dryness and wild temperature swings. And I misspoke on what the garlic spray is for; I tried both natural/organic herbicides and pesticides.

I do hold out hope for the blackberries, though; they are just starting to ripen and while they seem smaller than usual, they do have their characteristic luscious sweetness.

Yeeps

A bumper crop of lessons learned, indeed. If it's any consolation, only two cherry tomato plants yielded any harvest this summer in our neck of the woods. A dozen tomato plants and several score of radish and carrot plants failed to cooperate. The radishes grew into lovely, flowery vines, but their roots were long, narrow and inedible. Believe me, I tried to eat them!

Radish

The leaves and flowers are edible. I eat them in salad all the time. Very tasty.

:)

Enjoy what you can, when they finally deliver. Of all the things I planted this year, I have 3 healthy tomato plants (nothing ripe yet, but I do see some flowers), 1 thai pepper plant (love hot sauce) and some basil, rosemary and sage. Thank goodness for roadside stands.