Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gardening adventures in novel form

Since Neil and I got married, I've wanted a garden.  But, with life's many twists and turns, other projects, job changes, moves, etc., etc., it kept getting put off.  A couple times, including last Spring, we came close, but in the end the timing was never quite right.  Finally, this March, Neil ran sprinkler lines on the far end of our yard, built me two beautiful 6' x 12' beds, and filled 'em with good, stinky gardening soil!  That's right.  This was my year!

Dirt, dirt, dirt!  4 1/2 yards, to be exact!  {23 March 2012} Thankfully, Jared came and helped Neil shovel/transfer the mammoth pile from the base of our driveway to the empty beds of our backyard.  And in return, Neil spent the latter half of the day helping Jared paint his living room and hallway.  Two hard working boys, I tell ya! I have a feeling they both slept well that night!
So once the beds were filled and the dirt was packed down (see above on the right - Neil and Jared enlisted the help of Chloe to stomp around), we let things settle for a couple weeks, then did a small test round to ensure the dirt was indeed garden-ready. This particular test involved magic jelly beans.

In the spirit of Easter weekend, the kids and I, on the evening of April 6th, "planted" jelly beans in the garden soil, just to see what would happen.
Then we took some pictures.  Shocking, yes...
The following morning, when we came outside to see if anything had sprouted, we were delightfully surprised to see lollipops, in place of the jelly beans. 

Chloe was amused but skeptical, and really didn't buy it. Said she, "Those didn't grow from the jelly beans! Someone broke into our yard and stuck them in the ground in the middle of the night! And why do they have wrappers on them? If they had grown in the ground there's no way they'd have wrappers!"  She could not be convinced.  But she also could not turn down the blow pop I then offered her.  :)
Needless to say, the dirt was proven to be effective.  If it could yield blow pops overnight, it could certainly produce thriving fruits and vegetables to last a summer.  And so, that same weekend, we purchased some plants, and on the 9th, transferred them to the beds!

The kids were SO eager to help!  I love Ryan's little hands in the bottom right picture.  :)

Here are some of the goodies we planted.  Not pictured: raspberry, grapevines, rosemary, chives and onions, not to mention bibb lettuce seeds and carrot seeds.

And here's a further away view.  Everything was so tiny just starting out, and I found myself wondering how it would ever fill all the space.  But man, did it grow fast!
And here are my helpers, taking a breather after all that hard work.

So here's a look at a different but related project, which Neil was working on while the kids and I planted.
This is not the first time I've watched my husband jack hammer concrete and it probably won't be the last! So, that pipe you see to the right of Neil there - that used to pipe into our air conditioning unit, which sat in that corner. Well, it was quite an eye sore, and since we have talked about eventually putting a hot tub in that very spot, we decided to have the a/c unit moved to the side of the house where the pool pump was. Why the builders didn't just place the two right next to each other and out of the way to begin with, we don't know. So what you see here is the beginning stage of this process. In order to complete the job, Neil had to bury the coolant line from the house to the new spot for the a/c (around the corner). There was another big slab of concrete that he did not want to have to mess with, so he ultimately used a 10 foot piece of pipe and tunneled under that slab of concrete. The coolant line then ran through that pipe. It was a dirty, sweaty, exhausting job, but Neil, being the stud he is, persisted 'til the end.

Well, our garden took off!  It amazed me, even after only a single week the changes that had taken place.  The zucchini definitely grew the fastest of anything.  By the time it had fully matured, the size of the leaves were comparable to a basketball. 

Here's our zucchini just 17 days in, already ten times the size it started out as.  That is no exaggeration.  Anyone who grows zucchini knows it doesn't take much time at all! I loved going outside with the kids each day after school.  The anticipation of seeing what had grown and changed overnight truly brought joy and excitement to us all. With or without kids this is something I would love, but sharing in the joy with Chloe and Ryan made it that much more special.  I have a feeling many more years of gardening await us.  :)

Chloe discovered our first zucchini on Mother's Day, and I finally picked it on Chloe's last day of school, which was the 24th of May.
I was so proud that I didn't even want to eat it. But I quickly got over that, and did eat it, and several more! It wasn't long before we had more zucchini than we knew what to do with! Ryan especially loved the breaded zucchini. He ate it like candy.

Our bibb lettuce also produced quickly, and we enjoyed a fair share of it.

By the end of May, everything had shown significant signs of growth and maturity, and we were feeling triumphant.

Here is our first bell pepper and tomatoes.

Our grapevine and a pretty overall view of the garden beds. That big mound of a plant in the second bed? Zucchini! Like I said, huge! Another view from the other side of the garden. Again, the zucchini towers over everything else.

Miss Chloebug, fresh out of the bath and ready to strike a pose!

Here's a nice view from further back, where you can really get an idea of how things looked and where things were placed. This, and the few pictures above were taken on the 26th of May.

Unfortunately it was about this time that we started noticing mounds of dirt in our far right bed. They started around the lettuce, and slowly, heads of lettuce started disappearing in their entirety. Next, two of our onions disappeared.  Then, the watermelon, which was really depressing because the vine looked beautiful and actually had tiny, nickel-sized watermelons growing on it. I was so mad when the watermelon disappeared, and that's when we really knew we had a problem. Neil and I hemmed and hawed over what could be done. It quickly got to the point where each day we went outside, new mounds had formed. A gopher, we suspect (or two, or seven) had found a new home and/or food source in our garden beds, and was/were enjoying the fruits of our labors. It was very discouraging considering the work we'd put in, not to mention the fact that everything was beginning to mature and produce!  Next went the tomatillos. It was funny because some things disappeared altogether, while others, like the tomatillos, were left in the beds, lifeless, with their roots nibbled off. At about this same time, we had been calling around to get quotes for concrete walkways to go alongside the beds and around the back of the house. Neil also wanted a concrete platform laid for the shed he eventually planned to build (right next to one of the beds).  So we selected our guy and he came and did the job.  Well, based on the timing of everything, we suspect this opened a can of worms with our little gopher friend because literally the days leading up to and the days following when he was here, are the days we took the biggest losses.  Our cucumbers and part of our tomato was destroyed, I believe the very day the concrete was poured, in fact.

These pictures were actually taken within hours of our these poor guys getting demolished. There were dozens of tiny 3-inch cucumbers growing on the vines, and even this 6-inch one, which wasn't far from making its way to our kitchen. We also noticed that same day, a mound at the base of our zucchini. We really are convinced that the fresh concrete covered some of the gopher's access, and caused him to go on a rampage. Who knows. Either way, we quickly realized that if we didn't do something IMMEDIATELY, the little bastard was going to finish things off completely!

Here's our guy doing measurements and prepping the area for walkways.  You can also see the a/c unit, which looks a lot better there than it did right outside our patio door.  The 4x4s will eventually support a fence, which Neil plans to build to hide the unit and pool pump.  Then next to that, where you see that large pile of dirt, will eventually be bushes of some kind.  Lantanas, perhaps? Here's how it all looked the day they laid concrete {30 May 2012}.  He also replaced the concrete Neil had jack-hammered to make way for the coolant line (not pictured), and also another square over on the other side of the yard to extend the pool deck (bottom right).

Going back to the gopher issue.  It was a tough call to make, because we knew there was a chance we'd lose everything if we pulled what was left out, but it was either that or let the little scoundrel get to it. So we pulled ALL the dirt out of BOTH beds, transplanted what was left of our garden into temporary pots, and laid wire mesh at the bottom of the beds to ensure ZERO access from underground. Our poor carrots, that didn't have nearly enough time to mature (below).  Chloe let out quite a sigh when she saw them. 
  Oh, and the hole you see there to the left? Neil dug that after discovering that the gopher had gotten to the cucumber. Apparently that was his final straw. There was really no purpose to digging the hole. He just needed to blow off some steam. He joked later that he should have saved his energy for digging out the beds. :) Love that man. Always joking, even when things aren't so funny. And as if shoveling dirt wasn't enjoyable enough, we got to do it in 100 degree heat. Luckily, with a pool within feet of us, we had the option of jumping in and out to quickly cool off before getting back to work. That definitely helped.
At this point the two grapevines and the zucchini were the only things left in the beds. We tried to keep the grapes in place for as long as possible, but in the end, we lost the larger of the two. It was literally dug up for only a matter of minutes before Neil got the mesh stapled down and stuck it right back where it was, but it quickly started to wilt and was dead within a few days.  I still can't get over the size of that zucchini plant!  Those leaves were gigantic!  Such a shame that it had to go, but there was no chance of successfully transplanting it.

Our poor, traumatized peppers and herbs, all lined up.

The kids got out and helped Neil shovel as well. Chloe actually did great, for the all of ten minutes she lasted. Ryan, on the other hand? Well, he did try. :) You can tell he's realllly trying.  This is his "George of the Jungle" getup, by the way.  He frequently roams the house in this attire, and generally prefers it over any other wardrobe choice. Here are some of the other ways "George" entertained himself while we worked.

So the process of removing the plants and dirt, laying the mesh and filling the beds back in took about a week. Finally, on June 8th, we got our peppers, onions and herbs back into the ground, and planted additional tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, watermelon and even a pumpkin (why not?), as well as more carrot seed. Initially everything looked understandably droopy, but perked back up within a week.  And I am proud to say that everything survived. Even my huge basil, which I was convinced wouldn't make it, is thriving and looking beautiful once again. So the above photos were taken on the 8th of June. You can see how the walkways turned out and where the shed will go one day. It's now been two weeks, and the far left beds containing zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin, cucumber and carrot (seeds) look entirely different! Everything has grown and is thriving. We've since laid some ground cover between the concrete and beds, which we hope will fill in quickly.  I'm still not entirely finished with that, but the nursery ran out, so I'm waiting on more to come in.  It really does look so nice, despite that ugly fence behind the beds, and I am grateful, as hard and inconvenient as it was, that we took the time to pull the dirt out and make it right while we still had some time left to give the garden another chance. We have since enjoyed some peppers and herbs. Just today, in fact, Chloe and I snipped 4 jalapenos and brought them inside. It won't be long before we're enjoying our first anaheim chili, and much, much more!

I should also mention that we've installed 2 sonic spikes, which apparently let out some type of signal in the ground that keeps gophers and other rodents away.  This was after other failed attempts to keep them out, which included traps, which in the end only attracted ants, as well as the old stick the hose down the fresh hole and turn it on trick.  We tried this twice and had the water on a solid 10 minutes, just waiting at the other end with a shovel in hand for the little gopher to poke his head out so we could whack him.  Since we installed the sonic spikes, gosh, weeks ago now, we haven't seen a single mound anywhere.  Hopefully between those and the mesh, we will be gopher-free from here on out! 

Lastly, here are just a few final comparisons so you can really get a feel for the progress of our garden, and just how quickly it changed.

So here's a comparison of ROUND 1:

Here's a comparison of ROUND 2:


AND ONE FINAL VIEW - Look what a short 2 weeks have done to my tomatoes!

I love gardening, and look forward to plenty more years of it!


Binns Family said...

So jealous of your amazing garden! You did great!

Letters to My Little Ones said...

What a crazy story! I am so glad you did not give up. I love the cement between the garden beds. That is so smart! What project but it looks so lovely. Great job!