So, yes, it’s the Fourth of July. Normally I would be surrounded by friends, preparing lots of hearty American fare, and drinking too much beer, but it’s a Wednesday, so. . . *sad trumpet*

How about a garden update instead? It’s been a while, and as it grows into itself and I am able to see what plant/location/watering/feeding choices have worked and what haven’t. I am by no means an expert gardener. I grew up with big gardens, and did my child-share of watering and digging and of course eating. I believe I watched carefully. I believe I learned a thing or two:

  • Grow in raised beds with chicken wire bottoms because otherwise gophers will come and pluck each tender plant from the roots, which causes heartbreak for a gardener;
  • Turn and sift the soil and add poop and blood or fish (gross!) before planting because plants aren’t vegetarians either;
  • We water at night or early morning, because the midday sun will dry up our work and water droplets will fry the leaves;
  • Corn is fun to watch grow tall, but always disappointing to harvest;
  • Put tomatoes in the hottest part of the garden and plant marigolds next to them to ward off pests;
  • You will always have too much zucchini.

So I learned these things as a child. As an adult I lived in cities. When I did try to attempt tomato plants in my yard in Santa Cruz, on my rooftop in Brooklyn, on the porch of my apartment in San Francisco, even in the backyards of my houses in Berkeley and Oakland, I never really had a lot of success. Pots were too small, weather too cold, sunlight too brief, and perhaps not enough compost, water or know-how as well. I kept trying, because summer isn’t summer without a tomato plant, if for nothing else than the smell of the plant itself – that bright green, dewy smell.

But this year. THIS year. My garden would feed me.

There’s a lot of pressure on this garden. It’s my first real garden back at the Ranch. I grew tomatoes last year but they went in late and it was a bad tomato year. This year’s garden began in April, with weeding, a truckload of compost, plants started from seed, organic fertilizer and chicken manure, plants in the ground right after the last frost.

Now it’s July. I am eagerly awaiting my first tomato. Peppers, cucumbers, and squash have already made it to the table. There are winners and losers already, and the big harvest will reveal even more, but here’s the garden so far, warts and all:

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Winner! The ‘Fresno’ jalapeno is not super hot as was advertised, but is tasty and prolific.

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Winner! The poblanos always look wilty to me, but they are nonetheless covered in flowers and fruit. Haven’t tasted one yet.

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Wart. This ‘Early Annie’ is an heirloom I put in a little late, however, it really hasn’t grown at all and doesn’t look like it’s going to produce more than that one tomato.

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Winner! The jelly bean cherry is huge, covered in fruit, and looks to be the first one to ripen.

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Winner! Cherokee purple is huge and healthy, with giant fruit on the cusp of ripening.

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Wart. The brandywine is fired. I might even yank it out this weekend and replace it. It is weak, prone to blight, and refusing to set fruit even after I hand-pollinated it with a paintbrush. Total loser.

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Winner! This little Roma is a tidy, sturdy plant that is setting a lot of good sized fruit even though the plant itself hasn’t gotten very big.

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Winner! Ambrosia melons are popping out all over this happy little vine.

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Winner! Trellising the melons to keep them from rotting on the ground. Will add supports to the fruit in the form of panty-hose hammocks when they start getting bigger.

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Winner and wart: The cocozelli di Napoli is a very tasty squash that hasn’t tried to grow a foot overnight (yet) and so is yielding tender, usable fruits. However, I’m not sure about the wine-barrel planter for the squash. It might be stunting the plants a bit.

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Winner! Little finger eggplant, so far so good.

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Tentative winner: Padron peppers, my hard-to-find treasure, are putting out funny, misshapen leaves, but appear to be setting fruit and have grown quite tall.

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Wart: The thornless blackberries haven’t really been getting enough water, which is my fault. Hopefully more and bigger fruits on them next year.

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Wart! I’m devastated, my dwarf Lisbon lemon was doing so well. It was covered in fruit and blooms, but then it started dropping all its unripe fruit and I don’t think it’s going to make anything when all is said and done.

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Wart. The volunteer grape that I’ve never seen with fruit? Now I know why. By the time these puny little bunches ripen the birds will have taken everything. Might have to get rid of it.

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Winner! Last year I planted several clumps of rudbeckia and cone flowers knowing I was going to be getting honey bees. These flowers are self-propagating, hardy, deer resistant, and bee-friendly. Even better, they’re doing great! (There is also a purple scabiosa in there I just planted yesterday)

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Winner! This little apple tree was planted years and years ago but has never produced much fruit. After a serious pruning two winters ago, it is back and looking great.

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Tentative winner: The peach tree dropped over half its fruit, but the remaining peaches seem to be growing. This tree has produced wonderful peaches in the past, but faltered after a much-needed pruning two winters ago. It seems to be coming back.

So that’s it! Happy Fourth, everyone!

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