Grow, grow, grow!

Last year, I launched into an experimental garden with my potato crop derived from a few sprouted spuds. If you read this blog, you’ll know the results were somewhat less than great. With that in mind, when I got the urge to garden again this year, I decided it might be a good idea if I gave my small garden plot a rest to (hopefully) regain some of it’s fertility.

So, with that decision out of the way, I was left with two possible courses of action:

Find a section of the lawn I could turn and use for planting, or

Find some sort of containerized gardening solution.

Having past experience with going from lawn to garden, I knew this meant a lot of work and the problem of a bare spot after I decided to move my garden. So, container gardening it is!

I know some folks who have used those hanging plant containers, and they all report that while they look odd (and are occasionally cumbersome to get planted), they’re very effective at producing healthy plants and fairly good harvests. The problem, of course, is cost. Most of the hanging planters come without any dirt, so you have to pay for both the planter, plus whatever you use to fill them, be it bagged topsoil, compost or anything else. On my budget, cost is Factor #1, so the less costly a solution is, the better I like it. This lead me back to the tried-and-true system of planting garden plants directly in a bag of whatever soil/medium I was going to use. A bit of shopping around turned up the cheapest bags of suitable planting medium, specifically composted cow manure, at the local Wal-Marts (yes, I know, I’m no big fan of theirs either). Given the space I was going to have available to me (the corner of the same porch last year’s potatoes had grown next to), I figured that I would have room for two, perhaps three bags. Rather than try to squeeze the maximum number of plants into the space and risk them shading each other too much, I opted for only two bags. What to grow was a lot easier: tomatoes and bell peppers. Here I caught a break: the local grocery store was selling garden plants, and not only did theirs look better than those on offer at Wal-Marts, but they were offering heirloom plants that were priced cheaper than the Wal-Marts ‘specials’ too.

In the end, I chose an heirloom tomato plant, a “Brandywine”, and a more modern “Valencia Orange” hybrid pepper plant. As with a lot of things, once the decisions were made, Fate stepped in to have it’s say. In this case, it happened that while I was unloading the bagged compost, I managed to snag one of the bags along the edge and tear it. The usual approach when doing this sort of approach is to lay the bags down flat, just as they were stacked where you bought them, and open the upper surface to allow the plant to be planted. With an opening already in the bag, it wasn’t a hard decision to make to turn the torn bag on it’s side and just expand the opening already there. Well, that was the theory at least. You see, what with being stacked up and all, the compost inside the bags gets pretty well compressed. That, in turn, means that what you’ve got inside the bag is sometimes less like garden soil and more like cheaply-made concrete. In my case, it wasn’t quite that extreme, but it definitely took a good deal of work to break up the compost into something that could be planted in without leaving it in huge chunks. The resulting bag was much thicker than it would have been, and seeing as how tomatoes like a good, deep bed to grow into, the place to plant my “Brandywine” was decided. After it was in, the other bag for the “Valencia Orange” was slit open and the compost inside it broken up in the immediate area under the opening. Getting it planted took even less time than the tomato had (the bag wasn’t nearly as neatly opened or controllable on the tomato bag) and I was done. Plants planted, garden ready to start growing.

Or so I thought.

Like last year, things happened that gave me options I hadn’t thought of before. In this case, it was some garlic I’d bought. I needed some fresh to season a dish, but I didn’t need the whole clove. So I put the rest aside, thinking that it would be safe to leave it lying around. No, it wasn’t. In this case, the weather took a hand in making the decision for me. After a couple of says when the local temps shot suddenly into the mid-80’s, I happened to look at my left-over garlic and found that almost all of it was sprouting. When I took the clove apart, I found six segments had sprouted. I knew these would not last long, and with nothing to use them in, I decided to do what I did last year: plant them. As a general rule, garlic like to be planted in cooler weather, but with the only other choice being throwing the sprouted segments out, I figured I had nothing to loose. Because of the way the bags were lying, the bag holding the pepper plant had more space, so it drew one segment at each corner of the bag. The tomato bag took the other two, one at each end. That was about three weeks ago.

Right now, the garlic is growing like a proverbial weed, with the tops already six or more inches tall. Whether they’ll form cloves or just go to seed is something I’ll find out in the next month or so. Both of the ‘non-volunteer’ plants are doing well, with strong growth on both plants. The pepper has already flowered twice without showing any signs of fruit forming, but it’s early in the season, so I’m not discouraged. One thing I had not thought of, and that I’ll have to tackle soon, is how to support the tomato plant. “Brandywine”, like many other heirloom tomatoes, has a tendency to grow big and grow fast. Mine is already showing signs of wanting to take off in it’s own direction, so some sort of support to keep it upright is going to be a necessity soon. What that support will be, well, I guess you’ll find out shortly after I do.

I hope anyone who reads this will give serious thought to growing something for themselves. It’s getting a bit late to be planting things like tomatoes and peppers, but not too late if you have a long warm season. There’s also plenty of time, even in the shortest of warm seasons, to grow things like lettuce and other salad greens. A bag container is a good solution for these sorts of crops too, and between the satisfaction of ‘growing your own’, the savings on your grocery bill and the generally better quality of crops you grow yourself, it’s a good thing to do. So give it a whirl.

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