Friday, May 13, 2011

Gardening in Zone 9.5

For the past few summers I've been wanting to have a small, raised garden. So when we were offered this house and discovered a preexisting raised garden in the backyard I was thrilled! It's fate!

We live in Zone 9 or 10 (can't tell from those highly accurate colored lines on the back of the seed packs), so when we started planning and planting our garden in March I was afraid we were too late. By mid-March it's 100 degrees. But I figured if it's too hot we'll try again next year.

As a homeschooling family, I used this as a learning opportunity. In the days leading up to planting time, the children learned about seeds, plants, weather, and soil science.

When planting day arrived, the kids helped purge the flower bed of rocks, mix in gardening soil, and even gross themselves out by hand-mixing in a bag of manure. "EWWWW!!! Poop!!!"

But when it was all mixed together and planted, the garden was looking good!

I bought two Roma tomato seedlings, one jalapeno plant, one red bell pepper plant, and one cucumber plant. To increase their interest in this "family" project, I let each kid pick one small pack of flowers from The Home Depot to add to the flower corner of the garden.

I also planted a "box" basil plant and a small sprig of rosemary. I planted 6 green bean seeds as well.

The best part of the planting experience? The clean up!

Here's our garden about a month later. (Please ignore the weeds slowly creeping up into the garden. They didn't last another day after this picture was taken.) The cucumber plant sends shoots and feelers all over the place, the green bean seeds took off and are thriving in this desert heat. The tomatoes are huge, and the basil is shrubbing beautifully. (The basil is called a "box" basil because it grows in this awesome, compact, tight shape instead of all over the place. It's really very attractive as a shrub. And you can add it to your spaghetti!)

The flowers are doing alright despite my having to experiment with watering schedules. I have a soaker hose wrapped around the base of the plants so if I need to water in the heat of the day I won't wet the leaves and burn them. Luckily, however, we have an old-growth oak tree in the best spot of the backyard so our garden gets direct sun in the morning and late afternoon, but gets shade during the hottest part of the day.

That is a baby green bean. For a vegetable, these baby green beans sure are cute! They start out about the size of a tic-tac and then grow from there. We have about 30-40 beans growing.

We're still waiting for them to ripen. (I tried to eat one of the largest and seemingly most mature bean. YUCK!! The inside was all clear and starchy. I guess they're not ripe yet!)

This is a female cucumber flower. The female flowers have what looks like a baby cucumber growing behind her, and if the flower is pollinated by a male cucumber flower (from the same plant) the cucumber will continue to grow. No pollination, no cucumber.

We're having problems with cucumber reproduction at the moment. I get quite a few females and a ton of male flowers, but even with hand pollinating using a paintbrush, all of the baby cukes wither and fall off. I suspect the tiny yellow gnats that live in the flowers are eating the pollen. I'm working on a solution.

The jalapenos were the first to get going. We have three almost full peppers just getting ready for their cream cheese filling and bacon-wrapped bake in the oven.

Tomatoes. Ahh, tomatoes. Even dummies can grow tomatoes. Even me!

Well, kind of.

The plants are growing like crazy, and at first there were dozens of flowers and baby tomatoes, but then the flowers fell off and no more came to replace them. I added some tomato fertilizer and the flowers came back, but after these first three early fruits, none of these new flowers are turning into tomatoes.

I've read that if the flowers aren't agitated enough they won't self-fertilize. What to do? Use a vibrator! I kid you not! So every few days I go out with my, well, the tomato's vibrating toothbrush, and vibrate the stems, leaves, everything.

With all of the vibrating going on in my backyard, copulation shouldn't be this difficult!

But that's part of the fun of a garden. Who knew there were male and female cucumber flowers? Who knew tomatoes all go gaga for a good vibrator? Who knew unripe green beans are so dang disgusting?

The Gerber daisies are happy. As are the marigolds and basil. I'm happy, too. Dirt under your nails is good!

Do you have any good garden stories? Are you currently growing anything? What's worked well in your gardens before? Any tips for my fertilizing problems?