I’m so excited I wet my plants! or A Garden Update for June
by Heidi Obermeyer
Nothing like a little plant pun to start your Friday off right. It’s time for a garden update. Last time I waxed poetic on the topic (here), the garden was but a shadow of its current existence. Things have exploded everywhere! Let’s go through and see what’s been going on with all the plants. This a long one so settle in and make some more coffee before you get started.
The garden came with the house and was well along with tomatoes, beets, and carrots when we moved in last summer. This year, I added almost nothing to the soil composition in an effort to save money on buying gigantic bags of soil. I added as many leaves as I could scoop up to stir in in the fall and then added a large amount of compost from our pile in the bottom of each plant I put in and on top after I realized the tomatoes seemed to be growing a little slowly. Things are growing, but I wouldn’t say they are growing well, and I would expect that in this kind of extremely humid and warm climate everything should be growing like a weed. I think the soil has also been compacted since the garden plot was first installed; looking at it now, there is a solid 4-5 inches of wood showing around the edges of the plot. If I choose to do a major soil overhaul next year, it will take a LOT (I’m thinking 6-8 giant bags of soil) to really resupply the soil in this bed properly.
There seems to be a real dichotomy between plants grown at the west end of the plot versus those grown at the east end. The house blocks the sun for part of the day on the eastern side, but there is still a good amount of direct sun on the entire area for most of the day. I planted many of my plants on an East/West line this year, for next year I would think about planting them along the North/South axis.
I think we lack pollinators in the city. I rarely see bees in the garden and I think it is impacting the production levels of the plants. So sad.
The Lettuce and Kale Situation
Lettuce is the plant we’ve used the most so far from the garden. I’ve been putting a lot of it on sandwiches for lunch, and it’s really nice to not have to buy an entire head when you just want a few leaves. I didn’t think I really wanted to plant any lettuce and elected to grow it primarily because I thought it would be an easy plant not to kill, but it’s ended up being eaten fairly regularly on our end. What a nice surprise!
Kale, on the other hand, is doing fine. Not great, just fine. I grew it, the lettuce and a few other plants directly from seed, and I think I started them all way too early. The lettuce and kale in particular were clamoring to be released from their sprout container chains weeks before it was safe to put them out. Next year I either need to get a small grow light, purchase stronger seedlings, or be patient and wait several weeks longer before starting seeds. I wonder if it will grow slowly all summer and then flourish in the fall- Kale isn’t supposed to like intense heat like summer in DC. The local school has a gigantic kale plant in their garden that survived over the winter that I am very jealous of. #Heidiproblems
The basils I planted are, again, growing very slowly but seem to be doing ok. There were a lot of initial problems with all the seedings and bugs, but organic insecticide and increases in size seem to have stifled their plant eating progress sufficiently. Both types- Thai and regular- have surprisingly small leaves and, again, don’t seem to love the heat the way I would expect. The regular basil is pretty good but has a slight bitter tang, which I suspect is from the poor soil quality.
Watermelon and Eggplant: A total bust
I had planted seeds for moon and star watermelon that were all eaten or withered away as soon as they sprouted. On a run to a local nursery I decided to try buying another watermelon seedling and it has been a total fail so far. It’s been in the ground for about a month and hasn’t died, but also has not grown AT ALL. I don’t think this bodes well. The eggplant I purchased is the same way- same nursery, same problem with no growth but also not dying. It’s just sitting there. I’m curious to see what happens with these two and have tentatively added them to my “don’t bother” list for next time.
Tomatoes, particularly Ja’mie, Private School Tomato
The tomatoes are doing great! At least, enough of them are doing great that I am 99% sure I will get a few fruits out of the deal. I planted three different types- Cherokee Purple, Gold Medal, and Mexico Midgets. The Cherokee purple have proven to be amazing- they are doing well in both their potted and in-ground forms and are forming several large fruit per plant already. I expect more to come. The Gold Medal plants that survived (2) are also doing well but seem much slower than the Cherokee purple. They also have produced fewer fruits per plant so far, but it could be that they just need more time to ripen or produce more fruit later in the season. Ja’mie, Private School Tomato, is a Gold Medal and she is doing great! I just repotted two container tomatoes into 5 gallon buckets because I was sick of constantly watering them. The Mexico Midgets were slow to get going but now are coming into their own, and several of them have fruit in a few places.
Peppers: The Unsung Hero
The peppers have also faired surprisingly well. Who knew jalapeños were so easy to grow?! I have two jalapeño plants and they are both doing quite well, although one is producing the majority of the peppers. We’ve used several of them now in guac and on pizzas and they are delicious. My bell pepper has also produced two peppers and is now starting to form new leaves and flowers since I took away the energy suck of the two peppers that had already grown.
Flowers for everyone!
The two dahlias I bought are doing amazingly well! One has turned into a huge bushy plant with lots of blooms, a total steal for just $3 at the National Arboretum plant sale. The other seems to be more slowly growing but is still blooming prolifically. I grew several Johnny Jump-Ups from seeds, but was lazy and only planted one before they got washed out in one of our heavy rainstorms. They are doing well and quietly multiply by themselves. They remind me of my grandmother who always had lots of them filling in the cracks of her garden. I’ve started some Zinnias also but need to put them into the ground. They have been nailed by bugs munching on the leaves but are still salvageable.
Zucchinis: The easiest plant, but why so hard?
My zucchinis are completely failing. So far no fruits that have lasted and many leaves are yellowing and falling off. I think they are overcrowded and now getting pollinated to produce fruit as there have been many blossoms but no fruit so far. These are supposed to be ridiculously easy to grow, so I must be doing something wrong.
Beans and Peas please!
I bought one pea plant on a whim and then planted some scarlet runner beans as well to see if I could get some of their pretty red flowers to bloom. So far no flowers, but I love how the pea and bean plants look climbing up the trellis. Next near I plan to create a wall of them between the garden and our seating area out back so that they form a natural shade barrier- it gets extremely hot out there with direct sun in the afternoon, which makes it tough to grill or sit outside for dinner. Peas to the rescue!
Other Random Plants
I also have mint (growing vigorously, obviously), green onions I stuck in a pot from the grocery store (doing great), and cilantro (almost done, but grew very well).
I’ve let a few rogue plants stick around and am now kind of regretting have done so. I transplanted one rogue cucumber plant into a pot and it is doing pretty well, but I don’t love it. Another one sprouted in the compost pile- pictured above- and has totally taken over that part of the yard. No objects though- I think it’s a pretty natural barrier around the compost pile. I also let a tomato continue to grow that I thought was of the same amazing cherry variety that we loved last summer in this garden, but I think it’s growing from some random grocery store seed that was in the compost. It’s very leggy and the fruit that it’s producing is tear-drop shaped- any suggestions on what to do with this one would be appreciated.
We have blackberries! They are amazing and just starting to ripen. That’s been a nice surprise.
In conclusion, things are growing, mostly well. Only time will tell what the future will bring me in terms of vegetables! Any tips or tricks for some of the problems I’ve mentioned above? I’d love to hear them!