So every year, to some extent, I try to grow things.
I am, as far as I can tell, a reasonably intelligent and capable human being. I would like to think that keeping a plant alive is within the realm of my abilities. I would like to think it’s nowhere near as complex a task as most things I do in a day. But things just die around me. Whenever a plant comes into my possession it just kills itself, knowing that to try to choke out a life under these circumstances is not worth the pain and eventual failure.
Last year I had, I suppose, my first plant success since sprouting beans in Kindergarten (which I promptly killed while still in seedling stage, never transplanting out of the tiny vermiculite cup). I bought an Aerogarden, a literally foolproof growing system, which requires only that you top up the water every couple of weeks and pop in a little nutrient tablet when a light flashes. I watched as the seeds became seedlings and the seedlings became plants with extremely little intervention on my part, basking in near-continuous florescent light and bubbling mineralized water.
It did “alright”, at best. The basil did fantastic. Did you know that you’re supposed to pinch out growth at the top of a basil plant once it reaches a modest height, allowing it to be bushy and beautiful instead of tall and crappy? Because I didn’t. The basil shot up several times faster than anything around it, growing at speeds I never could have imagined. It hogged the light and cast a dark shadow over all the other herbs. Every day I would come home from work to find it had grown up into the lights again and the top several leaves had ignited and burned to a crisp. I couldn’t give the stuff away fast enough, or dream of a way to cook it all at the rate it was growing. It can be dried but it’s not worth the effort; it loses all its flavour and just leaves you wondering why you went to the effort to grow it in the first place. So I pretty much just let it destroy all the other herbs with its monstrous growth. I got a bit of mint (which I turned into jelly) and dill (which I dried) and a very minimal amount of chives (which I froze into chive-cubes to be used to cool bowls of soup), and wrote off the oregano and thyme as miserable failures.
Somehow, I found that experience promising. It’s a powerful thing, creating food out of tiny seed and a bit of dirt. So this year I took it up a couple notches and decided I wanted a full-blown edible garden on my high-rise balcony. Determined not to fail, I inhaled several books on the subject beforehand. I had a fair amount of success with canning (and countless other cooking ventures) through the failure-research-failure-research method, so I thought it was worth a try. I made a detailed schedule and garden plan in February, intending to begin starting seedlings in April and have everything moved outside for June. I bought organic local seeds in pretty little paper envelopes and set them aside for planting.
I failed to take into consideration the fact that I was moving at the end of May. There was no chance to start seedlings beforehand, and in the move I actually lost all of my seeds (whether they’re around here somewhere waiting to be rediscovered or at the dump, I have no idea). My brilliant planning all went out the window and I was left with precious little time to get my act together. For most of what I wanted to grow, there was no chance that even if I replaced the seeds I could get them planted in time to get much out of them by fall.
So I panicked and bought plants instead. I bought them small so it wouldn’t break the bank, but I skipped all the tricky seedling stuff. I couldn’t find most of what was on my garden plan, so it ended up just being chaos. I planted whatever I could find in whatever it would fit in.
A little over a month later, the plants are (almost) all alive. The poor planning is becoming extremely evident. The plants are getting unruly. But they’re alive, dammit! They’re still alive! And I would prove it, except there is currently a perfect storm of all three of my cameras failing me. So instead of pictures, I’m going to describe them all in loving detail for you. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but, well, you’re getting the words, so deal with it.
Black currant bush: No sign of blossoms or berries since it came home with me. No sign of growth. Just kind of hangin in there. C’mon, buddy. You’re looking a little yellow and sad. Anything I can do for ya? Anything at all? Because I certainly have no idea. Sorry. Keep on keepin on.
Lettuce: I stuck lettuce all over the dang place. It’s doing fantastic in a little container against the wall that it shares with celery, a little less fantastic in the onion bin, and it’s really just dead in the nightstand drawer that I hastily converted into a planter and tossed out on the balcony with four heads of lettuce and a couple marigolds (note to self: do not buy so many marigolds). It should be noted that “doing fantastic” means “grew a bit and didn’t die”. Non-fantastic means it’s yellow and shriveled and sad, but I’m leaving it out there for, I don’t know, good measure I guess. The indestructible marigolds don’t seem to mind.
Marigolds: The aforementioned marigolds are everywhere, shoved in every nook and cranny of every container. In theory, they’re edible, but they’re the only thing in my garden that’s making me look good so I don’t want to pick them (although of course it’s tough fighting off those notorious marigold cravings). I took one of my many, many marigold plants to work to brighten up my cubicle, but it died over July long weekend. I keep watering it hoping it will come back. It’s never coming back.
The Onion Bin: …is what I call the crappy, too-small container full of onions and one sad head of lettuce. As far as I can tell, the onions are not dead, but very sad and not really doing much. Maybe under the soil, out of sight, big beautiful sweet yellow bulbs are forming. I doubt it. But it aint over til it’s over, so I’m leaving them there.
Spinach: is it, though? I bought 4 plants that were labeled as spinach, but the larger they get, the harder time I have believing that they’re spinach, mostly because they look absolutely nothing like spinach. I keep googling pictures of spinach to compare, and I’m just not seeing it. There’s no resemblance whatsoever. These are tall plants with thick, stringy-looking stems and triangular leaves, that are starting to grow weird prickly little buds. I am pretty sure this is some sort of hideous invasive weed, although I have so far been unable to identify it. But there are four of them, all the same, and they were definitely labeled as spinach. I just can’t bring myself to believe in such treachery, so I haven’t picked them yet. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I can’t imagine a way these horrors will ever turn into something that I would put in my mouth.
Strawberries: Possibly suffering from sharing a container with the “spinach”, but possibly not; it’s hard to tell if they’re just normal ground-loving strawberries or if they’re sad and limp. Either way, they have actually started to blossom, which is encouraging. I know I’m supposed to pinch off blossoms the first year in order to have a better crop of fruit the second, but do I look like somebody who can keep a plant going over two seasons? I’m going to take what I can get this year and replant next spring, because I am not magic.
Peppers: I have 4 pepper plants, all different varieties. Three are in one probably-too-small container. The other is in a container with a cucumber, who is a total jerk of a roommate. They are all starting to blossom this past week. Hoping to get at least a few fruit out of them. May have to sacrifice the weaker ones to get at least one awesome plant; time will tell. I’m going to take a wild guess and say I will probably do nothing, no matter what happens.
Cucumber: Seriously, I feel for the bell pepper, because this cucumber guy is a jerk. He’s big and mean and prickly, and has nothing to climb (see: poor planning), so is just sort of flopped over pathetically on top of the pepper plant. I need to figure out some sort of support system or both these guys are going down. I am struggling with this proposition, as there is nothing with which to support the support system, if you know what I mean (I know you don’t, but trust me). Poor dudes.
Tomato: I have one tomato plant. He’s small but he’s tough. Actually I’m not really basing that on anything, I’m just assuming that if he’s not dead he must be tough. Started blossoming this past week. Is really quite pathetically short – no idea if this is going anywhere. Hopefully not, because much like his cucumber friend, this plant has no support whatsoever.
Basil: Tomato’s container-mate. I’ve been pinching back the top to encourage bushy growth (knowledge is power!). I also started eating it early, hoping to avoid future chaos. Worse comes to worst, the whole thing can always be pulverized into a few teaspoons of pesto.
Mint: The cool new kid on the patio. This plant just arrived on Sunday, a donation from my sister-in-law Tammi’s garden, where mint grows like crazy over huge portions of her beds. Took root quite happily in a cute little pot. I probably won’t have enough for jelly, but I do see some mojitos in my future.
Garlic Chives: I really want these to flower, because their pretty white flowers would look so nice in the garden, and then still look pretty tossed on a salad. No blossoms yet, but I’ve started eating them anyway and they are delicious. Just crazy delicious. This might be the start of a dangerous baked potato addiction for me.
Lavender: I have nothing to say about you, lavender. Start being more interesting. It’s sort of small and not very flowery but looks pretty healthy.
Celery: After I brought this home, I went to look up again how to grow it and the world seems to be in agreement that it’s very poorly suited to container growing. I really want celery, though; it’s my go-to late night snack. It grew very quickly and was looking awesome, but now it seems to be faltering. Shucks.
Cherry tree: It’s totally awesome that I have a fruit tree on my balcony, right? You don’t have to tell me. I know you’re jealous. I’m completely in love with my cherry tree. It is less in love with me, probably because it’s kind of in part-shade which is less than ideal. There are a lot of yellow leaves at the back (against the wall) which I try not to get too down about. It’s already harvest time for the cherries: all seven of them. They’re beautiful and red and plump and ripe, though. Trying not to eat them all at once. Cherries! Off my balcony! The mind boggles. Hoping next year I get some more fruit, by avoiding shoving the eight-foot tree into my Honda Civic just when the fruit is setting.
And that’s all, the whole lineup. If I had to guess which plant would have the most successful year at this point, I guess it would be the spinach impersonator. But only time will tell!