Garden Planning 2015

Last year was my first real year to have a vegetable garden that was more than simply a collection of pots on the deck.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot of lessons.  I grew a whole lot of food and failed at growing even more.  So looking ahead to 2015 also means looking back.

Last year, my most successful crop was cucumbers.  This was both good and bad.  It was good in the sense that now I have a dozen jars of homemade pickles on my pantry shelves.  But it was bad because I have a dozen jars of homemade pickles and I’m the only one in the family that likes pickles.  I had a total of 10 pickling cucumber plants and they produced with an abundance that I simply could not keep up with.

Lesson 1:  Plant what your family will eat.

Another source of frustration for me were the pest issues I faced.  You might remember the squirrels who dug up all of my garlic last year.  They continue to be a major problem.  My bare, winter garden looks like the face of the moon.  It is full of craters dug by their tiny rodent paws.  To add insult to injury, just after my tomatoes set their fruit, a deer hopped my fence and ate the entire crop of green tomatoes.  The delicious pizza sauce I managed to jar came from store bought tomatoes.  Depressing.  Animal pressure is clearly a major issue for my garden, and I will need to take more aggressive measures this year if I want my tomatoes and all of my other vegetables to survive.

I’ve come up with some plans.  I’d like to make a small frame with chicken wire stretched across it to fit down over each my raised beds.  My hope is that I will be able to plant through the holes in the chicken wire, but the squirrels will not be able to dig in it.  As for the deer, I have a neighbor who has had great success with a motion sensor sprinkler, so I think I will try this.  The trick will be getting the angle just right to keep the deer well away.  I hope that between these two barriers, the deer and squirrels will look for easier places to cavort.

As for 2015, I’m going to narrow my focus on the tomatoes and plant mostly sauce-type tomatoes.  Burpee has a hybrid called Supersauce that promises huge fruit (one tomato to fill a jar!) and great taste.  Considering that my store-bought tomatoes only gave me 4 meagre jars of pizza sauce, the idea of enormous and prolific fruit certainly appeals to me.

I’m also going to plant more hot peppers for my husband who is a capsaicin addict.  We’re going to try Biker Billy, the same Jalapeno as last year, Diabolito, and one called Sweet Heat.  Hopefully that will satisfy my husband’s need to set his mouth on fire!

After the squirrel fiasco, I am not attempting garlic.  This has nothing to do with the fact that I put off ordering it until it was too late to ship.  Nope.  Definitely not.  But I did manage to get some shallots, so I’m giving that a try.

For the kids, I got some Bush Baby watermelon seeds.  I’ve never grown a melon, but it will be fun for the kids to give it a try!

As for my other plans?  I’m not sure.  I’d like to grow some peas and beans, but the rabbits hit them so hard last year that it hardly seems worth it.  Considering the extreme measures I am taking for the deer, I will probably try and hope that it helps, but the loss of the peas was such a bummer that I’m not entirely sure if I have it in me this year.  Broccoli and Cauliflower were also a major disappointment (thanks squirrels) because not only did they just stay thin and reedy, but the bastard squirrels dug them up, too.  I will likely try those again, however, and see if purchasing actual plants from a nursery works out better than attempting to grow from seed.

I’ve sketched out a preliminary plan for my garden.  You can see that there are lots of blank spaces still, but it gives me an idea where the big stuff will go.

2015 garden plan

I’m looking forward to spring.  We’re in the middle of rain and snow today, so sitting down and planning a garden helps me think of greener and warmer days.

Are you doing a garden this year?  What will you be planting?

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Feeling Defeated in the Garden

The squirrels, caterpillars, birds, and rabbits are beginning to win.

Back in March, I wrote about the squirrels digging in the garden.  Since that post, I’ve tried a number of methods to drive them away: plastic owls, brightly colored pinwheels, repellent powder, and little bags of coyote urine crystals.

I’ve had the best luck with the coyote crystals, but they have to be shaken every few days (which is gross) and they smell (also gross) and they seem to be signalling to the dog that she can poop around and between my raised beds (grossest of all).

Still, I get the occasional excavation, which always seems directed at the roots, and last week something dug the last of my Fire ‘n Ice radishes, took a single bite out of each one, and cast the rest aside.

I’m picking loads of caterpillars off the cauliflower, beets, and remaining watermelon radishes.  While my daughters cheer at the sight of the pretty white, purple, and yellow butterflies flitting about the garden, I grit my teeth in suppressed rage.  As fast as I scrape the eggs off the underside of the leaves, the butterflies return to lay more.

My bush beans are toast.  As are my sweet peas.  Something is snipping off the shoots.  All of the leaves are gone from my beans.  Only stalks are left.  Toward the end of the week, I had managed to get the peas trained to the trellis, but this morning I saw that the tops were gone.  They had been mowed back to stalks and the pretty flowers with their promise of reward were decimated.  The leaves of my peppers have also been neatly snipped away.

I have no idea what is doing this.  Is it a bird?  A rabbit?  Something more sinister?  Was I mistaken in assuming that the family of robins that I welcomed at the top of the drainpipe would only eat worms and insects?  Starlings?

I shudder to think what will happen once the tomatoes and cucumber start to fruit.  If they ever get the chance.

Garden Pests: This Means War

I’ve always liked squirrels. I admire their take no prisoners attitude. I giggle at the way they chase each other up and down trees. I am charmed by their ability to steal birdseed from the most complex bird feeders. They’re cute, funny, and full of piss and vinegar.

We have tons of squirrels in our neighborhood. On most days, I can count six or more frolicking around my front yard. They drive my dog crazy. It’s funny.

 

But there is one squirrel that isn’t satisfied by the delicious acorns in the front yard. No. This squirrel comes to the back yard. Is she braver than the rest? A fearless ninja squirrel too fast and too clever to be caught by my dog? Is she an outcast squirrel, unwelcome at the party in the front yard and forced to run the gauntlet of dogs and owls in the back?

I’ll never know this squirrel’s story, but today she crossed an uncrossable line. Today she went too far. Today she fired a warning shot over my bow and in response, I’ve declared war.

Today, she dug up and stole one of my garlic cloves. One of the cloves that I planted in November and nurtured over the long, bitter winter. One of my precious few garlic cloves.

The war is on sister squirrel. My garden is at stake and you are not welcome to my vegetables.