The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Brianna Wray
The Times 

Gardener's Grove

Hardworking tools, and early harvest


Brianna Wray

A garden scooter saves back strain.

Greetings from the garden! Salutations from the places 'twixt the thickets where the deep-rooted weeds grow. I've been busy. The store-bought tomato and pepper "starts" we sowed in May started up alright, and they took off.

Though current harvest totals are low, jalapeno, anaheim, lunchbox, banana, and red bell peppers are swelling. There are a fair few baby peppers, yes, but there are even more flowers. More are coming. Pretty soon we'll be back in that special time when you've got to lock your car doors to keep from finding unexplained produce from showing up in your backseat.

Recent adjustments to the garden bed lineup include saying goodbye to spring crops. The buttercrunch lettuce that stunned family, friends and neighbors with its crisp, yet buttery richness and mild flavor suddenly turned bitter almost overnight. This western facing garden already gets too much sun for lettuce, apparently. Another lesson to put in my pocket.

In an effort to keep salads and lettuce wraps on the menu, I transplanted three of the heads from the shadiest part of the row to a pot and put that pot in the shade. I was hoping they'd recover their yumminess, but I bought a bag of romaine hearts just in case. Good thing, too, because I tasted a leaf and spat it right back out. Once lettuce goes bitter, let it go.

Speaking of spring plants long gone, the bok choy "bolted." Bolting is the premature production of these lovely to look at, but not-so-much-to-eat yellow flowers. Once they appear, harvest and eat right away, and call it a wrap.

By far the easiest and best, dare I say it, perfect plant growing this season is strawberries. They're perennials, and they grow sweeter the longer they inhabit a space. They're pretty naturally weed resistant and boy do they produce. When last we chatted (May 14) I had picked eight. As of today, 317 strawberries have come from the backyard. Three hundred and seventeen of the reddest, juiciest strawberries I've ever even seen. The elite ones get sliced and layered with granola, almonds, yogurt and whipped cream to create a parfait (from the French word for perfect, coincidence?), but most of them just get munched. Poor little dears, victims of their own deliciousness. So far there's no such thing as extra strawberries, I've learned.

But one of the best parts of gardening, besides endorphins from exercise, is the hope and power in cultivation as well as the ability to share the bounty. Strawberries this delicious should be shared, so I'm hoping to double the strawberry beds next year, giving them more room to spread out.

One misconception about gardening is that it's cheap and/or easy. The truth is, gardening is costly. Either you're spending a lot of time and energy, or you're spending money on things that make it faster and easier. Spending is the common thread. Finding the balance in cultivation on a budget is where experienced gardeners discover the best of both worlds.

Hardworking Tools

• Landscape fabric-There is a true satisfaction to sitting and watching the sprinklers go around after a hard day's work in the garden, but why keep pulling the same weeds when there is landscape fabric? Well, I didn't know! My first impression was that this was something only commercial garden beds would need, but no. Landscape fabric is appropriate for gardens of all sizes. Read the labels carefully, though. Some are thicker than others, with weed barrier protection ranging from six to twelve years. Some allow water and nutrients to penetrate the surface, while others completely block all passage. Perhaps if I had known about landscape fabric at the start of the season I could make better use of my other new favorite garden gadget: the little garden scooter

• Little garden scooter-It was a little pricey and a terror to assemble, but this scooter is a lifesaver. With it, I am able to sit and swivel, carry water, tools, even a portable speaker while ridding the garden of any weeds peeking through the mulch. The seat's height is adjustable. Of course, my planning phase did not include the dimensions for this scooter, so it just doesn't fit down some rows, but next year I'll be scooting up and down the place.

Watermelon grow challenge update:

Ali baba watermelon plants are coming along nicely...sort of. Knowing that these viney beasts would spread their tentacles, I planned for only two. Somehow, they both took root two feet south of where I'd intended. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but because the cherry tomato plant on the next row has grown to behemoth stature, and the other end is the very edge of the garden bed, space may be limited for one of them.

Ah, but necessity breeds invention! With research, I found that many gardeners prefer to grow watermelons up a trellis. Most were essentially tented chicken wire, as well as a teepee style version. Neither of which seemed a viable option for me since I didn't want to spend more money, go out or order anything. Digging around in the castle storage shed, I found a rickety, old bar stool. If you squint your eye, and maybe tilt your head, can't you see the trellis?

Will it work? I don't know. At this point, the vines are climbing up the legs of the stool like a tentacular tornado. And I'll tell you right now, it looks silly.

Pumpkin grow challenge update:

Remember the pumpkin seeds I had just started? Well, it's a good thing I wasn't holding my breath for them. Five out of five seeds failed. I've checked back with Baker Creek and they're still sold out of this particular variety. Next, I'm trying my hand at the Connecticut Field Pumpkin.


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