Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What I learned from my First Garden

It's officially autumn here in South Carolina. The air has a sweet chill in the morning and the leaves have shown a touch of bronze. Coffee is being served hot instead of iced. I'm totally into it. Sadly, some of my plants from my first patio garden started back in April are not enjoying it quite so much.  I've learned a lot from this experiment. For starters, I actually enjoy gardening which was a bit surprising. A few other lessons were more practical and I figured some fellow ambitious gardening novice may actually be able to benefit if shared.

1. Not all plants are friends: I (stupidly) categorized all herbs as being friends. They can all live in the same container and have a sweet, happy herb party together, right? Wrong. Certain herbs, like mint, grow fast and aren't good at sharing. They tend to take over the space they're given with no regard for their flavorful roommates. So the mint got transplanted into a new pot. You'd think that would be enough for me to learn but no, I then found out that certain herbs don't even like to have the same amount of water in the soil. Lavender, apparently, prefers a fairly dry soil while basil likes a little more moisture. Putting them together, like I tried, would be like pairing together a fish and a cat in the same room and expecting them both to survive. Oh wait...I did that too on accident but that's another story (RIP Fancy). All the herbs that survived now have their own homes.

2. Not every blossom will produce: Every time I saw a flower on my zucchini or eggplant I thought to myself "YES. HERE WE GO." Every time. Every flower. Spoiler alert, not one zucchini actually grew all summer. It was disappointing but I've been told that was a pretty common issue in the area. It may have been a lie to placate me but I'll take it. I've heard there are ways to manually pollinate as long as you have both a male and female plant but heck if I know how to spot the difference between the two on a dang zucchini plant.

3. Pruning is more than pretty: I had heard of pruning before. I assumed it was mostly about the looks of plants. Because, you know, they're trying to attract those sexy female zucchini plants ;) Okay, not quite, but I did think it was about looks so I trimmed plants until I was happy with the size and shape and made sure they didn't take over the whole patio. As I'm sure the rest of humanity already knows, that was barely helpful in my gardening mission. The true reason to prune is to make sure the plant isn't wasting unnecessary energy and resources growing and supporting the wait of extra branches or leaves. Each plant has a different method that's recommended but in a nutshell, you want to prune to make sure the main stalk, sprout, shoot, whathaveyous, has enough nutrients before the plant has to worry about supporting offshoots.

4. Aphids are the devil: I can't even express my frustration with these gross little mini-demons. They have attacked a few of my plants and completely ignored others. Because sometimes I overly trust the world that things that suddenly appear must be a good sign, I didn't know they were a pest and I didn't immediately try to eradicate them. Because as you may have gathered by now sometimes I'm an idiot. Eventually I wised up and tried some homemade remedies. They worked okay, but I've had much more success with a product called Bon Neem. It's available at your local nursery, I'm assuming.

So there you have it. It's almost a little embarrassing to admit how little I knew about plant life in general before starting this project. I've gotten rid of a few of the strugglers who didn't like the cooler weather and replaced them with beets, parsnip, kale, and spinach. Don't worry, I actually did some research this time. But I am starting from seed so there's lot of room for error.

Are you planning a fall/winter garden? Any other tips that would seem obvious that you want to share? I'd love to know!


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