Hello hello, and welcome to Episode 10 of Life On the Brink!
I hope you’re doing well during this week of Thanksgiving. As the temperatures have dropped even more here in Virginia, I’ve had to shift some things around in the garden this week. That’s right, we’re talking about the garden! (and a holiday announcement at the end)
Remember how I started outdoor gardening for the first time this year? Well there have been big changes over the season, so today I’m giving an update to my little quarantine garden after one full summer season. I’ll share everything we harvested, what didn’t work out, new things I learned, and what things I’m looking forward to planting next season.
Don’t worry, the garden won’t be totally inactive this winter, I’ve still got herbs in pots (and my fingers crossed) for the colder months.
So Season One of the apartment garden bed was, of course, the set-up season. Josh and I invested in a lot of terracotta pots, bricks, soil, composts, tools, and really tried to set it up for success. The garden bed is adorned with 3 apartment-prescribed shrubs, but we could take liberties with the rest of it.
I started the season off with a very detailed spreadsheet detailing what, when, and in what container we planted, when we saw germination, when we harvested, etc., but I admittedly slacked as the summer went on. It all got a little nebulous, there’s just too much maintenance for me to write in detail all the time. I do feel, though, like it will help me next year as we figure out how to set up the garden again.
Overall it was a good haul! We had some triumphs, some fails, lots of learning moments. Here I’ve listed everything that we grew, though I go into more details in the podcast (just scroll up to listen!)
WHAT WE HARVESTED
-two orange peppers
-lots of tomatoes (Candyland cherry tomatoes)
-mint, rosemary, chives, oregano
-lots of parsley (we made a lot of pesto)
-basil (I went through two plants)
-a few strawberries
In the ground:
-four HUGE sunflower plants (made lots of flowers)
-marigolds, celosia, liriope, mums
WHAT DIDN’T MAKE IT
-most of the radishes
-both basil plants
-a little spaghetti squash seed that sprouted (it flowered but never made a fruit)
-all the Celosia (eventually)
-zinnia (never even sprouted)
So now that it’s fall, I had this notion in my head that you’re supposed to “put the garden to bed” at the end of fall so it can be ready in the spring, and while I think that is true, it turns out that some things will continue to grow outdoors through winter here in Virginia.
At least according to Monica.
The other day I went to the local garden center in search of garlic. I had heard that you should plant garlic in the fall, and wasn’t sure if I needed a special kind of garlic or something. I ended up getting to know Monica, who not only took me behind the scenes of the garden center into their back greenhouse and outdoor planters, but also explained in detail how garlic and onions grow. She’s from Bulgaria and apparently doesn’t understand why everyone over here doesn’t grow their own garlic, I guess it’s that easy. She also grows all the food that is used in the garden center’s restaurant. So cool!
She was so super nice and helpful, and explained that most herbs (not basil, he’s tricky) can stay outside over winter, at least in this climate, and do just fine. So that’s what I’m doing! I’ve moved the herbs closer to the front door so I can use them when cooking, and now have a collection of rosemary, oregano, sage, parsley, chives, and mint.
I also got inspired by Monica to get some bunching onions just for their green tops. So I also have green onion, along with some carrots and broccoli that I grew from seed. We’ll see how they do. I also plan to sprout some garlic indoors and plant it outside in the next week or two. I’ve decorated the bed with pumpkins and pinecones amidst the mums and marigolds (still happy), and can’t wait to see how the garden sustains in the colder months!
So with that, I’d like to just share some of the things that I’ve learned in this first year of gardening, or maybe things that were just unexpected, in case you’re also looking to plant some fun things next season. Don’t worry, just start small.
1. I definitely did not expect a tomato plant to grow up through one of the apartment shrubs. I have no idea how it started, maybe a squirrel planted a tomato at the base of the shrub or something. But somehow I got a whole tomato plant, and even harvested a couple tomatoes, that grew up from the middle of a completely different plant. It was hilarious.
2. In the same vein, I definitely need a better staking method for the tomatoes. I just had a wooden stake in the center of the container and kept tying the plant to it, but it just got so out of control that I ended up weaving the vines in and out all over the place and it looked crazy. I think next year I’ll get one of those circular cages to just let the tomatoes climb.
3. I definitely did NOT expect the sunflower stalks to get so big. The tallest plant was about 12 feet tall! Much taller than even the seed packet said it would get. They were so huge, in fact, that twice they blew over in a storm, and Josh and I ended up tying them to a light fixture that was attached to the wall, they were just so heavy. In the future I’d like to maybe get a smaller variety, as long as I’m in this space anyway, so I can maintain them a little easier.
4. It was a mystery, but what I thought was a fungus on my soil was actually hornworm poop. I learned that hornworms look like huge caterpillars and love to eat all the leaves off tomato plants, and I had three of them. They took a trip to a grassy spot on the other side of the street, and the tomatoes were fine.
5. I also learned that ants actually farm aphids, and aphids suck the sap out of plants. So when I saw my mint plant covered in ants, I checked for aphids and what do you know! I just cut all the mint away and let it grow back (mint is crazy aggressive), and the ants took the aphids somewhere else.
6. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I personally need strict rules laid out from the apartment complex. It turns out that vegetables aren’t allowed in the front garden, sunflowers can’t grow in front of windows (ours didn’t), and they don’t allow mulch, even though we did all these things. I’m better prepared to have a lovely garden experience next year.
HERE’S MY PLAN FOR NEXT YEAR
-more flowering plants, esp ones for cut flowers
-raised boxes on the side of the building (so no veggies in the front)
-maybe some germinating indoors for a spring harvest
-better storage for soils (our tarp got everything kind of soggy)
-maybe a different sunflower, not as tall
-really get the basil and tomatoes going cause I use them a lot
All in all, I think it was a beautiful first season. I really do enjoy getting outside in my overalls and getting my hands a little dirty, and especially in this crazy year. The garden has been a source of constant life (plus some discipline), and at a perfect time. It’s cool to put something so small into the ground and watch it grow, flourish, make fruit and flowers, and I’m excited to do more of it next year!
This Week’s Little Joy: One of my co-workers at the preschool where I teach music has a tradition of making a pumpkin roll for each teacher. Each one of us! I’m not even a normal teacher, I’m a resource teacher! But last week she presented me with a whole pumpkin roll with a perfect swirl, it was a perfect surprise. I sliced it up later in the week when my siblings came over for dinner, and it was just lovely with a little coffee or tea. So special.
What I’m Listening To: This playlist of Christmas music sung only by Ella Fitzgerald. The perfect introduction to seasonal music. Go ahead and skip to Jingle Bells and appreciate just how incredible a vocalist Ella was. I heard it in Bath and Body Works a couple weeks ago and was floored all over again.
And now, for a special holiday announcement! I’m releasing a new, holiday-centered episode of Life On the Brink every week from now until the new year, that’s 5 episodes! I’ve got fun Christmas coziness coming to you every week, so be on the lookout!
Feel free to follow the podcast on whatever app you like, or find me on Instagram to stay updated on new episodes. Until next time, have a lovely Thanksgiving and a lovely week!