Without help or machinery, I did it! I cleared Patch's entire garden patch and have (finally) planted vegetables. With ambivalence, I have returned Jake to his owners. Because I am not huge on manual labor, this is quite an accomplishment for me, right up there with hiking down and up the Grand Canyon in one day, which I did my junior year of college in case you were curious.
Alsip Home & Nursery is on board with this project by donating materials and offering advice. Gretchen and I will use some of our patch's produce in our own kitchens (where we will photograph our home-cooked meals and post them right here on Local Voices in the weeks and months to come), but the majority of what we grow will be donated to the Frankfort Township Food Pantry. Jeannine at the FTFP told me today that "people are always excited to see fresh foods" and that if there is a surplus of produce (which isn't often) they share with other nearby pantries to ensure that nothing goes to waste. Keep that in mind for your own garden when you've got too much zucchini to handle! (If you've got rhubarb, though, please drop me a line, too).
On Monday, I met with Scott Henderson at Alsip Home & Nursery. Scott connected me with Jane in the nursery (I'm not sure what her business card says but I think "plant maven" is appropriate). Scott and Jane hooked me up with many plants, including four varieties of tomatoes, three varieties of pepper, some Italian parsley, and three strawberry plants. I also left Alsip with tomato cages and Dr. Earth organic soil. Jane warned me about the dense, clay-y soil typical of our area and recommended I dig enormous holes for each plant and surround them with lots of soil.
Sometime after 11 a.m., I headed across the street to Lincoln-Way East to plot 130 with a front seat full of plants. But I still had a section left to clear. Manually. Oh, and the temperature was well into the 90s already. As I worked, the sunscreen kept sweating off, stinging my eyes and giving me a rosy glow, but I was determined to tough it out. Within an hour, I had quaffed all three water bottles and began drinking from the garden hose (I'm sure it's potable. There are no signs saying otherwise.) But what finally got me into the car after three hours in the sun was a moment when waves of nausea pulsated through me, bringing with it shivers. Shivers‽ I decided that couldn't be good, so I went home, drank some more water and even some red Gatorade, and had a nice, lukewarm shower.
I couldn't go back Monday evening because I had dinner plans with out-of-town guests. On Tuesday morning, the parsley, which had spent about 18 hours in my dark car, was looking very sad; I thought I'd killed it. I got it into the ground and watered, though, and by 9 Tuesday night, all 15 plants had made their way into the ground.
I had one minor problem—I couldn't remember if Jane said to mound soil around the strawberry plants. I also could not remember what they looked like in my grandma's garden (even though, as a short American, it was my job to pick them). Making matters worse, I couldn't get internet on my phone (I'm looking at you, Sprint). So I mounded soil slightly around each plant and hoped for the best. When I got home, I Googled it, learning I may or may not have done it correctly, depending on the type of strawberry plants I have. I wish I knew! (I should probably call Jane to find out).
There is still ample space in our patch. Gretchen, our reader-turned-gardner who I have yet to meet (Hey, girlfriend! Call me!) had expressed interest in growing pumpkins, so there's space still for those. (Alsip provided seeds for baking pumpkins as they had no pumpkin plants, but considering the 100-day growing season indicated on the seed packet, they should be fine.) Also, I started some cucumbers and okra from seed at home two weeks ago which have emerged, so hopefully I'll be able to find space for those in the garden, too.
Good news! On Wednesday, I saw that the parsley and the acorn squash, who both seemed to be goners on Tuesday, were sprouting new leaves. One of the marigolds has definitely bitten the dust, however. I didn't think it would make it when I got it there but planted it anyway (See pictures).
Things I learned this week:
- Three travel mugs of water is not enough.
- Grass is the most tenacious of weeds! Before this project, I would have never considered grass a weed, but now I understand that a weed is anything growing that isn't wanted there. This is why some people might consider daisies in the driveway to be weeds. I, however, still do not.
- Infrequent deep watering is better than frequent lighter watering because the roots are compelled to go farther for water, making them deep and strong. This makes perfect sense and might explain why so many of the alyssums I planted at home didn't make it.
- I finally know what the word "loamy" means. It's not at all what it sounds like. It refers to good growing soil and, well, we don't have it around here. Loamy soil is a mixture of sand, clay, and humus (referring to compost, not chickpea spread) that drains well and allows for good root growth. Our soil has a lot of clay, which might also explain why so many of my alyssums croaked. I mixed potting soil into my flower bed, but perhaps not enough.
In my next post, I tackle the tricky issue of poachers—creatures who swipe vegetables as they grow in our patches and what we, as gardeners, can do about it.
Do you garden? Do you know what I should have done with these strawberry plants? Do you have other suggestions? Tell us in the comments!