Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Southern Belle in the Garden of Good and Evil Part 1

Depending on how you feel about playing in the dirt, this could either be a cautionary tale or a how-to. Or how-not-to.

First things first ~ I have ugly gardens. Well, here, judge for yourself. This is what my garden looked like midway through last summer.

No, my garden will not ever be on the cover of Southern Living. Of course, a garden's beauty being in the eye of the veggie lover, birds, bees, butterflies, lady bugs, lizards and horny toads, it is beautiful but, by most everyone else’s standards, that is one ugly garden.

In my defense (and I can hear you saying, “She needs one!”), this is the patch of ground I started with a couple of years ago.

As you can see, I had more rocks than soil in my soil. It took me almost two months to excavate a 10 X 12 patch of ground, a lot of which I spent muttering to myself and looking up at the sky saying, “Seriously?! Are you sure I’m supposed to plant a garden. Or am I taking this whole 'grow where you're planted' thing too literally?" The neighbors didn’t seem nearly as alarmed by my garden monologues as they were by this: (Shades of "The Burbs" ?) 

Long story mercifully shorter, for those of you with short attention spans, I eventually got this contrary spot of Fred Flintstone rubble whipped into shape for planting. (And l’m still lamenting the fact that not a single ounce was lost while performing this Warrior Princess feat.) But, before I could put one seed in the ground, I discovered arsenic. Well, not me personally, but there it was in a water quality report that was tucked inside my monthly utility bill from the city. It said not to worry, but arsenic levels in our drinking water have been above EPA standards for a few years.

Well, you know me, I did a quick search and found more than enough to worry about. Organic arsenic it may be, but it’s still not something I want in my organic garden. So, before I could do anything else, I had to go on a search for a filter that would take arsenic out of the water. If there was such a thing. And, for the kazillionth time, I caught myself saying, “How did we even survive without the interwebs?!” The filter was located and ordered, and I made another check mark on my grime-encrusted, mud-spattered list.

A few more clicks of the mouse, and I had prepared my garden grid, carefully plotting and scheming what would be planted where, according to which plants play well together and which ones annoy each other – all the while thinking how great it would be if we could do that with people. Anyway, about 16 bags of garden soil later, and my garden was actually looking like a garden. I tossed some organic fertilizer around, worked it into the soil, and decided to let it marinate for a couple of days before planting.

The very next day I was standing at the kitchen window gazing lovingly at my little garden plot and was beyond horrified to see a black and white cat casually stroll over to it and, well, you know. Organic though that may be, it’s also not something I want in my organic garden. Ewwwwwww.

Over the next few days, other cats started showing up. Of course. This is not a single-cat household, much less a multiple-cat household, except during gardening season. I have yet to figure out how every cat within a half-mile radius zeroes in on my garden as the tropical toilet spot.

Anyway, I nicknamed the ring leader D.C. (Darned Cat). Not very original, but it was the second name that popped into my head, and it’s infinitely more socially acceptable than the first. Now, D.C. was thoroughly convinced he was a good hider, and I was the clueless one. Hey, Dummy, you’re doin’ it wrong!

I tried everything to discourage this cat. Neighbors were treated to displays of me chasing D.C. with a Super Soaker, while fashionably dressed in a purple robe and fuschia flip-flops, and most likely shot out of their Lazy Boys on a few occasions when I honked an air horn out the kitchen window.

So, putting off the actual planting yet again, I roamed the gardening aisles at Wally World trying to figure out what I could do to keep the fuzz butts out of the garden. Bingo! Biodegradable week-blocker fabric! Hey, this’ll work! 1) It keeps weeds down, obviously; 2) keeps bugs down; 3) holds moisture in, which is doubly important in the High Desert and last, but certainly not the least of my garden gripes; 4) keeps my garden from becoming a 5-star feline latrine. At this point, my dream of following in my grandma's footsteps and having a lush, fabulous, take-your-breath-away garden went completely up in smoke. Poof! *heavy sigh*

So, I know you're probably saying, "Why didn't she use those garden staples instead of rocks to hold the fabric down? THAT would've looked better!" Yeah, right. I thought the same thing UNTIL we had one of our infamous 60mph wind/dust storms. Those garden staples didn't stand a chance. Next thing I knew, I was battling wind, dust devils, and pieces of biodegradable fabric slapping me in the face while lugging some of those boulders I had just dug up back over to the garden to throw on the fabric. Whatever works, right? And it did work.

That first year, I had bumper crops of yellow squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, carrots, green beans, wild flowers and, much to my surprise, New Mexico whiptail lizards and horny toads. There were so many veggies coming out of that garden, I was able to give away plenty and still have enough left over that we had to buy another freezer. Over the last couple of years, smoke from out-of-control wildfires to the west of us and hot, dry, drought conditions have taken their toll on my garden.

This smoke monster hung over us for weeks in the summer of 2011, and my garden soldiered on, more or less.

I got a tad bit crazy last year, after reading reports about GMO foods and all the horrendous things they are probably doing to our bodies, and I expanded the garden by another eight feet. I also added a raised garden bed, which I later realized looks like a giant litter box. *face palm*

The last couple of years have been a little more miss than hit, but the good still far outweighs the evil, even taking into consideration the fires, extreme weather, cats, squash bugs, aphids, and occasional fungus among us. Oh, yeah. *rubs hands together* I can't wait to play in the dirt. I highly recommend it. And, this year, I'm finally going to get all of that hummingbird in the photo ~

If you're looking for non-GMO seeds, I have found a great place to buy them. They have quality products and really good prices. Click here to check out their web site.

To be continued ~