Sunday, June 24, 2012

Finally, gardening success

Everyone who knows me, is probably familiar with my struggles to maintain a productive vegetable garden. I want to report that this is my year!
Since John and I moved to the Ozarks eight years ago from the land-of-glacial-till, topsoil-rich Illinois, I have been relatively unsuccessful at raising my beloved tomatoes, probably one of the easiest crops to grow in all the universe. Yet, every year, one thing or another has destroyed my chances to harvest big, red, juicy tomatoes. I have been successful with cherry tomatoes and some tiny, under-sized Roma tomatoes, but their larger cousins have eluded me. 
This is the year we finally got it right! 

Today, I picked my first tomato pictured here during its last few moments of life on the vine. 

This is a relatively new garden, installed by John. It is a raised bed and is filled with store-bought dirt. I started some  heirloom tomatoes in the house this winter. I also bought some plants. I believe this is one of those, although my grown-from-seed plants are doing well also.

This little heirloom tomato, of an unknown variety, is the first of what I hope will be many, is the product of years of observation. To me it represents a successful learning experience.

When we moved to Arkansas, one of the first things we did was pick a spot for a garden. I ignored all the people who told me not to bother trying to plant a garden. 

"It's just too darned hot," they said. But, I wouldn't listen. I am a firm believer in gardening and eating fresh, organic food that you grow yourself. Besides, there is nothing like the flavor of a fresh-picked tomato right off the vine. 

Our property is largely forested, but when we first began our gardening quest, we assumed that if we picked a sunny location, all would be well. We even overlooked all the rocks in the soil as John ran our little rototiller through it, stopping frequently to leverage a huge rock out of the tines. To me, nothing holds more promise than a newly-tilled garden. 

Our early efforts looked promising. We had planted corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas, strawberries, and asparagus. In the early spring, the plants looked lucious. Then it started getting hot. I underestimated the hot, arid Arkansas summers. I watered now and then, but was afraid to water too frequently since we use well water. The plants stopped growing and soon withered.  

Another year, we noticed that our sunny spot was now in the shade most of the day.  The plants never really did very well. I know that some trees have a cycle whereby one year they produce seeds and another year they are more leafy. I assume Oak and Hickory trees have such a cycle. They had also grown bigger and blocked more sun. The garden was on the east side of the house, so the garden had to rely on its sun during the earlier part of the day. The plants soon looked malnourished--probably because they were. I recalled hearing how the least fertile soil type is that of forest land, simply because trees take all the nutrients out of the soil. What I needed was a fertilizer rich in nitrogen. I tried that, but with mediocre results.
We decided we needed a new plan, so John built a raised bed garden in the back of the house adjacent to the patio. We had an herb garden there that was doing pretty well.  

That was the year we learned the hard way about rabbits, deer, squirrels, and other woodland creatures that were drawn to my garden delicacies. 

This year our answer was to take some of the chicken wire fencing around the initial garden and install it around the raised bed. That seemed to do the trick. I water every day. There isn't much in the garden except for tomatoes and peppers, but, that is OK with me for now. At this point, all I wanted was to eat a fresh tomato.  I consider this to be a very successful venture. In the future, and maybe even this fall, I can plant a variety of vegetables.

For the record, I almost couldn't lose this year. I also planted tomatoes in pots on the deck and in pots on the front porch. Pictured here are a pot of nice-sized Roma tomatoes. A couple of them are turning red, so it won't be long for these either. 
I've always been successful at growing one of my favorite things--Serrano peppers. They were introduced to me by a dear friend and former neighbor whose family is from Mexico. He brought me a couple of plants one year and I always grow them now. I always think of Cel when I plant them and when I eat them.

They are my favorite hot peppers. They have a much better flavor that japalenos and a different kind of heat. I eat them both fresh, cut up in tacos and in fresh salsa. I really like to cook with them though. They have the most delightful flavor. One of my favorite things to use serranos for is canned salsa. 
I've been wildly successful with these. Hot peppers must love Arkansas. They seem to love the conditions here.

I started this plant, shown at right, in a pot last year, brought it into the house for the winter, where it continued to produce peppers. It was a shadow of its former self this spring when I transplanted it outside, but it is perking up nicely. I have already picked a few peppers from it. Though they are hidden by leaves, there are a few peppers on on it, along with future peppers in the flower stage. I don't often wait for the peppers to turn red. They are just as good at any stage.