I had a great time, as usual, at yesterday's open garden. There were fewer people here than expected, but that meant I could spend more time per person, which was satisfying. Collectively, they took only three of the five available 4-packs of tomatoes. In recent years I've given away close to 100 tomato plants. I have lots volunteering in the garden now. Is anyone else interested in picking up some free tomato plants from the steps of 56 Gordonhurst Avenue? I can't guarantee what kind they are, but I suspect they are sweet-100, small red tomatoes. I can easily compost them if nobody is interested. If folks express interest, I will keep them on the right side of the steps for a while, replenishing as needed.
My visitors asked many questions, some for the first time that I can remember.
"What do you recommend beginners start with?"
"Tomatoes! They grow almost anywhere and taste great. Woodchucks don't like tomato plants, although they will take a bite out of a handy large tomato. I think my small tomatoes are beneath their dignity, but if they are taking them, I don't notice because I have so many.
"Woodchucks don't eat garlic. Some people say garlic keeps them away, but it hasn't worked for me.
"Beans and peas are easy to grow, and taste good, but woodchucks can be a problem. It's less of a problem for low plants than the climbing ones, which the woodchucks tear down. It's too late to plant peas, but you can plant bush green beans any time from April through August. I like Roma beans.
"Leaf lettuce needs only six inches of good soil, and is satisfying to grow unless woodchucks eat it."
I'm a bit neurotic about woodchucks this year after my March 20 disaster, but the electric fence seems to be working. We had our first collards meal this evening, and it tasted wonderful to me. I noticed today that the second broccoli is heading.
"What do you do about skunks?"
"Bob McLean, who died this year but began gardening in 1930, said I should be grateful for them. They dig holes in the garden (and sometimes the lawn) at night and eat grubs. Bob said this is helpful. They are remarkably considerate. They dig BETWEEN the plants in the garden.
"This reminds me. Someone asked me at the April open garden what I do about grubs, and I said I don't notice any. I did spread around milky spore disease maybe 20 years ago, and the skunks seem to control the rest. I just put new mulch over the holes."
"How big must the plants be before you mulch them?"
"Look at this pepper that someone gave me! It's hardly more than an inch high. Grass clippings are not very thick. I'm careful to always have the major part of the garden plant showing above the mulch."
"I know some books recommend four inches of mulch, and as the season goes on, I try for that, but now the important thing is to protect the soil from weed seeds and keep in the moisture.
"Why do you have big brown spots in your garden?"
"I haven't gotten around to planting there yet. My peppers and eggplants are late germinating this year. Maybe it's the cold spring. We never heat our house at night, except when people are visiting. I've bought some seedlings for early eating, but I'm waiting for my own for inexpensive freezing, and there are more urgent things to do than prepare the soil where nothing nutritious is growing."
"Do you save water?"
"No, I'm not against it, but I don't feel any need to do it. I have used a hose only once in the past four years. If you keep a good grass mulch on the garden, you don't need to water much. I never water my lawn. Not watering is the easiest way to improve your lawn."
"Do you know anything about growing lentils?"
"I put some from a grocery store in my soil, and it grew a foot in a week. Now I'm wondering what to do with them." Any suggestions?
She also said the tomato plants I started in January and gave to her are now three feet high. Oh, my! I was feeling proud that one of mine is two feet high. Both of us have flowers. Hers have been growing in a bay window indoors, and mine grew in a wall-of-water, which is cooler.
"If you didn't have woodchucks when you started gardening, why are they here now?" Wow! I didn't know anyone thought I had that kind of knowledge. How flattering!
"They never told me. It may be that life is no longer so easy where they were. Or maybe it was very easy and there are too many of them now for that habitat. Anyway, it surely makes gardening much harder. When I was raising children and working full-time, I allowed myself a half hour a day for gardening. But now it takes more time, because of the woodchucks." Maybe the electric fence will change that.
"Do you notice any signs of climate change?"
"Oh, my yes! Anyone who claims the climate isn't changing isn't a gardener. The official frost-free day was May 15 when I started gardening in 1978. [One of you doubts the validity of this memory, and I acknowledge that human memory is fallible, definitely including mine.] This year and last our last frost was on March 26. The previous three years it was early April, but I think there were a couple before that when it was in March."
I don't have a written record, and I'm not even sure about this year, so one can legitimately be skeptical about my numbers, but the change is certain, as is the increased amount of rain (and snow) in recent years.
Still, I enjoy gardening VERY much, and I also enjoy having folks come, see, and listen. Happy planting!