Tag Archives: Garden

Gardening Fail

My first year of vegetable gardening didn’t go quite as planned.

I had lots of early success, but when it came to the fall harvest, I fell sadly short.

So sad... no caprese

I got a handful of tomatoes, but they never got much larger than golf balls. I left them on the vine, hoping they would grow, but most of them shriveled up and died.

I saw four small eggplants, and hoped they would keep growing, but I finally harvested them after the frost and tried to roast them, but they were just too small.

Good thing I wasn't planning on making carrot cake.

Good thing I wasn't planning on making carrot cake.

The carrots? I waited until the tops were 8 inches tall before excitedly pulling them from the ground… and got a handful scrawny little carrot bites.

The beans started off well, but I think I planted them too late, as they like the cooler weather. They wilted and scorched under the July sun.
I had several peppers start, and one got a decent size before falling to the ground, where some animal got to it. (Or perhaps the critter knocked it off the vine? All I know is it was just about ready to pick one day, and on the ground with gnaw marks the next.) But the rest never got very big, despite my waiting. At the end of the season, while removing the last of the tomato cages, I found two decent sized peppers – with gnaw marks. Damn squirrels.

Anything that got much bigger than this got eaten by the local wildlife

The cucumbers and zucchini sprouts did very well on the driveway, but once I transplanted them into the ground, they really didn’t grow much. I had a couple squash blossoms, but no fruit.

Meanwhile, the cherry tomatoes and basil in planters along the driveway did very well, and the zinnias, begonias and nasturtiums out front thrived in their full sunlight.

So what did I do wrong? Plant too late? Reading labels, it sounds like I should have started these plants earlier, like late April or May, especially the cooler weather veggies like beans.

Not enough sun? I watched a couple days, and while the backyard definitely gets far more than the 0 hours of sun it used to, is 4 hours of full sun and another 1-2 of partial sun enough? The tomatoes stretched to reach the sun, but perhaps the lack of solar power stunted their growth.

Do I need to do more than just water and weed? Should I fertilize? Mulch? Use Miracle Gro?

So, gardening friends – help me out. Alternatively – does anyone have a good local CSA they recommend for next season?


Must Everything Go?

This morning, I attended my first estate auction, held at a house just a few blocks away. Built in the 1880s, the house has been vacant since its owner, Bernice, died 7 or 8 years ago. She had grown up in that house, then married and lived there with her husband. They had no children, so after she passed away, it sat, full of antiques and a lifetime’s worth of accumulated stuff.

The online advertisement talked of how rare it is to find a house with its contents so intact, and surveying the rows and rows of tables filled with everything from beautiful antique furniture to the minutiae of life – pots and pans, tablecloths, Christmas ornaments – made me kind of sad.

It took only three hours to auction off an entire lifetime of things. Each of those items had a story behind it, and I’m sure Bernice could have told you that the large platter was a Christmas present from her husband or she wore that broach to her best friend’s wedding. Maybe the books and books of stamps, so lovingly collected over the years, were a hobby shared with her husband. Did she receive the china as a wedding gift?

Even sadder were the photographs. Those were auctioned off in lots, and when interest waned, they started combining boxes, so three boxes of assorted family photographs – for a family whose line has ended – were going for a bid of $10. There was a pair of old photographs of the house itself, dated 1887, that should have stayed with the house, but instead they were bought and carted away.

I know that, with no heirs to speak up for the items, an auction is the logical way to dispose of it all. But I wonder if Bernice could have ever thought that the entire box of mementoes from her career at the Elgin National Watch Company would fetch just $20 from a stranger some 30 years later. And when I got home, and surveyed the items I’ve collected in my travels, I wonder if the silver Turkish coffee set I haggled for in Istanbul or the hand-painted clay puppets from Greece will some day be part of a similar auction.

I never raised my bid card, though I wish I would have on the Lady Elgin pendant watch, gold-filled, that went for $25. And the green Depression glassware was so pretty, but I had no real use for it. A friend won a couple lots of quilts and goofus glass, and gave me a pair of Japanese plates that had been thrown in. They’ll look nice in my built-in china cabinet.

Overall, it was an interesting morning, standing in the pouring rain under umbrellas, watching an entire houseful of items be inspected and carried off. (The mimosas and hot coffee definitely added some joviality to the affair.) I think I’ll go to more auctions in town, if even just to see the old photos of Elgin as it used to be. And maybe I’ll find a watch, or a photo of my house, perched up on the bluff.


Urban Farming

My first-ever “real” garden is finally producing!

In the four years I’ve been in the house, I’ve dabbled in growing various herbs in big planters lined up along the sunny driveway. (Eventually, I think I want to remove some of the asphalt in my extra-extra wide driveway and revert it to soil.) I’ve had luck with cherry tomatoes, basil, cilantro, various flowers – and that’s about it. My pepper plants have never actually produced peppers, and the dill and oregano drowned.

One of my reasons for wanting a backyard was to create a garden, but mine has always been too shady – the giant mulberry tree hulking along the fenceline prevented even grass from growing.

Last fall, as I replaced the fence, I finally cut off large parts of the tree.  (I wanted to remove the whole thing, but it would have been really expensive, so my neighbor-with-a-chainsaw removed several of the offending branches.) Late winter, I watched the daily sunlight as it passed through the backyard, and finally decided that I had enough light to try a garden.

First, I dug up a small patch – about 3×6 feet – and pulled out the sparse grass and weeds. I brought in about 200 lbs of new soil, mixed it all together, and planted some tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings, plus a small Swiss chard plant I got free from the Burpee folks at Union Station. Meanwhile, in egg cartons, I started seeds for more peppers, beans, onions, carrots, squash, cucumbers, lettuce and basil.

I was shocked by how many of my seeds actually took. I quickly realized that my little patch – which was already overcrowded – wasn’t nearly big enough, so I doubled the space and planted everything in early June. I put the basil in pots lining the driveway again, as the backyard patch only gets 4-5 hours of sun a day. That’s still better than nothing, but not the “full sun” that basil really needs.

I waited too long to get tomato cages and had to fight with the four foot tall plants to lean them up against the supports. And I definitely learned that I should have followed the spacing guidelines. I had assumed that half of them wouldn’t take, anyway, so why waste precious space? Weeding has been a challenge, as the patch attracts veritable swarms of mosquitoes in the evenings, and weekends it has rained or I’ve been busy with other chores.

But now, I’ve had one small pepper (that fell to the ground before entirely ripe – very sad), and have a whole bunch of tomatoes just about ready to harvest. The Swiss chard is doing well, and yesterday, I noticed a couple baby eggplants where there were small blossoms last week.

It may only be a baby, but gee willickers, that's an eggplant!

The carrot tops look good, though I’m not quite sure I’ll know when they’re ripe, and it quickly got too hot for the lettuce. (Again, I should have followed directions! I think the beans are suffering from the same “too hot” fate.) The basil on the driveway is doing very well – a bumper crop – and the cilantro drowned with the recent downpours and doesn’t appear to be recovering.

I can’t wait to make a salad of vegetables grown entirely on my land.

Should I be starting a “fall crop” now? If so, what works well in northern Illinois?

Mundane Weekend Projects – and Homemade Soft-Serve

After spending Saturday with family, I set off to tackle several small projects on Sunday:

Installing tomato cages – Perhaps this is a bit late, as my tomato plants are now a good 3-4 feet tall and drooping over. It was tough maneuvering them into cages, and in a couple case, I just put the cage between two plants and let them lean. As of this morning, they were all still upright, so hooray.

Fixing the running toilet – My upstairs toilet (perhaps knowing its days are numbered) started running last week, and when the usual jiggling didn’t fix things, I pulled out the book and some tools and tried to fix it. I drained the water, discovered there’s no floating ball thing (is that normal?), and removed nearly a litter box worth of sand. I cleaned everything thoroughly, hoping the sediment was causing the problem. When I turned the water back on… it’s still running. Sigh. I tried troubleshooting everything else to no avail, so I wonder if there’s a split in one of the hoses or something.

Shooing away the groundhog (and raccoons) – I’ve had several problems over time with large furry pests, namely raccoons who leave piles in the yard, skunks who camp out in the driveway, and now, the return of a groundhog.  I haven’t seen (or smelled) the skunks in a while, and I hadn’t seen a groundhog in a couple years until last week. My dad gave me some “Get Away” spray that’s supposed to keep them, well, away. I was spraying it around the perimeter when the wind caught the spray and blew it back into my eye. Instant searing burning. After 20 minutes of giving myself an eye wash in the kitchen sink (and effectively washing the floor while I was at it), I called Poison Control and talked to a very nice lady named Babs (really?) who was reassuring and calming. She told me I had done everything right, and to call her back in an hour with an update. After an hour, it was just a bit pink and irritated, but the pain was mostly gone, and by this morning, I feel back to normal.  Per Babs’ advice, I’m avoiding my contacts for a couple days.

Homemade, single ingredient “soft serve” – I saw a recipe last week for super-easy frozen goodness, so I tried it yesterday, while trying to take my mind off the searing pain in my eye. It was indeed exceptionally easy, quick, and nice and creamy – almost soft-serve like. Next time I’ll add shredded coconut, or maybe a bit of peanut butter. Yum.

Overall, a very good weekend. Next weekend, I plan to start the terrible task of scraping and painting the 13 remaining old windows. If I do 3 or 4 a weekend, I can be done in a month. Sigh.

Super Sunday

I had a really good Sunday. For the first time in weeks it wasn’t raining (nor was the ground freshly soaked) and after a week being stuck inside with a cold, I was craving some fresh air.

After experimenting and making apple cider pancakes for breakfast, I planted about 75 bulbs that I had bought on clearance at Meijer. They’re a mix of purple tulips, striped tulips and stock generic multi-color surprise tulips, and a handful of crocuses. I basically put them in bags by their height, dug all the requisite holes, then plopped them in at random. Can’t wait to see what sprouts – or doesn’t. Though I’ve learned my lesson about proper coverage to avoid feeding the squirrels.
Next, I whipped up some hydraulic cement (eerily similar to whipping up pancakes, only the directions do call for a mask and eye protection) and fixed a couple of the small cracks where the AC slab meets the foundation. This is exactly where we’ve had the minor basement leaking problem (much better lately), so a bit of extra sealant can’t hurt. And this time, I didn’t give myself chemical burns!
Then, while gingerly carrying my cement materials back to the garage, I spied a small, hairline crack beginning elsewhere in the foundation. I was able to scrape enough cement out of my bucket (though it was hardening rapidly) to patch it thoroughly. Preventative maintenance!
I ended my day by spending approximately 3 hours raking, raking, raking all the leaves that fell on a very blustery Friday. I realized I wasn’t going to get them all, so I settled for “good enough” as I raked after the 5 PM sunset.
It was a really productive day. I needed a day like this.

The Year Without a Garden

I tried, I really did. This year I planned to be even more adventurous with the garden – I was going to grow everything from seed! No more “cheating” seedlings for me, no sir.

I started off okay. I planted dozens of seeds into seed trays. Some of them took right away – I’m looking at you, nasturtiums – but others, not so much. I got a couple marigolds to sprout, and the lettuce took off nicely. But few of my brave little seedlings survived the transplanting, nor the neglect. I tried to make a deal with Mother Nature to water my new plants, but she had other ideas.

The smaller bed has done pretty well – apparently nasturtiums thrive under neglect, and one random bachelor button reappeared from last year. (Not a fan, especially when it’s one chalky green stem towering over the lily pad-style nasturtiums.) But the big bed looks pretty bare, and would look even worse if not for the lily that keeps multiplying. (The first summer in this house, it didn’t exist. The next summer, it was a single shoot. By this summer, it’s starting to take over. I have no clue where it came from. But I’ll take it!) A couple brave marigolds survived the transplant, but for the first time, it’s a year without zinnias. I’ve had luck with the zinnias before – my first summer, I planted seedlings and they thrived. Last year, I actually grew a bunch from seeds planted straight in the ground. But this year, after carefully selecting a wide variety and starting some in trays and others directly in the dirt, none of them took.

I think I’ll blame the weather.

It’s Time to Play…. Name! That! Plant!!!

Every year about this time, I play a game I like to call Weed? or Sprout?. In the weeks (month?) since I planted dozens of new seeds in my front garden – dozens of things have begun to sprout. Add monsoon rains, a dash of sunshine, and some transplants are suffering, but other new seeds seem to be thriving.

I started with a freshly weeded bed, added a couple new bags of soil and topped everything with mulch.

But the fact that the rain has enabled them to grow makes me wonder. Like this one – is it an offshoot of an existing lily that somehow migrated 5 feet north? Or is it a really big weed?

Or this one? The spiky leaves either indicate marigolds (yay!) or unidentified weeds (boo!):
With all the rain – despite the beautiful weekend, everything was still soupy wet – I haven’t had a chance to investigate further. But I’m sure when I do… I’m going to have a lot of weeding. Sigh.


A quick happy thought:

Late last week, the monsoons (3.75″ of rain in a single hour on Friday!) flooded most of my potted plants lining the driveway. Most of the pots lack drainage holes, so my fledgling cilantro, basil and oregano are gone. (The lettuce might still pull through.) However, my tomato plant gets the biggest, bestest pot that I borrowed from a fellow tenant many moons ago. This plant is thriving and today – in the hot sunshine – I even have the beginning of an actual tomato!

Luckily, I also started some basil indoors that is doing pretty well. I can’t wait to make some fresh bruschetta. Really, the bruschetta makes the whole planting ordeal worth it.


Stupid wind destroyed my tulips less than two weeks after they bloomed.
Though there are still petals all over the place.

Luckily, the seedlings I planted last weekend are starting to take hold in the new soil and mulch.

Winter – Vanquished!

After days and days of rain, I saw this in my front garden as I came home:

And now it’s raining again.

I hope that Saturday will be dry enough to plant my egg carton-bound seedlings into solid ground!