How does my garden grow?

Remember this post way back in February? I’ve been meaning for a while to write an update into how my first foray into container gardening has gone. About three and a half months later, the plants have transformed from little sprouts into this:

Our back patio.

(Is it worth noting that those are her pajama pants and that she requested that specific sock/shoe combo?)

A few of the plants have actually lived their full lifespan and been uprooted, like the peas and the beets. The hot weather — as in, steamy 95 degree days — has been pretty hard on a few things, especially those with broad leaves. I can water every single morning and they still look wilty at midday.

This year's container garden.

Incidentally, I think that the man who mows the lawn is afraid to use the weed-wacker next to my containers (which is quite thoughtful of him), but as a result we always have an overgrown border next to the patio. It lends nicely to the general weedy atmosphere, don’t you think?

As a help to myself when planning out the garden next year, I thought I’d leave a few notes about what did and didn’t do well for me. Perhaps some other southern gardeners can give me tips if you know where I went wrong…?

Bush beans.

Bush beans: okay.
The plants are still thriving, but they really need to be caged (I had to take the cages away when the tomatoes finally got some height) because they like to fall over. They taste good, but I find that I tend to just pick and eat all the ripe ones when I’m out back because there’s never enough to serve the whole family. I’ll probably skip these next time for that reason.

Peas.

Peas: okay.
These had the same problem as the beans (not enough ripe ones at any given time) and I’m pretty sure they would be really wilty by now if I hadn’t already uprooted them. They could not climb the brick wall by themselves and didn’t like the bamboo poles all that well. Also, I had to move the pots at one point and for some reason all the beans got really bitter after I did this. ???

Beets.

Beets: good, but need to be started early.
I lost a bunch of beets when I transplanted them because all the spindly little stems got knocked over with the first watering. Next time I will start the beets earlier, directly in the pots, and plant the seeds deeper (the pellets just weren’t deep enough). They started off slowly but perked up about two months ago. We harvested some greens and the plants did fine afterward — I think we could have gotten a lot more if I had remembered. I pulled these the other day even though some of the roots were small because they wilted badly every single day and I was afraid they’d die while I’m at the hospital having a baby. They were delicious grilled. Mmm.

Zucchini (fail).

Zucchini: fail.
I don’t know if it was the seed packet I got or what, but there have been tons of blooms for months now and absolutely no zucchini. They are also prone to wilting and I’m just kind of fed up with them and ready to pull the plants out.

Tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes: hopefully a success.
These plants were miniature and sickly looking for ages, until I finally fertilized them. Then they shot up to their current 3+ foot height and started flowering. No red ones yet, but there are some baby greens and I have high hopes for these guys. I’ve noticed that the leaves along the bottom are starting to yellow, so I fertilized them again — any other suggestions?

Basil.

Basil: complete success.
We have eaten a LOT of basil off of these 12 plants. I achieved my goal of reaching a critical mass such that we can harvest some leaves every couple of days and not kill the plants. Next year I think I will try some Thai basil, too. Other than a caterpillar problem, these plants have been very hardy and healthy.

Not shown: some spearmint from the farmer’s market (complete success), some oregano (still small), and a cayenne pepper (growing nicely). As pots are emptied, I want to replace them with more herbs since those have done the best and been the biggest bang for the buck. I am resorting to full-grown plants at this point, though, since it seems too late to start from seed.

My little helper.

Oh, and I can’t finish this post without a few shots of my little helper, now, can I?

Helping by dumping dirt everywhere is soooo much fun!

Feed me, Seymour.

I can practically hear them whispering to me every time I walk into the kitchen.

The beginnings of my new garden.

Meet my new and extremely active container garden.

Beans.

I have never tried to grow my own plants, although I very fondly remember my mother’s annual gardening efforts when we were young (I’m sure I have a much better attitude about them now than I did at the time).

Basil and tomatoes.

I’ve been putting it off for a few years because we either had a new baby or were planning to travel for a few weeks during the summer. But this year there’s no planned travel and I’m hoping to be sane/responsible enough to keep watering the garden after the baby is born.

It was a spur of the moment decision, really. I woke up one morning last week and thought, I should really plant a garden this year. And then the next day I went out and bought seeds and those little peat pellet thingies and planted them that night. I guess my plans are more successful sometimes when I don’t put a whole lot of forethought into them.

Anyhow, I’m starting off slowly with only six varieties: Sweet basil (6 pots), Sweetie cherry tomatoes (6 pots), Detroit Dark Red beets (4 pots), Goliath peas (3 pots), Contender bush beans (3-6 pots), and Black Beauty zucchini (3 pots). I chose them because they are either expensive at the store (beets, cherry tomatoes, basil) or hopefully so prolific that we’ll get a lot of produce (beans, peas, zucchini, and maybe the tomatoes). According to the packets, I don’t think that the tomatoes, beets, or peas will survive the heat of summer. But that’s okay — I’ve started them early enough that I’ll hopefully get a crop in very early summer and then let them die back and plant something else in the fall. I’d really like to grow lettuce and spinach as well, but I’m already past the number of pots that I’d been expecting. Plus, I have no idea what grows well here in the south or on our back porch, so I’m considering round one to be pretty experimental.

Later in the afternoon.

According to all of the seed packets and to the peat pellet package, germination usually takes 7-10 days. Um, I don’t think so. The first four photos were taken in the morning on the sixth day, and the photo above was taken in the afternoon.

This is today, the eighth day. Yikes. These are the beans — which, I should admit, I soaked overnight before planting — and I could practically watch them grow. I think the tallest is about 13 inches now. Their rate of growth is actually starting to alarm me a little since the stems are kind of spindly looking. Based on the packets’ predictions I didn’t think I’d need pots for another few weeks, but I am getting some today since I think these guys need to go outside now. (Speaking of pots and potting soil, they are obviously the most expensive part of this gardening experiment. But I was told by someone at a local nursery that they sell used black pots at their other location so I’m going to price them out this afternoon. Just thought I’d pass that tip along.)

Two days later.

I’m hoping to keep the smaller plants indoors for a few more weeks both to spread out the cost and because I’m pretty sure we’ll get at least one more cold snap before spring officially kicks off and I don’t want to haul a bunch of plants in overnight. Oh wait, that’s where helpful husband comes in. But it would still be a real pain.

Most of the packets say that the plants like full sun, but there’s no place on our front or back porch areas that gets that because of the roof overhang. The back porch gets good afternoon light, though, and is usually roasting by 4 pm, so I’m going to put them as close to the edge as possible and hope for the rest. I’ll post more photos as the summer goes on, partly as a record to myself so I can do things a little better next year. It’s probably due to pregnancy hormones, but I feel very maternal toward my little plants and if this works out, I can already tell that I’m going to want a container garden every single summer we live here.

Have a good weekend!