My vegetable garden is ugly. I’m experimenting and I’ve made a few mistakes. Also, Mother Nature is not cooperating with my plan. It’s not the first time. Each year I start out with a picture in my head of how things will look, and it seems every year I have at least one big fail, something atrocious that reminds me that my garden is not a one woman show. It’s good exercise for my ego. I achieve great heights of satisfaction, and then, a storm, a bug, a fungus or too much water or not enough water, and I plummet. But I’m always learning, reading, watching YouTube videos, and trying new things. My garden is my Rubik’s Cube. It’s what I think about when I’m waiting for the dentist. It’s the calming vista I picture when I’m trying to fall asleep at night. My garden isn’t just a place in my backyard, it’s a place in my dreams.
Last year my big fail was the soil. Living on clay is new to me, it was my first new garden here, and I skipped the soil testing because I’m an idiot. I didn’t know the soil was clay until the holes I dug became like terra cotta pots that held water, and my three sisters drowned. I tried a few remedies, but the corn, beans, and squash I planted were yellow and puny. So, we ate squash and pumpkin from the grocery store and their seeds went into my compost. When I used that compost this season, I learned that it does not get hot enough to kill seeds.
To avoid the clay soil this year, I created a lasagna garden. Yes, YouTube. On top of a layer of cardboard I put layers of mulch, alfalfa, dry leaves, clippings, and compost. To hold it all in place on the slope, I surrounded my lasagna garden with strawbales. Then I planted chard, kale, collards, and pole beans. However, the plants that dominate my lasagna garden are volunteers from the seeds I put in my compost last year: squash, sunflowers, tomatillos, tomatoes, and borage. And the squash is spectacular. But the strawbales are another fail. Nothing grew in them except some potatoes because the birds and squirrels and chipmunks robbed me of my seeds and sprouts. Elsewhere, the lizards ate my peas. Also, the bales turned out to be hay, not straw. My humility is in full bloom.
Now for the past couple weeks, our temperatures have been sizzling hot during the day, but still in the 50s at night. My tomatoes are miserable. Then this morning I saw a hint of powdery mildew on some beautiful squash leaves. I panicked. My brain screeched, it’s too early! But evidently not. Dutifully, I filled my plant mister with a milk solution to spray on the leaves. Then to improve air circulation, since the strawbales weren’t growing anything anyway, I broke some of them into flakes to use as mulch. Inside one bale I found an ant nest with a million tiny white eggs. The ants freaked out when I exposed them to the light, carrying their eggs around like frantic Lilliputians with nowhere to go. It reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode, and I felt bad for them, so I tried to put the bale back together. This is how I spend my time.
My ugly garden grows many things, my mood among them. It gets me out of my head and into the ecosphere where I’m just another critter at the mercy of the sun. The creative problem solving keeps me sharp, the chores pull me away from my screens, and the fails remind me how often success is accidental.