As many of you know, Chip and I planted our very first garden last spring. Much to our surprise, this garden started to flourish like crazy a few months after we got it started. It soon reached the point where our plants were getting so big that they were actually starting to kill each other as they all tried to get their necessary sunlight. We’re talking squash plants crowding their space and watermelon vines wrapping around nearby plants. Who would have thought gardening would be so intense?? Not me. Despite some of the chaos and learning curve that we experienced, we did get a lot from our garden. We had plenty of tomatoes and basil to go with our homemade pizzas and even had some squash and bell peppers grow.
At one point in the summer, while I was out in the garden diligently watering my plants when I realized that overnight, almost of the tomato leaves had disappeared. As I continued to stare at my tomato plants in complete confusion, I found the biggest, fattest caterpillar going to town on my plants. In the words of Stephanie Tanner from Full House, all I could think was “how rude!” This caterpillar was definitely not invited to hang out in our garden. Thankfully, Chip came to my rescue and quickly disposed of this pest. However, the damage was done; he had eaten the leaves off of the three large tomato plants and had made some significant impact on my cherry tomato plant, too. I was so personally insulted (a little dramatic, yes; I blame my Lopez genes for that) and am still surprised how one bug could take the wind out of my sails.
Also around this time, I stopped overwatering my plants. FYI, If I’m going to kill a plant, it’s usually from over-loving them in this way so be forewarned if you ever ask me to watch some plants for you while you’re out of town. I think this initial neglect came from the despair of the infamous caterpillar and his monster teeth damage, but I was so surprised (and slightly offended) that a lot of our plants were doing better without all my watering and attention. So I went from watering every day to really never watering at all and instead having our garden survive on our sprinklers going off once a week and any occasional rain. Yes, I realize I went from one extreme to the other. Since I was no longer spending time every day in the garden, I kept feeling so taken aback at the amount of growth and weeds whenever I went back there to get basil or check on some of the flowers. Then came fall and colder weather and I spent even less time outside. Then came a couple of freezes… as a first time gardener, I completely forgot about the need to cover plants during freezing weather. Oops. So we had a few losses from that this winter, which sadly included my faithful gerber daisies and our hearty (and slightly out of control) basil.
Chip had been trying to gently encourage me to not be intimidated by the work that needed to be done in the garden (thanks, Chip, for being patient with the however many hundred times I said “I promise I’ll work on the garden soon…”!). So while he was out this past Saturday morning getting some studying done, I finally got to work. Here’s how it looked like when I started Saturday morning:
Not pretty. It actually wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but I started Saturday morning expecting to pull just about everything out. Luckily, about half is actually staying. Our succulents did fine through the winter, although they need some cleaning up, as did our rosemary (so thankful for how neatly these continue to grow!), bell peppers, gardenias and lavender. The tomato plants never really grew their leaves back (but still managed to produce tomatoes… my photosynthesis knowledge isn’t good enough to figure this out), so those will be taken out and replaced this spring. The basil that had once gotten out of control died with the cold weather, as did the gerber daisies. There were also leaves everywhere from all the trees around the garden. I decided to work on the leaves first and started raking all of them over to one side to get them out of the way. With the leaves taken care of, I could then see where the different weeds were growing and work on pulling these out. Within an hour, I felt like I had made a lot of progress on getting the area cleaned up. I was also able to dig out the three different basil plants and clear space for some new ones. I stopped short of taking out our tomato plants; I saw a neat little spider web between them and didn’t feel like facing whatever spider had made its home there (i.e., I really don’t like bugs and had already run out of the garden several times at the sound of a bee).
I’m really encouraged that just a couple of hours dedicated to the garden made such a difference and that we seem to still have really good soil. We’ve started working on a game plan for how to keep our garden going and not feel overwhelmed by it this time around, so stay tuned for what will hopefully be a very fruitful spring/summer (pun intended!).