Friday, April 27, 2007

Help! What's wrong with my squash plants?

Squash Disease!Do any of you know anything about plant diseases? Can you tell me what my poor squash plant has? I knew this gardening thing couldn't just keep being as easy as it was for the first week or two, and indeed, today I came home from work, excited to plant some new seeds I got (little gem lettuce, carrots, spinach, and swiss chard!) and just as I finished planting the seeds I noticed one squash plant looked slightly droopy.

Squash Disease!I looked closer and noticed these gray fuzzy dots, mostly on one of the leaves, but definitely on the others, too. Worse yet, it's my best squash plant -- already two squash are growing on it and over an inch long each! To top it all off, my second-best squash plant has a couple of the same dots on one leaf.

Is this something I can fix? I've searched online for "gray fuzz vegetable" and stuff like that and found references to various molds and fungi and diseases, but nothing sounds exactly like this, and furthermore they all say "destroy the infected plants," which I really would rather not do if I can avoid it!

I'm sure someone that reads this knows more about gardening than I do. Mom? Any ideas?


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gardening: The Beginning

Baby CantaloupeI planted some herbs in my backyard flower garden late last year on a whim. It always bothers me to buy herbs because you get a big bunch of thyme for $1 and you use a tablespoon's worth of it and end up dumping the rest. $1 doesn't really seem like a lot, but when you're making a soup that calls for 6 different herbs, that's $6 for just a pinch of each, usually. And the little herb seedlings were cheap, only $2 each, so I figured, if I even get to use each twice, I've broken even.

Well, not only did I use them twice, but they've come back. All but the basil, I mean, and the basil's just wimpy about cold. My oregano is hedge-like, the spearmint has spread, and even the chives that looked so sad and dead by November have come back with renewed vigor.

Veggie BoxesThe more I thought about this, the more it inspired me to think that maybe I don't have the black thumb I always thought I did. I got a pretty good tax return this year, so I decided to dedicate a few hundred bucks of it to building a vegetable garden in the large gravel area in my back yard.

After doing some research, I settled on raised beds. To be cheap, I just built them out of standard pine 2x10s. I know they'll eventually rot away, but I bet it'll be at least a few years, and pine is just so much cheaper than cedar or whatever else I might use that it's worth it. Plus, they're really easy to build. I can replace them in an afternoon if I really need to.

SoilThen, the soil. It turns out dirt's pretty expensive. If you buy it bagged, even the crummiest non-organic garden soil is $3 per cubic foot and if I even filled these three beds just over halfway each, to 6", each bed is 4' x' 6', so that was 12 cubic feet per bed, or 36 cubic feet total. And I really wanted organic soil. The benefit of growing organic is really making more sense to me, now. When I think of vast expanses of farm land, it's very distant and kind of abstract. With these raised beds, it's very compact. The vegetables aren't gathering nutrients from miles around. They're getting nutrients directly from the soil just in the raised beds, and that's it. It's a little box of dirt that's going to turn into food. The matter isn't coming from the sky, it's coming directly from the soil, so if I pour fluorescent turquoise Miracle-Gro in there, I might as well just pour that powder directly into my mouth.

Organic soil, naturally, is more, at least $4/cu ft, bagged. I wasn't about to pay $120 for dirt, especially since I'd then have to make about 10 trips in my car to the nursery and back.

The wonderful people at Great Outdoors, an amazing and wonderful nursery full of thoughtful people who tell you everything you need to know, pointed me to Geo Growers, who deliver soil in bulk, and for $150 including delivery they brought over 60 cubic feet of soil, more than I'll need for a long time, and happily dropped it off in a giant dump truck.

Filling the BedsI bought a wheelbarrow, since they left that soil on my driveway (dump trucks aren't really very maneuverable, and can't unload if there's anything overhead -- tree branches, power lines, anything -- so it was the best he could do.) At Home Depot, I wondered why anyone would pay for the really expensive wheelbarrows as I bought mine for $40; later, as I moved soil in it, carefully holding the wobbly wooden arms as it swayed back and forth, pendulous with the weight of the soil, I understood. It did the job, though.

I filled the beds with soil, and then it was back to Great Outdoors. They loaded me up with three bags of Turkey Compost and a box of magic organic fertilizer powder, and I wandered around picking out little seedlings. I ended up with a good assortment: squash, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and a few pepper varieties, and I left eager to get to work.

Kristine loaned me a bunch of gardening tools, including a nice big rake, and tonight I mixed the compost into each bed, raked in the fertilizer powder, and then topped it all off with a layer of the mulch left by my house's previous owner, mulch I never figured I'd get around to using. Now I'm happy to have it!

HerbsI transplanted some of the herbs from the back garden, the ones not looking as healthy as the rest, and in the other two beds planted the seedlings, spaced as generously as possible. I didn't really consider that melons and tomatoes and such want a fair amount of space, but luckily these beds are pretty roomy.

I have some space left in the third bed with the herbs; they only take up maybe 5 square feet, so I've got about 20 left. I'm going to get some seed packets for leaf vegetables, I think, because I know I should eat more stuff like kale, chard, collards, mustard greens, and lettuces, and I can't imagine they're terribly difficult to grow. Head lettuces, apparently, grow more slowly than normal leafy ones, so I'll probably steer clear of cabbage and head lettuces for now, since I'm feeling impatient and want results as soon as I can get them!

Of course, I haven't done anything so far that requires any kind of gardening skill, just lots of backbreaking work. It all certainly looks good so far -- the gardens are pretty, the beds look neat and clean, and the seedlings are happily planted in the best soil I could find. That doesn't really mean it's all going to work, though. Now begins the part where I need to know what I'm doing: when to water, when to cover, when to shade, when to prune. I got a well-reviewed book from amazon on the subject, and I plan to read it cover-to-cover.

Then again, I'm only half-doing this to actually have good veggies to eat; the other half of the reason is to learn how to be a skilled gardener. At some level, I realize those two goals are in conflict, because the way I'll learn the most is by making mistakes and killing plants or harvesting too early or whatever. But then the right way to look at that is that it doesn't really matter whether my vegetable garden is wildly bountiful or barren as a desert, it's a success either way.

Seriously, though, I'd really like some cantaloupe.



Inspired by my inability to kill some herbs I planted late last year, I've recently embarked on this little adventure, trying my hand at growing vegetables. Here, I will post updates, questions, successes, failures, and -- if all goes especially well -- pictures of canteloupe. What more could you want from a blog?