When F-E-R-T-I-L-I-Z-E-R Is a Four-Letter Word

“You did WHAT?!”


“I fertilized your plants,” my ever-so-“helpful” husband answered, “to help them grow.”

So much for my nice, organic garden. So much for scouting around for this kind of compost here, that kind of compost there, and the other kind of compost somewhere else and mixing them all together to get a good blend. For the bucket in the kitchen for fruit and vegetable scraps and the composter in the backyard for those and lawn and garden pickings. Compost makes great fertilizer. My plants were growing just fine.

‘scuse me while I unclench my teeth. He means well. But sometimes I just want to bang. My. Head. Against. A. Wall. He planted a garden across the backyard from mine. Go play in your own garden and leave mine alone. Unless I want you to water mine or something.

For somebody with two hands full of brown thumbs, it’s going well. Except for the Black Krim tomatoes and the onion sets. And the mesclun.

I managed to kill the first Black Krim. Something ate the second one. The last time, I planted three Black Krims. Maybe one will survive.

The onions? Squirrels, I assume, although raccoons could have gotten to them. I planted sets and, the next day, all I saw were holes where the sets had been. Then I noticed signs that one onion had survived. My husband noticed onion number two. Oh, joy! I can make a double batch of vegetable soup this fall!

There is lettuce growing in my mesclun patch, but only one kind. Now, mesclun is a mixture of lettuces, so I don’t know that I should continue to refer to my patch as “mesclun,” but what the heck. I’m sure that whatever-it-is that’s growing will still taste good tossed with a little olive oil, a liberal sprinkling of seasoned rice vinegar, and some toasted walnuts (my favorite salad).

I got into gardening out of nostalgia. I wanted vegetables that taste like they did when I was a little girl: Before scientists got their hands on them and “improved” them to the point where they’re tasteless clones of each other and their most important mission is to be transported to market without getting squashed or over ripe. Not to mention in the largest quantity in the most-compact space.

To get that taste, I also chose heirloom plants and seeds as much as possible. So now I’m worrying about the plants growing. Why, for example, are my Kentucky Wonder pole beans not getting tendrils to grab onto the bean tower yet? Why aren’t my pickling cucumbers growing tendrils, either? (I will have pickles this year. I WILL have pickles this year!) Maybe they just haven’t grown high enough yet. Whatever the reason, they don’t answer back when I ask.

My gardening surprise? Whew, boy, is it exercise! Even from a scooter! I knew that gardening in the ground was exercise, what with all of the bending and kneeling and stooping and hoeing and so on, but who knew gardening in a 2-foot-high growing bed while in a seated position would be?

You bend, you stretch, you dig, you tie, you lug a garden hose from here to there and back. Weeding? W-e-l-l…I’ve found one. I kind of researched different gardening styles and selected Square Foot Gardening, which calls for a growing mixture of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. No soil. Plus, it’s in a raised bed. So not a lot of weeds, although I did find one trying to hide amongst the beans. I suspect that, as the plants grow, there will be more bending and stretching as I search through the (hopefully) vegetable-laden foliage for any wayward weeds to eliminate.

With the garden comes a composter, which needs to be fed and aerated. And, oddly enough, watered. I chose a rotating composter. I just couldn’t see myself reaching way up with a pitchfork or aerator to mix up the contents of a compost pile.

Which reminds me: If you live in an area that’s getting rain, please send grass clippings. My composter needs food and it hasn’t rained here in forever. I have my kitchen scraps, my one weed, and my two dead tomato plants. Aside from that and from cleaning last year’s foliage out of a giant patio planter, I had to buy some coir (coconut fiber) to add in so stuff wouldn’t, you know, stink. Maybe my local Starbucks participates in the used coffee grounds for compost program. I’ll have to ask.

Anyway, I go out in the morning and the evening to fuss over the garden, give it a drink (only once a day) and rotate my measly pile of compost and I’m huffing and puffing. Maybe today I’ll top-dress the slower plants with some dried kelp to give them a little boost.

Yes, I’m still going organic, despite my husband’s attempts to nudge the plants along with (shudder) fertilizer. I’ll have my organic garden yet.

Maybe next year.

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  • jim snell

    Never a dull moment. Hope the garden is still doing good and growing gangbusters.

    Good luck Jan.

    Garening is not my thing/speciality being mechanical/electronics.

  • Deb

    My organic garden died when my husband sprayed weedkiller on it, then tried to tell me that it would be safe to plant in 2 weeks. That was not too long after he cut down my prized 3-foot high sage plant. That was also the last time I made a garden except for a bay tree which is by my kitchen sink so it can be watered with my sink sprayer. He doesn’t touch it.
    Enjoy your organics; they should taste really good.
    I don’t know whether Black Seeded Simpson lettuce is considered heirloom, but I used to love it. You do have to pinch off the tops to keep it from bolting in the heat, but it tastes great.

  • Helen

    Hi Jan
    Love reading your articles. As a keen gardener myself I so understand your desire to grow organically. But when it comes to making compost, you shouldn’t put diseased plants in – that simply perpetuates the problem. So unless you know why your tomatoes died, and it wasn’t a plant virus of some sort, it would be best to dispose of them in another way. And healthy compost shouldn’t stink! Happy gardening and good luck with keeping your husband (helper) out of your garden!

  • Carol

    I hope you do well with your garden, mine is in danger of getting burned up by the heat and lack of rain. I fear we are going to have a drought. I can’t send you grass clippings because we have not cut in over 2 weeks, grass is brown and dry. I did cheat a little on my compost I collected all my families dead houseplants and dumped the pots in my compost pile, so far so good. Good luck with yours. Anyone know a rain dance?

  • Jan Chait

    Helen, the tomatoes weren’t diseased: I killed one when I failed to water it enough before I transplanted it and the other one was eaten by something. Squirrels? Raccoons? The break wasn’t low enough for it to be cutworms. I now have a third one that’s been gnawed on. Whatever it is likes Black Krims. As for compost, most of what I have right now are kitchen scraps, so something else is needed. Hence, the coir.

    Temps here are running over 100 degrees, with no rain in sight. There is a burn ban here but, thankfully, nobody has said anything about not watering. Carol, I’ll join you in that rain dance!


  • jim snell

    Jan; not to be a turkey; but my question is more
    generic and has some scientific data and comments.

    I assume the water floating around your plants has no biologics in it – Human coloform bateria from sewage tanks in ground as well as cryptospridium and giarda. If you are on deep well artesian – should not be issue. Om surface wells, one should test.

    The question is – how much guff does the water absorbption sysem for tomatoes eliminate the crap and not collect it in the fruit. I do not know? Are they filtering sub-micron?

    I have some property in a rural area where I checked the biologics on that water supply and they lit up like crhristmas tree lights – bright yellow and red. First we were using reverse osmosis on it all along and after testing decided to additionally do the distilling of it.

    Possibly this is crazy – yet when one is fully healthy; ones body can boot the pests out, when its comprimised by diabetes and other nusisances – that may no longer be true.

  • Jan Chait

    Ai-yi-yi Jim! The things you come up with! LOL I live in the city and our water either comes from the river that runs through town or from the aquifer we sit on. I’m not sure which. No wells, at any rate. I’ll have to trust that the water company properly treats and filters it. I was a music major. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no science! ūüėČ


  • jim snell

    Jan: As for science you seem to be doing very well given all the real life riot working the T2 diabetes issues.

    As for the river ; as long as you are upstream from the fun stuff and the aquifer if deep sounds good.

    Yes, I do end up in some curious spur lines on chasing down some problems. And I do wish somedays I had not bothered to look into!