Between boys, bad luck and a distracted husband, my already challenged garden is on the verge of failure this year.
I’m used to squirrels eating the tomatoes, cardinals munching on the grapes and the lettuce going bitter in the heat when I try to manage a tiny farm in my postage stamp sized back yard. It’s also shaded on three sides so you see the challenges I face.
Despite this, I always get enough basil to fill the freezer with pesto that lasts until March, and enough jalapenos to provide for us and the neighbors right through to the next July.
Not this year.
First, I did my usual routine of planting a small tray of pots to start tomato, basil, jalapenos and cantaloupe, the stalwarts. As usual, I added a few oddballs -- chamomile, sage and eggplant. But I started the seeds late, and neglected to water them so they were already stunted when I put them out next to the driveway to absorb some sun one day in early April.
This is when my husband ran over them. The pan was dented, the tiny plants flipped out of their overturned pots. I found them hours later, and rescued the ones I could but there wasn’t much.
So, the next weekend I paid a hideously high price for a basil plant at the farmers market. I figured I’d buy one to get us through the dark weeks until a new set of seeds would come up.
Something ate the basil plant. Seriously, I have NEVER had a 10-inch tall basil go from hail and hearty one day to a pathetic one inch stem sticking out of the ground two days later. Basil is the one thing that never gets eaten, that never goes bitter, that never fails. But this year is different. Something ate it. And whatever ate it also took out the squash and cucumber seedlings planted nearby.
There was a bigger shock to come.
I’ve been encouraging my son and the neighborhood boys to play street hockey in our driveway. It’s a good thing for adolescent boys to do and it’s darned easy to call him in for dinner or chores if he’s only five feet away.
Who knew that they’d kill the oregano? Now, non-gardeners should know that bamboo, mint and oregano are high in the pantheon of Plants That Cannot Be Killed. We discuss containing them, cutting them back, controlling them. There is no need to nurture them. They despise being nurtured because they are too busy taking over the lawn and the neighbor’s lawn and the spare bedroom.
Apparently, however, enough trampling by 11-year-old boys over the winter will make even the hardiest oregano give up the ghost. A 20-year-old oregano just vanished between fall and spring.
With these setbacks, it’s no wonder that I’m struggling to garden this year. I haven’t planted the three beds I have yet. I have no plans to mulch. I’m frankly bored with the lettuce patch which is flourishing, even though it’s providing us with free salads night after night.
There are, however, two bright patches on the horizon. First, I planted two apple trees and mulched them from the compost. Easily a dozen tomato plants sprang up in the mulch and in the backyard beds.
I obviously have no idea if these are beefsteak, paste or cherry tomatoes but I’ve moved a half dozen of them to the sunny side garden and told the street hockey boys that if I see footprints in the bed, the game goes elsewhere. (One boy has already fallen and smushed a tomato and its cage but it was accidental, as so much is with 11-year-old boys.)
And we’ve discovered wood sorrel, which I’ve always just pulled out as a weed. In all of our gardens, there is a small plant that looks vaguely like clover with heart shaped leaves but has yellow flowers. It is wood sorrel, and it is delicious. I’ve been adding it to the boring lettuce salads for a much-needed touch of tartness.
It’s come to this -- only the weeds are doing well and I’ve decided to eat them.