Give a woman a zucchini and she’ll eat for a day.Give her seeds and chaos ensues.
In early June, in temperatures in excess of 105, in the middle of the AriDzona desert, John and I decided to attempt a garden. Well, okay, I decided to attempt a garden and John kindly did most of the work. We’re still trying to find ways to cut bills and earn extra money for living expenses. Ten dollars at the grocery doesn’t go very far. Ten dollars worth of seeds can, as it turns out, feed us for several months. “Fresh” vegetables from the grocery also don’t last very long. If I’m lucky, a week. More often than not, three days. Green onions, overnight. Frozen veggies were my diet.
I was on Facebook, as too often happens, when the sudden determination to garden struck. Someone posted a gardening question. I answered her question with another question, which led to other other people asking other questions, until a couple of gardening experts joined the conversation to provide tips, which led to Google, which led to a site called Native Seeds/Search which led to me sitting here tonight, blogging about the garden. Please tell me that happens to other people.
Because we’d only grown zucchini, once, in the backyard and had no luck with anything else we’d planted, I decided that heirloom seeds from vegetables developed in the southwest might offer the best chance for a successful harvest. Packets of three varieties of squash, corn, onions, and basil were chosen and excitedly ordered. Again, because I’d had luck with zucchini, I picked up a packet of zucchini seeds, a packet of white scalloped squash and a packet of pumpkin seeds. Another local gardener supplied us with seeds from her pumpkins, carrots, and parsley as well as several sweet potato slips. We bought a very inexpensive slow drip system at Home Depot and we were ready to begin the grand gardening experiment.
Note the two halves of the garden with that nice alleyway down the middle.
We had a lot of 2x4s left from our furniture building spree, so we used those to box in two sides of a small corral rather than buying the traditional 4x4s. We’d had to sell most of the horses when Billiam became ill, so we put one of the now empty corrals to use as the garden. It was near a rarely used hose spigot and it had been in use by horses for 6 years and had a good buildup of fertile dirt. At the time we began the garden, we had no end of pony and goat poop and a kind chicken owner willing to bring us all the chicken poop we might want. Now, we have our own chickens producing poop, but that’s another adventure post entirely.We didn’t buy special soil or fertilizers because we had a fertile poo trifecta right here at home!
The problem we had when we were growing zucchini was the wildlife. Cottontail rabbits and ground squirrels devastate almost anything we try to grow, even cactus. John and I knew we had to deter the garden predators before we could begin to plant seeds. The little corral was fenced for ponies with steel rail fencing, covered with wire no-climb fencing, with a three foot tall section of 1/4 inch hardware cloth around the bottom to keep out rattlesnakes. This wasn’t going to work to fence out rabbits and squirrels so we picked up several rolls of chicken wire. This garden thing was an experiment remember. This was the first part of the experiment that failed.
We didn’t think to bury the bottom of the chicken wire, so the rabbits simply dug under it. The squirrels didn’t bother digging under, they just sucked in their little cheeks and slithered right through those 1 inch holes in the chicken wire. Back to Home Depot for smaller chicken wire. This time, John buried it a foot down all the way around except for the end of the garden that attaches to the walls of the barn. We’d deterred the rabbits, but the squirrels dug trenches under the stall walls inside the barn and mowed down the sweet potato slips and the pumpkin slips we’d been given. Deterrents alone would not work. We were forced to engage in rodenticide.
Once we had cleared out the ground squirrel populations nearest the corral, we replanted more sweet potato slips, a pumpkin slip, replaced all the seeds the squirrels had dug up and planted the I’itoi’s Onion bulbs I’d ordered. That’s when we discovered we also had a bird problem. I thought I had gotten poor quality seeds until I planted the onion bulbs. Every day for two weeks I’d go check the garden for sprouts and find no sprouts, then I began finding onion bulbs laying all over the garden. There wasn’t a squirrel moving on that entire corner of the property, the rabbits could only gaze longingly through all the fencing at those sweet potato and pumpkin leaves. I thought perhaps mice or rats so I set a few traps out in the dirt near the onions and caught a bird. A bird with divining capabilities because it knew precisely where the seeds were buried and gorged on them. I guess he/she didn’t like onions so just pulled up the bulbs and tossed them aside. Up until then, I thought the nice birdies were just keeping the garden safe from bugs. HA!
We put up pin wheels to scare the birds. Those worked an hour or two. We left the traps out, and that seemed to let them know we were serious. The traps made us feel awful though so, thanks to another Facebook suggestion, we covered the onions and replanted seeds under tents made of leftover chicken wire and bits of hardware cloth. That finally did the trick and by late July, eight weeks after starting the garden project, the seeds were sprouting, the vines were spreading and all we needed was razor wire and spotlights to make the garden look like an exercise yard at a penitentiary. This is when I started learning about heirloom squash.
Recall please, that all I’d grown were zucchini. Zucchini is a squash. It grows in a sprawling bushy style. There isn’t much information on the interwebs about the heirloom squash I grow because very few people remember they exist and even fewer people grow them. The packets told me a little of their history and what they looked like when mature. I planted two zucchini, one yellow squash, one white scalloped squash and two or three each of the heirloom varieties. As the heirloom squash plants sprouted and grew, I learned that not all squash grow in a sprawling bushy style. Many, if not most, vine like mad. At one end of the garden, I had three pumpkin plants happily taking over a 20 foot area (I knew they vined, I just didn’t know how much they vine and I had planted three). At the opposite end of the garden, nearest the barn, I had 6 to 8 heirloom squash vines attempting to take over everything else.
The corn I’d replanted and carefully covered with chicken wire, was struggling to survive in the shade of giant squash and pumpkin leaves. Every day I’d go out to check the garden for poachers, rearrange vines and pull vine tendrils out of the wire tents. I finally gave up and planted a new row of corn and gave up the basil for lost. The original corn and it’s wire tent are now buried beneath the sweet potato vines, pumpkin vines and the squash vines that weren’t happy with just their end of the garden and which are now mingling with the pumpkins and potatoes. This mingling of vines presented yet another unforeseen problem I will describe later in the garden chronicle.
This saga will be continued in a day or so.