This year I got a sudden urge to try my hand at gardening – something I have no experience in nor any innate talent for. But seeing as how I prefer to do everything the hard way and dive in head first whenever possible, I ordered a bunch of seeds, scoured the internet for information and grabbed a shovel. Growing from seeds was actually easier than it sounded, even with the peppers and tomatoes that had to be started indoors in seedling trays and moved back and forth to a windowsill everyday. Cucumbers, lettuce, and green beans, which could be sowed directly in the ground, were a piece of cake. The hardest parts, as far as my experience went, were (1) digging/constructing the gardens; (2) watering everything sufficiently to deal with the brutal Florida summer; and (3) dealing with weeds and pests.
The house I was living in had a large backyard with plenty of room but a very uneven lay and sandy soil. I grabbed a hoe and a shovel and dug out a nice horseshoe-shaped garden lined with 1x4s and filled in with compost and Miracle Grow garden soil. Then of course we dressed it up with some mulch and paving stones and an old fountain. This is back-breaking work made worse by the Florida sun, which is quite brutal even in March.
Now at this point I did some math and realized that this was going to be woefully inadequate for the amount of seedlings I had grown. Those green shoots on the two legs are cucumbers, in the back are the green beans and lettuce. In my seed trays I had 52 pepper and tomato plants. If I really packed them in I could fit about 16 in the plot above. So I dug another rectangular one. Then a couple small square plots. Then I started rounding up buckets and planters. In the end I had 36 pepper and tomato plants in the ground and 16 in buckets of some sort. Also 18 cucumber vines, 6 green bean vines, and a handful of lettuce plants.
To be honest I had initially only intended to grow peppers, but I am a big fan of fresh vegetables so it was probably a foregone conclusion that once I started gardening I would diversify things a bit. Poor planning in terms of how much space all this would take up is what led to the escalation from a modest pepper garden to a small plantation. What was nice about the variety of plants was that they all matured and produced at different times. The cucumbers took off first. By May I was drowning in cucumbers and making pickles three days a week. At one point I was eating cucumber salad for lunch everyday for two weeks. Green beans and lettuce were next. Tomatoes came in early summer. Peppers were producing like crazy from early summer through October or so. Once things cooled down and dried up the peppers slowed down and the sweeter varieties started to die off, but the hotter varieties – especially the ghost peppers – are still going strong.
Watering was tough. The summer was really hot and until July or so it was not really raining much. The dripper hoses I installed in the gardens didn’t really work. Which meant it was a daily chore to head out there with the hose and give everything a good soaking. Once the rain came i could count on a daily downpour so things got easier. But weeds grew like crazy and keeping them under control was a nightmare. Then there were the bugs. A giant caterpillar made mince meat of one of my cubanelle plants. Small beetles started boring into my tomatoes and ruining them (I had to start picking them green and letting them ripen inside). Then at the end of the season some other small beetles started swarming my poblano plants and – not eating them – just defecating all over them or something and making them foul. But all in all I think it was an extremely successful first year and I will probably try my hand at it again.
But not next year, as it turns out. Due to, say, circumstances beyond our control we had to move out of that house in November (which was unexpected but not necessarily unwelcome) and relocated to a townhouse with only a sorry excuse for a backyard. So my gardening days ended as abruptly as they began. What remains are just a few buckets containing my favorite pepper plants, which I am hoping will make it through the winter and survive despite the lack of direct sunlight in their new home. On the upper left is a lone tomato plant which I sowed in August and transplanted to a bucket when we moved – it is actually producing tomatoes as we speak:
There is also less room for brewing, grilling and using my smoker, but I will have to make do for now. In the meantime all this talk about cucumbers has me in the mood for pickles. Here is my favorite recipe, a sweet-hot chipotle flavored concoction I threw together and absolutely loved.
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup water
2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup+ chipotle powder (smoke and dry jalapenos then grind to a powder….or you can look for see if you can find it at a store or something)
1/4 cup red pepper flakes
1-2 tbsp cayenne powder
1 scotch bonnet powder
Add all ingredients to a jar stuffed with quartered cucumbers and shake to mix. Refrigerate at least 5 days or until it reaches the desired heat and smokiness (both will increase with age),