Jennifer of the crafty podcast Craftsanity will be running a podcast interview with me next week. She is giving away one copy of the You Grow Girl book to the reader who submits the coolest eco-friendly craft by Saturday, June 24.
“In this episode Gayla, 32, will tell us the story of how her website sprouted into the book (You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening) and now a TV show in the making. In her book, Gayla presents great gardening information in an accessible and fun-to-read way, giving even the greenest rookie a boost of confidence.
If you don’t garden already, you’re likely to be inspired to start after this episode. Don’t have a back yard? No problem. Gayla emphasizes that gardens can be grown just about anywhere the sun shines and encourages apartment dwellers to try growing tasty treats in containers on even the smallest of balconies.
Another excellent feature of her book is that Gayla likes to craft, so the book is loaded with instructions for making everything from planter boxes and leaf-shaped garden stones to journals, aprons and tea bags.”
Gardening is all about experimentation and adaptability. You can try and lock down a “method” but nature has its own ideas. Every gardening season is different for one reason or another. Often times it’s large and subtle differences in the weather. Some years it’s a freak plague of aphids from the sky, a raccoon that has decided to obliterate the corn, or like this year, a family of baby squirrels.
About a month ago we discovered baby squirrels nesting underneath the roof of our building. My first reaction was “aww cute” followed by the realization that I was going to be providing the cuteness with their own personal cafeteria! I get the odd squirrels visitor every spring and over time I’ve learned to deal with their ways. They are generally most interested in digging in the fresh soil, likely looking for that peanut they buried last fall (I did in fact find a whole peanut this year). I put homemade water bottle cloches on the young seedlings and chicken wire cloches over larger plants to prevent digging damage and the occasional nibble. Both barriers work well and stave off a lot of potential damage. By the time the plants have grown too large for the cloches, the squirrels have moved on. While they often come back in the late summer to take bites out of the tomatoes, the number lost to the squirrels is minimal. A certain amount of crop loss to critters is an accepted part of sharing space with living beings.
I suppose this year isn’t any different, it’s just that I’m feeding a family of squirrels instead of one rogue squirrel so the damage is greater. And since this group have clearly found Eden, they aren’t planning on leaving anytime soon. Their tastes are so bizarre and varied I can’t predict which plants to protect and which to leave. They have no interest in the lettuce but have chewed off all the flowers in my succulent window box. They can’t be bothered with basil, but ate an entire eggplant (my ‘Turkish Orange’ no less!) seedling and a pepper plant.
I started two types of peas back in April: a snow variety with pretty purple flowers called ‘Carouby de Maussane’ and a dwarf variety I have grown several times called ‘Tom Thumb’.
The ‘Tom Thumb’ plants have been thriving and providing me with lots of tasty snacks. The other variety would be thriving if not for the squirrels! When I first noticed the nibbling I thought perhaps it was my cat. She has an appetite for strange vegetables (radishes and edamame) and the container was propped up against the railing where she often sits and surveys “her kingdom.” I noticed that the nibbling started once the plants had grown tall enough to reach the rim of the railing. So I moved the container and still the nibbling continued. A month has passed and the ‘Carouby de Maussane’ peas are incredibly haggard and sad. They produced one flower, which produced one tiny pea that was promptly nibbled and left to hang on the vine.
Meanwhile the succulent lettuce plants growing underneath remains untouched! And the ‘Tom Thumb’ peas are left untouched! They dug up and destroyed an entire dwarf cucumber plant, and left containers of swiss chard. I don’t get it!
Well today I confirmed the culprits are definitely the squirrels and not my cat. I caught one using a deck chair as a prop to reach the tops of the peas. Thankfully I am also growing ‘Carouby de Maussane’ peas at my community plot where they are in a spot a little shadier than they would like, but are growing without interference from critters. It’s interesting, but I have far less critter issues at my community plot where plants are growing in an area heavily populated by all sorts of wildlife than my rooftop deck that is stuck in a typically urban landscape without even a single tree nearby.
What to do about squirrels is probably one of the most popular questions I get when I am out giving talks or demonstrations. My answer is often that barriers methods are the best bet since they keep critters off your plants without hurting them in the process. The city is often accussed of being a place uninhabitable for wildlife. Growing an organic garden is one way to encourage wildlife and combat that assumption. So when I think about it, would I rather a critterless world or a few damaged plants?
Guest post by Renee Garner
Office Manager may sound like a hefty title, for those not in the know, but really I am just a glorified secretary. Sure I have a degree, but that doesn’t equate to a high paying job in my chosen field: art. So I make enough to live off of but not much more and that means I can’t afford a landscaper to come out and neatly tend my flocks of daffodils. And really, just to be honest about things, I wouldn’t want one to, either.
So with no offense, Bill Alexander, I dismiss your $64 Tomato. No tomato should cost $64, even in the quest for a perfect garden, if you are willing to invest yourself in your garden. Hopefully then your tomato will be sentimentally worth as much, if not more, than that, but will have a similar or lower price than of the Styrofoam-like grocery store variety. Mr. Alexander, I believe you are proselytizing a myth of the rich, that gardening should be cookie cutter perfection, and an investment in the landscaper’s moneymaking dream machine.
While the book may be humorous and witty, let us not forget that it concerns gardening with a goal free of mistakes. While the story inevitably teaches us about healthy mistakes, and gives us morals, I wonder how satisfying a garden can be if you pay a designer $300 to plot the layout. Who can pay nearly $9,000 for construction?!? I scoff at plants that cost $15, why would I want a bed worth more than my car? I understand the value of a garden. When forced with a choice, I’m much more inclined to spend $20 on plants and a six-pack from the store than I am to spend an equal amount getting into a club and buying a couple drinks. Well, maybe if Menomena came back around. . .I digress.
But the beauty of my job is that I get off at 3 in the afternoon, with plenty of post-work plant time. Since I don’t use my creative skills at work (unless you count these stolen moments blogging! Please don’t tell!) I use them in my yard, much to the disdain of my neighbors, who would rather my tomatoes cost $64. Which brings me back to the concept of money.
One of my most valuable resources has been dubbed “the midnight lumber sale”, also known as “the five fingered lumber discount.” There is new construction all around my house, and I am willing to bet there will be construction within spitting distance for another several years. Hammers echoing in the neighborhood at 6:30 AM are not my favorite sound, but I am indebted to those brand new condos, for they have been the suppliers of the goods used to build my raised veggie bed. And without that, I would have no place for my free manure (well, $3 in gas to pick it up) that I found on Freecycle! I did ask for permission before trifling through the riff raff, but for the most part you can tell which piles are good and which are trash. Need I remind you, dear friend, we want to sort through the trash and not the good building materials, because that would be stealing, and stealing is worth its weight ten-fold in bad karma points. However! In the trash pile you will find glorious resources aplenty, and with a little creative ingenuity, you too, can build the garden of your dreams. From the demolition phase, I loaded up on concrete blocks, 2 x 4s, and a picket fence that now gives my beloved pups a yard to run around freely in. Now in the construction phase, I have scored some beautiful and fairly large rocks for my shady woodland garden. I have also gotten piles of untreated lumber to build my raised bed with! Total costs: I’m gonna guess high and say $40 for bagged dirt and compost of the cheapest variety I could find at my local gargantuan hardware store. $0 for lumber and since my lumberyard is essentially spitting distance, no cost in petrol. I can go ahead and add in another $12 investment: black rolling trashcan, which is now my portable compost container, but I bought that with a Target gift card, so technically it doesn’t count. Just to make Bill not feel so bad, I’ll include the cost of that. So I’m up to a hefty $56.
The plants were grown from seed, which ranged in price from free (trading for variety) to $2.75 for a pack of 6 heirloom tomato seeds (way to rich for my blood, won’t make that mistake again) in any container I had lying around the house. Cloched in pop bottles a la Gayla Trail, the bottles have been recycled into another fabulous Trail idea: an irrigation system. I have grass-clipping mulch to maintain soil moisture. I did buy 5 plants because my first batch of seedlings pooped out on me when I went on vacation. I’ll add $15 for that. I can say I’ve spent less than $30 on plants. Considering I use rainwater gathered in buckets and pitchers, I’ll add another $6 so far on water, which is, again, a gross overestimate.
Since Alexander has included books and resources, I have 3: You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (2 copies since my dog ate my first one, total including tax:32.25), RodaleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Organic Encyclopedia bought new 10 years ago for 21.35, tax included, and Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening bought used on Amazon for $6, shipping and tax included.
All of these variables accounted for, I’ve spent less than $200 on my veggies. I have approximately 60 tomato plants, and if they each produce one tomato and nothing else produces, I will have $2.53 tomatoes. So, Bill, next time you diddle in the garden, think outside the box of plastic perfection, I guarantee your tomatoes will taste so much better for it. Because as far as I can figure, following the status quo to grow a ‘mater: $16,565.00; Utilizing your own resources: Priceless.
I was recently inspired by a gardener profiled in the April/May issue of Organic Gardening magazine. In the interview, gardener Dallas Hays of Lewiston, Idaho talks about making his own fish fertilizer (good for nitrogen) “..using a blender and squawfish from a nearby lake.” He also makes his own potting mix and substitutes ground up loofah that he grows himself as a substitute for peat moss. In the same mix he replaces perlite with corncobs run through a cornmeal grinder.
I love it when people take it upon themselves to go outside the usual and try new and crazy homemade substitutes in the garden. Dallas, if you are reading this, you rule!