The Downsizing Dozen: Tiny Tending

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As suburbanites everywhere march along to the beating blades inside their lawnmowers and collect the stray mulch that spring downpours washed out of obsessively sculpted landscapes, I fill my two little railing planters with carefully chosen herbs I will use in my cooking, at three stories up on a tiny balcony. From this great height, my old life of lawn maintenance and yard work seems very far away, indeed.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I spent my childhood in the country on several farms and remember spring as a frantically busy season at my grandparents’ family nursery, where thousands of annuals were sold in the merry month of May alone. Fields were tilled and planted, and the family garden begun but often neglected for farming’s other pressing demands.

I’ll never forget the first garden of my very own. My daughter had been born early that spring after a difficult pregnancy on bedrest. I was finally recovered, full of energy and new life, so I dug and laid out a little plot for square-foot gardening at the corner of our rental property. I bought garden tools and poured over seed catalogs, amended the soil and put up trellises for the vine crops. By June everything I planted was up and thriving.

And then my husband landed the job of his dreams halfway across the country. By July, I had to leave my little garden behind, and start over. But I never stopped gardening. Every year at the first misstep of winter, when the soil begins to wake and earthworms stir under the robins’ watchful eyes, I feel the call. It’s in my blood, a part of my genetic duty.

And this year wasn’t any different. I’ve worked all sizes of gardens, from half an acre to containers on a patio, but this has to be my smallest space, yet. Our diet these days restricts eating large amounts of nightshades like tomatoes and peppers, which is mainly what I planted in years past. Nowadays, we use plenty of fresh herbs, and instead of ornamental flowers, I’m trying out a couple of everbearing strawberry plants with pretty pink blooms as an added garnish.

I’ve no doubt that given the chance, I will tend to a larger garden in the future. The tools I bought for that first little square-foot plot are safely stored in our garage, waiting to cultivate bigger dreams. But until then, this is enough.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, Forgotten Food in February, Travel Time in March, and Shifting Into Single Gear in April.

A Lazy Gardener’s Success Story

{{Yawn}} Well, that nap sure took longer than I anticipated. Like old Rip, I wake up to a yard full of leaves and a patio garden that won’t stop. This year I committed to total container growing, mostly in my dirt bags, as I like to call them.

Early in the summer, these babies shone like jewels in the potential sea of green. I tried to group them attractively, hues on a palette, rather than the dreaded single line-up.

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Plant-wise, I bought a couple of tomatoes (a Brandywine slicer and Sweet 100 cherry), two broccolis, two cucumbers of the pickling persuasion, two zucchinis, one sweet banana pepper, one miniature bell pepper that I’d never seen before, and heck, I even popped in a sugar snap vine at the last minute.

In the seed department there was the usual array of lettuces like the ever-popular Black-Seeded Simpson (I like the crispness of the name), and the mandatory arugula and basil crops. And I pushed my luck with a sowing of bush beans in a large grow bag intended for garlic planting. They seemed to like it:

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Don’t know about you, but the area where I live suffered from an unusually cold and wet June and July. (When are we going to stop talking about how strange the weather is every year and just admit that unusual is the new norm?) Despite identical containers and soil, my Brandywine shot up six feet into Little Shop of Horrors proportions while the cherry tomato waned like Tiny Tim. A bit of late starter, the cherry came into its own in good time, however.

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Gardens in the ground everywhere suffered from rot and blight. But not on the patio. My biggest problems were keeping up with the thirsty tomato monster, staking leaning towers of peppers and finding the cucumbers before they became obscene, never mind that they were a mere three feet from my backdoor. I swear cucumber leaves know how to hide their goods.

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Most everything flourished except for the zucchinis. It’s downright embarrassing that I didn’t have them coming out of my ears, but the darned vine borers get them just as they set fruit, every . . . single . . . year. I relished pulling off cabbage worms that feasted on my broccoli and then — you don’t want to know. The location made it easy to keep a close eye on nibbling varmints and slugs and the occasional marauding squirrel (now where DID I hide that nut???)

After a steady harvest the last few months thanks to some nifty watering spikes and stinky organic fertilizer, the vegetation is winding down on my patio farm. The tomatoes are just about done, peppers going for broke at the finish line, cucumbers finished thankfully (whew! we managed to eat all of them).

I’ve resewed some lettuce and swiss chard, and started fresh in the forlorn zucchini pot with an interplanting of nasturtium and beet greens. But let’s face it, I can’t bear to eat the flowers.

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Would I do it again? You betcha. After all, nothing beats nursing that gin and tonic on a fine summer evening while you casually reach over and pluck something for dinner, never breaking a sweat. Or getting out of your chair.

The Dirt Bag is Back!

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And so bright you can see them from the street. That’s right, there’s a fiesta going on in my backyard this year. Poppy and periwinkle and pretty darn precocious. After my initial purchase of a lettuce grow bag two years ago, I was very pleased with the output and convenience of these funky cloth containers that fold away neatly for winter storage.

But the outrageous color is what sold me. It wasn’t long before other bright hues started popping up in a lime green planter, azure watering can and cobalt blue coil hose. Forget those dull mousy browns and clays, my roving eye rests only on containers straight off the rainbow these days.

Yep, they’ve created a color-wheel monster dancing to her own party on the patio.

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