By Pat Foster-Turley
August 19, 2021
Well, I keep trying to grow vegetables but long ago I should have given up. A couple of months ago I cheerfully wrote about my elevated garden beds, above rabbit chewing distance, and my great hope for an early summer vegetable garden. I planted bush wax beans and pole green beans in one bed and let the pole beans hang below the elevated bed. And in a brave attempt to defy rabbits I also planted sweet potato vines in my butterfly garden as a ground cover in and among the pots. I’ve seen others use this approach, with great yields of sweet potatoes in and among the flowers so I gave it a try. Finally, I planted some watermelon seeds in a hopeful attempt to produce at least one melon. Oh, yeah, and two cherry tomato plants were placed in large pots on my patio where I could keep close watch on them.
Well, here’s how this ended up. The two cherry tomato plants already had some flowers and beginning fruit on the vines when I bought them. How could this go wrong? Well, here’s how. One of the cherry tomatoes did indeed bear fruit but the ripe tomatoes were about the size of a pencil eraser. Most every day I can nab a couple to snack on, but this is barely enough to even get a taste. And the other tomato plant produced three glorious cherry tomatoes, a “midnight” strain, blackish in color. They were great. But there were just three of them and now the plant has died. So much for tomatoes.
And, the rabbit ate up my sweet potato plants, to the stem, before any sweet potatoes could develop. But what about the watermelons in the back garden?
There was a fence there to deter rabbits and other creatures, but so much for that. The first two watermelons I found, only about the size of a tennis ball, had been chewed on and had rotted. Eventually I spotted another melon under the leaves, still smaller than a volleyball, but already showing a chewed area. It was doomed, so I harvested it, cut off the chewed portion and discovered that the inside flesh was white (not pink), but it still tasted sweet enough, almost like a very sweet cucumber, which it is related to. Not one to waste good food, I created a wonderful roasted beet, unripe watermelon, feta cheese and mint salad with a touch of olive oil and lemon juice to season it. It wasn’t the watermelon I had hoped for, but at least I made use of it. And now, there are no other watermelons left on the vine. This experiment is over too.
And the beans? How can one go wrong growing beans in an elevated bed, with good soil, irrigation and tender loving attention? Well somehow I managed. The wax beans did well and Bucko and I had a few meals of them. But the green pole beans grew as expected but produced only a few flowers and maybe two beans even though the vines stretched for six feet or more. For some undetermined reason the vines had dropped their flowers and thus, no beans. Unbelievable.
Luckily though, I can grow flowers. My second elevated bed is full of zinnias and another garden bed is full of purple and red sage flowers that together make perfect bouquets to brighten my house and gift to friends. My pinecone ginger plants are producing wonderful blooms that make interesting flower arrangements and the crinum lilies by the pond edge have clusters of flowers that add elegant touches. It was great fun one recent rainy day to dash into the yard between storms to cut any flowers that looked interesting, and then to retreat inside to make flower arrangements as the rain again pounded against my windows.
Despite my mixed gardening results, there is still nothing like growing things, or, in my case, figuring out why things don’t grow. And, at least I can grow flowers and herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, mint, thyme and basil to liven up my cooking. I should give up on vegetables, I know, but I just can’t help myself. Fall gardening season will be here soon, and I’m sure I will try again. Stay tuned for yet another gardening adventure as this next season unfolds.
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]