Alchemy Journal Entry 20: Did We Survive the Storms? A Healthy Harvest Awaits!

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6/7/2020

We got our first week of reliable sunlight in what feels like forever! The skies have cleared up and the leaves on the plants have dried, so I went to work and pruned a good pound of foliage. The foliage removed included the yellowed and spotted leaves of everything in the garden combined.

I also removed any weeds, debris from the storm, and deadheaded the flowers that required some clean up. Honestly, it felt a little bit defeating. After I accidentally cut off perfectly fine peppers, I was not happy to chop away at all of leaves and flowers of everything else. Everything seemed a bit… naked, but I’m going to trust the process.

Pruned spearmint. It looks a little naked.

Over the course of the week, I’ve singled out about 4 chronically ill plants. I have the usual suspects: the Genovese basil and hot and spicy oregano that were in the Josephine Pot. I now I have the two banana pepper plants that have not done much growing since I planted them. I had them in a window box that I left on the ground, and turns out that the box was not draining well, possibly water logging the plants. For weeks, they just looked the same: short, stunted, crumbly, and lime in color.

In hopes of reviving the peppers, I replanted them in a tall wooden pot with all new soil and wood chips. I also removed the oregano plant from the Josephine Pot and planted it into the ground. Since the marigolds in the same pot still look healthy, I added a chamomile plant into the old space.

I also wanted to prevent the future splashing of mud onto the leaves of my plants, so I finally got around to adding wood chips to the front yard garden bed. At another one of my local garden centers, I had no idea that large sacks of wood chips were being sold for about $3 for every 1 to 2 cubic feet. I know many people check their local recycling plants for free piles of wood chips, but since I’m new to this and wanted to be sure I was getting a sterile, safe product. I didn’t mind spending a few dollars at the store. I even got them half off since the bags had ripped!

I bought cypress and pine bark chips, which were the most natural options available. A gardener named Mai helped me choose. We figured the chips could be mixed together so that the colors are appropriate for my homeowner’s association and so that I get the desired effect on my garden.

I put the cypress chips on first since they’re lighter in color, then laid the pine bark chips on top. Honestly, the bed looked a lot better with the chips than without!

Loving the colors!

Lo and behold after three days with rain in between, the garden was thriving! The geraniums were full of happy flowers, the leaves of everything were plump and bright green, the pinkberry lantanas were blooming and full of young buds, the lemongrass was tall and green, the thyme had developed into miniature shrubs, and even the sickly Genovese basil was fuller.

After two weeks total of anxiety and desperation, the garden bed was turning out to not being such a mistake! We survived the storm! I need to listen to gardening channels more often: wood chips are everything!

6/7/2020: A Healthy Herb Harvest

One of my biggest mistakes while growing small pots of herbs in the past is not harvesting them. In my head, I thought not harvesting anything would give me an abundance of delicious herbs to use whenever I wanted. As it turns out, there are downsides to not harvesting, with problems so diverse that your yields will vary depending on the plant. Some plants won’t produce any more fragrant, delicious leaves. Some plants won’t produce fruit. Some plants will begin to die off.

My spearmint was looking gorgeous of bushy until two weeks after the storm. It was super healthy, but beginning to look stringy and naked under the bush of bright green leaves. It was time to harvest and prune.

The last time I grew mint, the stems vined out and spread into weird looking, twisty ropes with fewer leaves. I thought leaving it alone and not cutting anything would make it better, when pruning was exactly what it needed.

This time with my spearmint, I cut everything down to just 3 to 4 inches of stem. Even after a single day, the plant looks better even though it is a bit sparse. I harvested about 2 ounces of spearmint, making it a total of 2.5 ounces since the first harvest. I then went to work pruning out the sickly yellow and spotted leaves and cleaned up the vines. Since rain is coming, I’m going to wait before giving the plant some long overdue food.

Healthy spearmint harvest

I also harvested a little bit of English thyme and lemon thyme, which is spectacularly bushy because I’ve been pruning out pieces as I need them over the weeks. I’ve never seen thyme so full. Before this garden, I also made the mistake of doing zero pruning, which resulted in wiry thyme.

Healthy English thyme

I harvested a little more dill and gave it a flattop cut. The plant has bushed out quite a bit since the first harvest, but the leaves have come back yellow. I read that that might require more sunlight, so I moved the pot to the front of the house for now to help it recover. It is also due for some plant food.

From the garden bed, I harvested the longest stem of tarragon, which was growing off to the side along the ground. It has wonderful anise flavored seeds and I look forward to making a chicken tarragon salad.

French Tarragon herbs

The second greatest harvest after the spearmint, however, was the pineapple sage, which had grown like a weed since I added it to the raised garden bed. The sage had tangled up a little with one of the sun sugar tomato plants, and both had developed some splotchy leaves which I had to remove. It almost looked like blight, so I decided this was the best time to harvest the sage and prune it down.

I got about .5 ounces or more out of the sage plant, and removed as many of the blotchy leaves I could find in the garden bed. The spots were mainly underneath the leaves of the sage and basil. They now have a lot more air flow and space for the sun to shine through.

6/23/2020: A Blue Sky

A lot has happened between the beginning of June and now. The weather has been so wet, humid, and unpredictable that I had to remove myself from my garden because I was pruning off too many tomato leaves, chopping off too much dill, and pinching off too many mint leaves. If any leaf of any plant became even slightly weird looking, I freaked out and lopped it off thinking it was the worst of any disease from septoria leaf spot to blight.

I had written a journal entry before this, only to have lost it because I forgot to save it on my computer. But essentially, I saw something―ANYTHING―and assumed the worst, only to find my plants looking a bit skeletal because I was cutting off any weird spotting. My tomatoes especially looked strange, with wear and tear and little grey to brown spots on the edges of the leaves.

One of my husband’s coworkers, who has been helping me along this whole time, gave me some much needed peace of mind. I showed her some pictures of my leaves, concerned that they didn’t look as healthy as they did in the beginning of the season. She assured me that the leaves actually looked fine and that it’s normal to see damage over time and normal to lose a few fruits to elements you can’t control.

After a seasoned gardener took a look at my plants, I managed to spend over a week not obsessing over every tiny problem―which may not have been a problem to begin with.

And wouldn’t you know… some sun sugar tomatoes ripened! I picked one green zebra under my Dad’s advice, and it was still a little unripe, but didn’t taste too bad in a salad. What’s the big lesson here? Patience. I’m going to keep repeating this to myself until I get it. I need to stop hacking off my goods before I understand what’s going on.

My first tomato!

Tomatoes, Peppers, and Herbs, Oh My! 6/25/2020

After 3 weeks of storms and humidity and literally watching grass grow, I left my garden to its own devices because I couldn’t possibly try to save it from the wind, rain, hail, and blasts of humidity. And you know what? That was the best decision I made.

I’m finally getting used to mother nature doing her own thing and resisting the nerve to fix things that aren’t actually broken. With sun ahead in all of the forecasts, this was the first time in several weeks that I got to get up early and take a look at the damage done―and it actually wasn’t much.

In fact, I had a lot less to prune, and I only got rid of dead, brown foliage, spotty yellow leaves, and deadheaded some flowers.

The best part was seeing improvements in plants I thought I destroyed! The banana peppers I thought were toast have gained some green, height, and leaves! I had planted a third banana pepper thinking I would need to start over, but the original two are here to stay. Even the pepperoncini peppers don’t seem quite as angry that I lopped their heads off, for I now have at least 7 peppers and several dozen blooms!

I am able to harvest thyme, basil, dill, rosemary, and tarragon, bi-weekly and cook with them to create flavorful chicken sandwiches, tuna and salmon salads, and rich tomato sauces!

Speaking of tomatoes, I finally harvested my first trio of sun sugar tomatoes! I see what gardeners mean when they say that the tomato should easily release from the plant when ripe. They are gorgeously amber-orange, perfectly round, and I want to wait to eat them because I have 3 to 6 more that will most likely ripen within the next few days and I can turn them into some kind of sauce or salad!

Along with my harvest of sun sugar tomatoes, I harvested a lot of English thyme, tarragon, and basil. I harvested the amethyst basil for the first time, and although the smell isn’t as sharp and obvious as the Genovese basil, it still tasted nice and peppery and mild enough to be eaten as a green in a salad―which I may do next.

I can finally relax with such a nice little harvest.

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