Food & Dining

Keeping your thumb green not always easy

Baby greens doing well now, but it was a slop start and lots of experimentation on containers, soil, sun.
Baby greens doing well now, but it was a slop start and lots of experimentation on containers, soil, sun. Keynoter Contributor

You've heard the saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again." And believe me, I've tried.

I now have to acknowledge that my initial gardening success three years ago must have been beginners luck.

Three years ago I had more collard greens, broccoli and romaine lettuce than I knew what to do with. I was giving away heads of lettuce and there was only so much collards I could eat in a week. Two years ago, when the garden was moved to a more exposed location, the only thing that flourished were bell peppers. Of course, they all matured at the same time. Even after sharing with friends, I still had a healthy supply for several weeks.

Attempts to grow lettuce and Swiss chard that year were miserable.

Then I, or should I say, my husband and I, laboriously moved the vegetable garden, brick by brick, back to its location of 3 years ago - hoping for a repeat of that first year.

I also decided to try some alternative container gardening to supplement what I hoped would be a continuous supply of homegrown produce.

The results have been mixed. My brick-bordered, raised bed was very disappointing. I refreshed the growing medium with more bags of store-bought organic soil and cow manure plus homemade compost. The only crop flourishing are mustard greens, which taste great stir-fried.

The Swiss chard and broccoli were a bust. My tomato plants are dismal - only three tomatoes.

I decided to grow bell peppers in a container called a Grow Box. It was a gift and supposedly couldn't fail. It came with organic fertilizer, mulch cover and idiot-proof watering setup.

I set it up on our open porch, which gets afternoon sun, and in hindsight, maybe too much wind and salt spray. After much expense and attention to watering, I have yet to harvest one bell pepper. The plants are producing, but there will be a few weeks to go before I can harvest.

The most surprising results came from a box I found in someone's trash. Walking the dog one day I came across a wooden box 14 inches square and 9 inches deep set out for trash pickup. It had been used to ship wine, so it was pretty solid and in very good condition. Even though I had no idea what to do with it I carried it home.

A couple of months later I experimented with some mesclun assorted greens (aka baby greens) seeds. The packet from Home Depot cost $1.25. I filled the box with organic potting compost, scattered a pinch of seeds evenly across the top, lightly covered them with some compost and gently watered them.

I placed the box on the south side of the house away from winds. It took about two months, but finally I was able to harvest a good selection of baby greens like arugula, green curled endive and lettuce-lolla rosa, and they continue to sprout new leaves every week or so.

That was my least expensive container and I had low expectations for it, yet it has been my best producer.

Not one to back down easily, I will move the Grow Box next to the baby greens to coax the bell peppers until the summer heat kills them. And then, next season maybe I'll just look for some more boxes in the trash.