It Came From Outside: lessons from novice gardening

imagine, if you will, a classic 50's horror flick soundtrack with some woozily needling theraminLesson 1: If you leave a tiny, innocent-looking baby zucchini alone for a day or two, it turns into a giant, bitter, watery monster. The penguin is there for the crazed expression,not for scale. The wine bottle is for scale:

a 750 ml bottle, not a split, I swear

I think, salted and drained, it might make its way into some bread or soup, or both? I thought about asking my advisor if I could take a picture of it with his baby (again, for scale) and then thought perhaps I could offer the squash as a trade for the photo op, but as Brian pointed out, that much squash is a burden, not a gift or a valuable commodity to be traded.

Too bad I missed "Sneak Some Squash Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night".

Another illustration of its might and girth:

depth sort of unclear--the squash is bigger than the CD at the fat end

Lesson 2: If you wish to harvest your squash blossoms, perhaps under the mistaken impression that you can prevent the inevitable glut of giant bitter watery monster squash even a single plant will produce if you’re not vigilant, try to pluck them when the flowers are open. Fortunately, I was too busy trying to corral the bee that flew out of one into the kitchen window to worry much about the spider that was crawling out of another one. The spider was gone by the time I got the bee taken care of and the remaining two only contained innocuous-seeming little beetles, but it was still a hectic few minutes. And the goat cheese-filled, tempura-battered result was good, but not quite good enough to inspire me to try it again.

Lesson 3: Cilantro is the herb equivalent of that one girl in high school who couldn’t wait to have babies and doesn’t seem to have any other ambitions, which might be more media cliche than real-life personality type, but either way is an easy target since working outside the home has become so conflated with women’s "liberation" and gender equality that some people have actually hailed the disproportionately high job loss men have experienced in the current recession as a victory for feminism. I’m sure the Institute for Women’s Policy Research president’s quote, "It was a long historical slog to get to this point," was completely taken out of context, but the really insane thing is that I’m sure the journalist isn’t the only one to think this can be construed as progress for women. As if being a primary breadwinner because your male co-breadwinner is out of work is every little girl’s dream. Anyhow, what was I saying? Oh, cilantro goes to seed faster than anything else I’ve ever planted, and then it just dies. Fortunately, I do use coriander seed in curries and such, and I get a vague kick out of having my spice jar filled with "home grown coriander," but if you’re not part of the doomed 15% of the population who think it tastes like soap and you relish the thought of having cilantro leaves to complement the great tomato glut of August, you should plant a second bunch after the first stuff comes up.

But I did discover something lovely about the seeds: they crackle like Rice Krispies if you get them wet

Lesson 4: Mulch is fantastic, and scattering it around your plants once they’ve come up is a great way of preventing weeds from growing (apparently lawn clippings also work). However, it also seems to attract ants when left in a semi-moist bag against the side of the house. Probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. Fortunately, there is a solution: if you pump the half-full bag of ant-mulch full of water and then leave it in the sun for a day or so, the ants either die or go elsewhere and the mulch becomes much more pleasant to use again.

BLT-bound Lesson 5: Heirloom tomatoes are pretty and delicious, but they just don’t seem to produce as much fruit as the standard varieties. "Mr. Stripey" only yielded three tomatoes this year, and just seemed to struggle all summer despite being fertilized and kept in a self-watering planter. Ditto for the "Mortgage Lifter," and I think I’ve gotten four or five plum-sized "Green Zebra" tomatoes off that plant. Compared to pints and pints of unbelievably sweet cherry tomatoes on the non-heirloom sungold plants and perhaps as many as a dozen beefsteak tomatoes, with many more green ones still to ripen. Like so many heirloom things, they must need special care or simply not be designed for everyday tomato needs.

Lesson 6: Baby cucumber plants are apparently the very most delicious thing I grew to whatever eats the plants in my garden, probably rabbits. No doubt eager to dispel years of speciesist stereotypes, they avoid the carrots entirely and chewed every cucumber seedling I managed to grow down to a tiny leafless nub. I had even scattered used kitty litter around, which is supposed to be a rabbit repellent. So it seems like if cucumbers are on the planting agenda, it might be best to cover them with chicken wire until they’re no longer quite as tender and sweet.

And finally, a few more monster zucchini pictures and a tiny Dr. Seuss tribute:

 in a hat! with a cat!