EARTH EDUCATION: Friends and changes of plan

McClatchy InteractiveJune 2, 2008 

A couple of my friends came to visit this weekend. I've known Leslie since the first few days of our freshman year at college, and she met her husband Matt that same year, so we've all known each other for quite a long time. They're living in Richmond now with their two little boys, and Leslie put in a garden this year too. She's the one who suggested planting radishes when my peas and carrots failed. We spent some time in my little garden; Matt pulled up a big stubborn root, and their three-year-old proved to be an adept and helpful weeder. Leslie also tipped me off about pinching the "suckers" from my tomato plants so they can put more effort into tomato growing.

On Saturday we all went to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, which is only a few minutes from my house, and we walked around looking at all the different plants that are native to different areas of the state. Leslie is far more botanically-minded than I am, and she identified a lot of plants without having to look at their ID cards. She got me thinking that I'd like to learn more about plants, specifically the plants I pass by every day without giving them a thought. There are probably hundreds of them just in my neighborhood.

Today's priority was the raspberries. I'd been waiting for the acid levels to rise in the patch of ground I cleared, but the plants have been suffering and they needed to go in the ground. So I turned on my book on tape and started digging a hole. Now, everything I've read says that raspberries do best in well-drained soil and full sun. Sun is not a problem in this patch. When I dug a few inches down, however, I hit clay. I've encountered chunks of clay digging in the main bed, but this was solid clay for inches and inches, and after awhile I had to stop digging and think of a new plan. This soil would not be hospitable to plants that need effective drainage.

So on to plan B. I ended up planting them in the corners of the main bed. I had been planning to put in two rows of vegetable seeds, but the tomatoes have gotten so big, that's really not practical. Now the two raspberry bushes are in the corners by the stone border, and maybe I'll put in one or two more in the middle. It's not as sunny as the other spot, which concerns me a bit, but the soil should be a better match. We'll have to see how they grow. It's not the best of all worlds, but they were really starting to languish in their pots and they needed to get into the ground. Even if the ground they're in isn't perfect.

Speaking of the tomatoes, I need to get bigger stakes. The two-foot stakes that were perfect on May 19 are now about a foot too short. I'm a little concerned that they're shooting up like that; if they're putting all that effort into growing taller, does that mean they're not growing as many actual tomatoes? I haven't added fertilizer around them, largely for that reason, although it seems like they'd need nitrogen as much as the rest of the bed.

And finally, I cooked with something from my garden for the first time this weekend. I bought salmon for dinner on Friday night, but I wasn't really sure what to do with it. I ended up making a rub out of olive oil, garlic, salt, and fresh dill, then cooking the fish on the grill. It turned out really well. I am very glad the dill didn't die.

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