Garden Dreams: Part 2

We finally have a vegetable garden!  My husband built a raised bed, 4 feet by 10 feet with 1 foot squares laid out for a high density garden.  I was so excited to get started that I started with seeds from the local hardware store, even though the packets looked far less than optimal.  I figured while we waited for our shipment of heirloom and organic seeds I would see what happened with these typhoon-damaged seed packets.  We put about 6 inches of potting soil mixed with perlite over the ground in the raised bed, so I felt we were many steps ahead of where we were in Minnesota, as far as weeds go.  I did some research on high density gardening to determine how many seeds of each type of vegetable to put in each 1-foot square, as well as which plants were “friends” and which not so friendly, to determine how to arrange the bed.  Then, it was time to wait and reap the harvest.  Within a few days, tiny shoots were coming up. Spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans.  It was so exciting.  I love to watch plants start to grow.  I felt like I was back in my first apartment in New York City, checking on the little seedlings multiple times a day, noting any changes in size or appearance.  The tomatoes grew tall and lush, eventually needing the wire cage to support them.  The cucumbers and beans also took off, quickly needing trellises to keep them growing up.  All was looking good…until one day.  I didn’t know what happened, whether it was too much water, not enough water, too much sun, too much heat, but one day the cucumbers started to have a yellowish look to their leaves.  Same with the beans and the cantaloupe.  The tomatoes still looked healthy, but all the flowers weren’t turning into fruit and were dropping to the ground instead.  Considering we were living in the tropics, we were concerned that it was getting to hot.  So my husband got a gardening sun shade and built a stand to bring shade during the hot, direct afternoon sun and installed a water soaker system to give water during the day instead of relying on me to run out each morning in the midst of the typical morning hectic-ness to water enough to last entire hot day.  But the leaves continued to turn yellow and brown and, one-by-one, the beautiful green seedlings wasted away.  The only plants that remained were three small lettuce plants and three tomato plants.  The tomato plants were clearly struggling, as their lower limbs browned and fell to the ground and they continued to not produce fruit.  We adjusted the amount of water and shade.  More one week, less the next.  We tried planting more seeds, but with even less luck than the first round.  We consulted with friends who were familiar with growing plants in the tropics, but no one had any answers.  The internet gave clues and suggestions, but none resulted in green, healthy plants.  One day, a friend sent me a message about a soil pH and nutrient tester at the local hardware store and I suddenly remembered that we had brought one with us from Arizona.  It was absolutely worth a try, though I had never attempted to correct soil before.  When I opened up the package, I found that two of the four capsules were damaged by the humidity, but thankfully the pH tester was one that was ok.  I measured out the soil to distilled water ratio.  Added the drops.  Waited.  Checked.  8.5+!  Well, we it seemed we had finally figured out why nothing was growing.  Most vegetable plants prefer 6.5 to 7.0 pH and here we were off the charts.  It seemed like such an obvious answer, but surprising since we had filled the garden with brand new potting soil.  In our newness to gardening, we had just assumed that this soil would be the perfect blend of everything needed to grow perfect plants.  Turns out this assumption was wrong.  Since we wanted to grow an organic and sustainable garden, we researched options for lowering the pH that would fall within these guidelines.  We started with slowly adding bone meal and an organic soil acidifier and organic vegetable fertilizer with a 4-7-2 nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium ratio.  We even added a cooled pitcher of coffee and sprinkled the ground with coffee grounds.  The soil pH slowly lowered to 8.0, 7.5, and, finally, 7.0!    Now it was time for the test.  Had we solved our gardening problem?  One way to find out…time to plant new seeds.  I placed each seed in the ground based on recommended depth and number of plants per square.  Watered the garden thoroughly. And waited.  Each day, morning and afternoon, I checked my garden.  Slowly, little green plants started to appear!  By the end of the following week we had plants growing in each one-foot square.  And that is where we are today, standing in front of a garden filled with tiny seedlings, hoping that these continue to grow and, eventually, produce delicious vegetables.  We’ll have to wait and see…

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