Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Gardening Survival of the Fittest!


This year I was feeling lazy with respect to gardening, so I didn't plant any seedlings indoors in February to prepare for my garden.

Then, when mid-May rolled around (time to plant stuff outside!), I was still feeling a little lazy. So -- aside from my usual ten tomato plants for the year -- I didn't buy any new plants.

Instead I thought it would be fun to play "survival of the fittest"!!

Basically, I decided to just plant all of my expired seeds -- without any regard for following the planting instructions -- and see who wins!

And I learned a number of interesting lessons that I will apply to next year's garden!

I'll go through them pot-by-pot, starting from the shady side of the garden. This balcony faces due west, so the shady side is to the south. As you can see from the photo above, the wall of the neighbor's apartment casts a shadow on the south side of the balcony whenever the sun appears to the south of us (which is most of the time).

Against the south wall, we have the mints. The mints have already won the "survival of the fittest" challenge years ago, so nothing new was added to that pot this round.

This pot is the only one of the long trough pots that I haven't ever dumped to chop up and rotate the dirt. I just planted some mint plants once, and they thrive every year. I just remove the old stalks, occasionally add some more dirt and fertilizer, and they're good to go.

I feel like I might need to change their dirt at some point or maybe add some worms since the soil must be really compacted by now. But the plants are still thriving, and I'm not planning any intervention until they show signs of distress.

The small pots in the foreground are various herbs (mostly perennials) that I've bought over the past few weeks.

The first pot in the row of pots was also excluded from the "survival of the fittest" experiment. This pot had been used for raspberries since the beginning of this garden.

My parents had a shady raspberry patch for the 25-or-so years that they owned their house in Edina (and it was probably there long before and after), so I decided to plant raspberries in this shady pot.

The raspberries were very successful for many years. I had a number of real bumper crops, and they reseeded themselves for years (they're biennials).

But the past few years they'd been doing increasingly poorly. I bought supplemental raspberry plants and added them to the pot for the past two years, but they all died out. This year, no new plants grew, and the ones from last year (that are supposed to grow the berries) were all dead.

I just left the pot alone in mid-May to see if anything would recover, but they didn't. I figured that probably this dirt is just done growing raspberries, and I'm kind of bored of them as well. So last week I dumped out the dirt and chopped it up and put it back to start over.

I looked up possible shade plants to put in this pot, and I hit upon "Alpine Strawberries". Since we're near the Alps, that seemed like a good, local choice. So I bought some strawberry plants that I think are Alpine strawberries (I didn't really check), and planted them in this pot. So far they are doing well.

I finished off the pot with basil and cilantro/coriander (purchased plants) because those also like shade.

My plans for this pot for next year: Fill it completely with Alpine strawberries.

The next pot was the first one to get random seeds.

In this one I planted seeds of tomatoes and parsley. And what came up?

Mostly weeds. There's one particular plant that is very aggressive and ugly and unuseful. I don't think it's a native plant, but either way, it's not welcome in my garden because it keeps crowding out all the other plants.

I waited until the plants had all grown a number of leaves to confirm that it wasn't the parsley before pulling up the weeds, and I think some of the plants I planted got off to a slow start due to competition with these weeds. But after weeding, the plants have been fairly successful. Here's what grew:

Of the five tall plants against the railing, three of them are tomatoes. This impressed me because these started from seeds on May 15th, and they're already growing flowers. They won't grow as many tomatoes as the tomato plants in the other pot, but we'll see some.

Additionally some parsley grew (I've never had a lot of luck with parsley), plus a lot of clover (not sure what to do with that), and a single stray basil plant. I later added two (purchased) hot-pepper plants (they're plants #1 and #4 from the left), and bunch of dill because there were some yellow swallowtail caterpillars in this pot. One of them is currently a pupa attached to the left side of this pot (not visible in the photo).

My plans for this pot for next year: I would like this pot to be my caterpillar sanctuary. So this pot will be full of parsley and dill. I'll try again to grow them from seeds. Plus I'll put a row of hot pepper plants (the caterpillars don't eat them, but the caterpillars do like the shade). But for the hot-pepper plants, I'll grow some from seedlings starting in February because the shops didn't have a good selection of hot-pepper plants this year.

In this pot, I planted lettuce and pumpkins and tomatoes. The lettuce came up immediately and drowned out everything else.

Two pumpkin plants have bravely poked up leaves in this sea of lettuce, but I don't have much hope for them. (I think you can't even see them in the picture.)

What I learned from this is the following: Don't try to plant any other seeds at the same time as lettuce. The lettuce will win. There were probably some of those weeds trying to grow in this pot, but the lettuce grew thick and fast and drowned almost everything else out.

The most surprising thing is that I've seen pots of this same lettuce for sale at the plant nursery. Considering how fast this stuff grows from seeds, I'm not sure why one would buy it already grown.

The other lesson I learned was to only grow one pot of lettuce. Even eating salads as often as we can, this pot is growing way more lettuce than we can possibly eat. I don't know if you can see from the picture, but we've already chopped bunches and bunches of the lettuce out to eat.

(Also note that there's a butterfly pupa on this pot as well. You can kind of see it in the photo -- it's the dark spot on the right-hand side near the bottom.)

My plans for this pot for next year: Plant all of the different varieties of lettuce seeds and let them duke it out amongst themselves.

On either side of the lettuce pot are my two apple trees. This year has been their worst year yet as they did not even begin to grow a single apple between the two of them. Usually they grow at least a few, and one time they grew enough to make an apple pie without any supplemental purchased apples.

I'm not sure what went wrong this year. They only grew a few flowers -- which were covered with ants -- and didn't produce any fruits.

Maybe I need to fertilize them more or add some worms to break up the soil in their pots. Maybe the marjoram that has decided to grow as a ground-cover in their pots is taking up resources...? Maybe I should poison the ants...?

Or maybe it's just a fluke and they'll be fine next year...?

Next we have my prized tomatoes! Growing beautifully as always! Covered with flowers and ripening tomatoes.

I bought these 10 plants from Migros. They had a good selection this year, so I actually got 6 different varieties.

I planted some basil seeds in the pots with them, but the basil hasn't done great. I think planting basil seeds in the pots with already-mature tomato plants blocked the basil's sunlight too much.

My plans for these pots for next year: Plant the basil seeds earlier so they have a bit of a head start. Plant tomato seedlings in February instead of buying the plants in May.

In this pot we have the star winner of the "survival of the fittest" challenge: the peas!

I had planted peas earlier (last year?) according to the instructions and got only one or two sad little pea stalks. So I intended to give up on peas. But I still had the rest of the packet of pea seeds, so I thought I'd give them another shot.

This time I dug a trench along the west side of the pot and just poured the whole packet of pea seeds in. And boy did they grow! And they're covered with pods of delicious, sweet peas! (I harvested them a few days ago, so you might get a wrong impression from the photo of how many peas there are.)

The peas were the only seeds that were able to hold their own against the lettuce seeds. They had a bit of an advantage since they had the whole row along the sunny side of the pot.

As you can see, I also planted lettuce in this pot -- a different kind than in the other pot -- but it also came in thick and fast!

The other plants you see pictured are ones that I purchased and added later. The one with a little vine growing along the ground is a plant of mini-cucumbers and the one with the larger leaves is some kind of round, yellow zucchini. They're both making some progress towards growing some fruits. (or vegetables, I guess...? But I think that botanically it's the fruit of the plant...?)

I wanted to grow some ground-vine plants in the two northern-most pots because I had good luck with that strategy last year, growing some melons. There's more room and more sun in that part of the balcony, so one way to take advantage of it is to grow plants that will grow vines along the floor of the balcony.

The yellow zucchinis are not making any such vines, so I'll probably skip them for next year. We'll see how the mini-cucumbers do.

My plans for this pot for next year: Peas again!! Plus I'll grow some melon plants from seeds in February since I couldn't find any melon plants for purchase this year. Maybe also mini-cucumbers, depending on how they do.

Then, as a ground-cover for the rest of the pot, maybe some annual herbs like cilantro and basil.

The last pot is the pot that had the most adventures.

I filled it with seeds of dill and hot-pepper plants. The problem is that I didn't know what the hot-pepper plants were supposed to look like when they're small, so a whole field of this one week grew thick and fast -- and I assumed it was the peppers, so I let it grow.

This weed is very similar to the weed in the other pot (identical tiny flowers), but it has a different leaf configuration than the other one, so I didn't recognize it until the mass of weeds was practically a bush. (I later also planted the same cucumber and zucchini plants in this pot as in the adjacent pot.)

So I had a bush of this weed battling it out with some brave dill. Then a yellow swallowtail butterfly (at least one) spotted the dill and decided that it was a good place to lay her eggs. At least 5 eggs were laid (one of them was probably laid in another pot).

The caterpillars hatched and made short work of the dill. I recognized them as butterfly caterpillars (we'd caught one on our dill a few years ago and brought it in), so I bought a butterfly/caterpillar cage and another pot of dill to put in the cage and brought three caterpillars inside.

While the three caterpillars in the cage were busy eating and sleeping and digesting and pooping and growing, etc., I noticed there were two more caterpillars still outside. I decided to just leave those two outside and see what happens. (They both successfully transformed into pupae, as mentioned above -- the first three are currently pupae in the cage on my shelf.)

Anyway, around this same time, I wised up and figured out that the bushy plants weren't hot-chili plants, and were, in fact, a variety of the same weed that had been choking out my parsley in the other pot. So I yanked them all out. There were two tiny hot-pepper plants, but I don't think they'll grow big enough to grow any chilis this year.

Once I noticed the remaining caterpillar, I planted another few pots of dill in the pot for it, but without the weeds, the pot was too sunny. So the caterpillar made a long trek along the edge of the balcony and joined its sibling in the second pot from the end. (These two became the outdoor pupae.)

Since I was at the plant store, I also bought a pot plant out of curiosity and planted it in the right-hand corner. Now I'm regretting it a bit, though, because I have a strict policy against planting perennials (other than mints) in these long trough planters because it's a huge pain to dig them out if they get big and don't work out. I think I will dig this plant back out while it's still small and plant it in an individual pot. I think I'll need to buy a new pot for it.

My plans for this pot for next year: Along the west side, I'll probably grow either peas or hot peppers or maybe something else. I'll probably fill it with ground vines and some small herbal ground-cover plant like the adjacent pot.

In conclusion: my early-year laziness inspired an experiment that was interesting enough to re-energize my interest in my garden! I'm looking forward to some beautiful fruits, vegetables, herbs, and butterflies this year and next!!