Garden gambles

Even for the professional gardener, things don't always work out ...

by Laurie Cohen
espite having the best weather in the world right over my home here in coastal San Diego, and being an organic gardener for many years, I still have my share of problems growing certain things. Being a vegetable gardener, it's my goal to feed my family from my garden as much as possible. I have lots of room for all kinds of plants to grow, and I have very nice soil, thanks to my husband who turns in all the compost I can make. It's just that I don't always succeed in producing the bounty of my dreams.

For instance, I have good luck with growing tomatoes. But only if I remember to plant them after the cool and cloudy June mornings and afternoons give way to the warmer and sunnier weather. This year I believed it was going to be a hot, early summer. Subsequently, my earlier plantings didn't produce well and now, after they have started to lose some of their vitality, are blossoming again. These plants are obviously confused by the warm days and cool evenings. In return for what I consider climate perfection, some tomatoes form incorrectly, stay small and sometimes don't ripen well.

While the rest of the country tries to emerge from constant floods and rain, here in Southern California we don't see rain clouds for ten months out of every year. All of my vegetables have to be irrigated and even with years of experience I sometimes can't get it right. A plant that looks healthy and vibrant early in the morning can be close to death eight hours later on a hot day. Different plants have different water needs and no sooner do I give everything a deep drink do I have to do it all over again in a different area.

Being organic means I don't get the opportunity to stir some blue crystals into water and have perfect fertilizer for all my plants. My soil requires constant attention. If I'm not planting a vegetable crop, then I am either adding organic material to my soil, sowing seeds of cover crops then turning them into the soil weeks later to enrich it, or mulching, fertilizing and watering. I'm unable to tell what each individual plant's needs are after I plant them, so inevitably some do better than others. Zucchini squash planted in two separate areas can grow quite differently for me. I can spend forever trying to figure out why.

In some sense gardening is similar to gambling. It's an initial investment waiting for a big return. Sometimes it pays off rather poorly and your plants don't produce the desired fruit or flower. But more often than not your garden will return to you a beautiful, tasty and nutritious addition to your next salad or meal, and you will feel the pride of serving home-grown food to yourself and family.

If you want to learn more about organic gardening or join a great group of gardeners, join the Clairemont Organic Gardening Club. Anyone can join and there is never a membership charge or fee. We meet on the last Saturday afternoon of every month. Call Laurie Cohen for details at (619) 270-1490