Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Spring Crap. Crop. Whatever.

 It's Spring, and that means I'm a-plantin' again.

I wish I had a pitchfork.

Since I've lived here at Apartmente Baudelaire, I've made several attempts at balcony gardening. I had great success with beans.

Still maybe my favorite graphic that I've made 
for this blog ever.

But then last year I got ambitious and decided to grow peppers. This started out well...

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions
 and Hot Salsa Blend.

...but ended up an utter failure. Which turned out to be such an apt metaphor for the entirety of 2020 that I can't even be mad. 

So now it's 2021, and I thought, what the hell, let's take that giant leap of faith again. After all, life in general is feeling more hopeful, I've gotten my first Covid shot (I'm what's known as half-vaxxed, and rightfully so), and I've got two empty planters full of dirt sitting on my balcony looking kind of silly.

It was time to get growing.

Aside: I feel as if this post has the potential to become uncomfortably folksy and filled with mom-puns. I'm going to do my best to curb those inclinations, but no promises. When I'm talking about the loamy soil of the Earth and the simple joys of suburban cultivation, my writin' can't hardly help but reflect upon my soul's gleanings and -

See, right there. Stop that nonsense right now.


I agonized over what to plant. Beans were done. Peppers were right out. Tomatoes are perfect container plants, but I don't like tomatoes except in marinara and ketchup, and there are only so many evenings and weekends I can see myself devoting to making homemade batches of either. Like, one. One batch of (admittedly awesome) spaghetti sauce, maybe a pot of BBQ sauce, and then I'm the crazy lady who brings a bushel basket of unused tomatoes to the office and sets them out in the breakroom with a sign reading "Free to a Good Home!" 

I got enough problems without being that lady.

I'll spare you the litany of rejected fruits and vegetables, but ultimately I settled on spinach as my 2021 crop. I love spinach. I'll put spinach in almost anything. It's healthy as fuck. It doesn't have to be harvested regularly. And it has the distinct advantage of being literally just leaves. Basically, if it grows at all, I've succeeded.

Also, it might turn my biceps into TNT,
which is always a bonus.

Back in March, I started my spinach journey by germinating some seeds in wet paper towels, as one does. This went well, although I didn't document the process with photos because I didn't want to jinx it again. Also, I kind of forgot to take pictures until they had actually started sprouting. 

This year, I decided to add an interim step to help ensure the success of my fledgling leafy greens (which would be a great name for an EP by some indie group from Austin, by the way). Once I had a couple dozen well-established sprouts - with roots at one end and a tiny leaf or two at the other - I put them in dirt in individual flats. I improvised the flats using an ice cube tray.

That is a stock photo, because a) I didn't document any of this with photos and b) my sprouts weren't nearly this successful. The plain truth is, most of my spinach sproutlings died almost immediately in this medium. I don't know why, but I think any reasonable explanation would include the word "cursed."

At this point I became a little desperate, a little pissed off, and a little pig-headed determined not to fail. When Steve Jobs got to feeling this way after hitting roadblocks to his dreams, he created Apple. Spoiler alert: My story has a dissimilar outcome. 

I quickly transferred the remaining plantitos, along with a few more that I had kept in wet paper towels for just such a contingency, into one of my outside planters. Where the majority proceeded to die almost immediately.

OK, so at this point I was beginning to feel like a serial killer. I was filled with remorse for the senseless destruction of life I had wrought, yet compelled to keep going to try to achieve some elusive meaningful results from my actions. I was the Jeffrey Dahmer of spinach. Netflix could have made a third season of "Mindhunter" about my efforts.

Maybe not. But RIP Mindhunter. Great show.

I took such good care of my few remaining spinach sprouts. I watered them, I turned the planter to make sure all the soil was getting even sun, I checked on them every morning before I went to work and every evening when I got home. After a week or so I had a few little plants that were struggling but surviving, and one or two that seemed hardy enough to actually go the distance and become viable members of vegetable society. It seemed my diligence would finally pay off and my spinach plants would become a fitting metaphor for hope and recovery in 2021.

And one day I came home to discover that a goddamn bird had dug them up and eaten them.

That day I came very close to discovering the sound made by a 12.5-gallon planter filled with dirt landing on the ground after being chucked off a fourth-floor balcony.

This metaphor was going badly. But like a raccoon scaling the side of a Minnesota skyscraper (remember that?), I persisted. I bought another batch of seeds. This time, I applied all my gained knowledge and experience in horticulture to arrive at a new strategy: Fuck it, I'm going to bury them in the dirt and see what happens.

I'm pretty sure this is how George Washington Carver achieved his greatest successes with the peanut.

That's next-level gene splicing right there.

If this radical planting strategy was going to bear fruit (or spinach), I figured I had about a week before tender green shoots began to poke their way through the soil. In that time I had to find a way to protect them from predatory beaks, because FAILURE WAS NOT AN OPTION, PEOPLE.

I needed some sort of mesh covering that would allow sun and rain to reach my plants but shield them from dumb-ass hungry birds. It had to be weather-resistant, easy to remove and replace (for plant maintenance), and it had to fit snugly over my planter. In short, I had more stringent requirements in place to protect my spinach sprouts than I ever did when I chose my ex-spouse. Live and learn.

Drummer Boy did some independent research and said he'd found something that might work at Hobby Lobby. Don't get me started on the fact that Hobby Lobby is a shit company with terrible owners and harmful policies. I still shop there on occasion. Because free-market capitalism is a dealer with the good shit and we all go back for a fix from time to time.

Anyway. DB brought over his find, which I thought was going to be some sort of container-gardening apparatus made of wire and mesh. Which for my purposes it was? But it was actually one of these.

Yep, one of those little pop-up tents that you put over Aunt Wendy's potato salad at the family picnic so the ants don't get at it (and presumably die of food poisoning because potato salad is toxic to all living things). With a cunning umbrella-style mechanism to lock it into the open position. Oh, and a darling lace border, because we're not savages.

Drummer Boy is the best, you guys. 

This little gizmo is a goddam miracle. It happens to be exactly the right size to fit snugly over the sides of my planter, and wedging the edges between the walls of the planter and the corner of my balcony makes it secure enough to stay put. Until one of our Texas spring storms comes along, but a whole-ass car can get taken out by one of those, let alone a three-dollar Hobby Lobby find. It's an acceptable risk.

I currently have three or four teeny-tiny spinach shoots that have appeared over the last couple of days, with more hopefully on the way. And they're safe from the goddamn birds that love to visit my balcony to preen, shit, fuck, and eat my precious baby plants. At least I hope they are.

If they survive past infancy, I'll post pictures. And maybe build a shrine to Popeye, the patron saint of spinach. I'll post pictures of that, too.

Wish me luck.

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