Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Learning to Garden

It seems sad that after all these years, I am still learning to garden.  I feel like I barely know square one, in spite of poring over many gardening books, website, forums, and trying things out on my own. 

One reason is that I have a really weird climate - not really Zone 11 and not really Zone 10.  Most of the gardening books out there are for more temperate climes, and those few specifically written for Hawaii are fairly thin and uninformative - and more for the more typical lowland, firmly in zone 11, Hawaii. 

To some extent the weird climate I live in is kind of cool - I can sort of grow things that don't generally grow in Hawaii at all - like, maybe, apples, and possibly low-chill varieties of blueberries, peaches, things like that - not that I have done so, but the neighbor has a little apple tree that sometimes has fruit.  Cabbages grow like gangbusters here, that's for sure - and collards are basically perennial.  The one accidental brussels sprout that I grew (somehow the seed got mixed in with some head cabbage, I guess) grew to 6 feet tall and produced sprouts for over a year. 

But, that's the thing - most of what I grow is semi-accidental.  I put seeds in at what I guess is the right time and have varying success and the next year, it doesn't quite work the same, mostly because our rain seems to vary from about 180 inches in a year to 220.  Lots of times my seeds drown, or wash away to pop up in a different area and months after I planted them - long after their stated germination. 

It gets frustrating, sometimes, in my quest for self-sufficiency.  That's why the greenhouse is so tempting - a huge greenhouse - maybe two! - because I can control the water.  However, I am stubborn and determined to learn to "really garden".  I know I can't grow tomatoes or peppers outside - it is simply too wet, but everything else seems up for grabs. 

Some of the other questions I have are about how much to plant, how much to plan for in this quest for vegetable self-sufficiency.  I figured out, looking at canning cookbooks, that based our current use of paste and sauce and my husband's love for tomato juice we need about 500 lbs of tomatoes every year to eat fresh and to process and preserve.  I don't need all 500 lbs at once, I can grow tomatoes about three times a year if I am on it, but how many plants is that - in my climate?  I have never tried determinate tomatoes, that's probably what I need for the saucy end of things. 

The best mix for me would be both a big greenhouse and the current small and a couple of different outside growing spots.  I would like to learn - really internalize - how long various vegetables take until harvest, space needs, what I can layer and what grows together well, and when, for my weird individual climate grows best when.  I'd like to know how much of a plant is too much for my family - four eggplants was too much eggplant, for example. 

And I want to learn it before I die. 


Unknown said...

Is your cooperative extension any help?

NancyDe said...

They actually have a great website and Master Gardeners that answer emails - but I see that as more of a starting point, a dent in my ignorance. I need an almanac for my particular rain-forest volcanic clay micro-climate! I think I want someone to say - plant this now, and then this, and - oh, I want to do this all chemical free. I never feel like I am more than puttering - although I do eat quite a lot that I have grown myself...