Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Experimental Gardner

If you've been a long time reader & friend of mine, then you probably know that I am the Grim Reaper of plants. All the plants I've tried to care for inevitably die. I have no plant growing skills at all. Which might be surprising, given that I grew up on a farm.

And while I did my part in sowing seeds & planting; crop maintenance & care; harvesting & selling the crops, my talents laid elsewhere. I was much better at tending to the livestock. Feeding, watering, cleaning, caring for, & eventually, slaughtering the animals were my most proficient skills on the farm. I became better at these skills than anyone else as I grew older & my responsibilities expanded.

I also had one more talent. I was a plant killer. While everyone else had a green thumb, able to grow many types of plants, I brought death to all plants. Mom used to say that we all had different gifts, & we each had a role to play. My plant killing skills were put to good use, to effectively & efficiently wipe out the weeds & invasive species from our fields & farm. This was my role, to annihilate & obliterate plants that were marked for destruction. And I was/am exceedingly excellent at it.

But that doesn't mean I don't try to help the occasional plant now & then. Though, the truth is, most plants that I try to help eventually die. I killed five cacti, three aloe plants, & a houseplant in one month. The cacti & aloes, I later learned, drowned from daily watering. No one told me how to care for desert plants. The houseplant, I followed the care instructions meticulously, but it died after a week. Most plants do well if I just leave them be, ignore & neglect them, & they thrive! But sometimes, circumstances force me to act.

Long time readers may remember Blossom, the onion that I found blooming in the veggie bin in the fridge! Yes, the onion was actually growing in the fridge! I had to take it out. I nursed it for two weeks in a pot on the windowsill, where it grew even more. But I made the fateful decision to plant Blossom out in the front yard to get more sunshine. After three days of thriving in the yard, I went out that fourth morning to find that some vicious critter had dug up & eaten most of poor Blossom! Poor Blossom never recovered & died, & I vowed vengeance upon the critter who murdered Blossom!

I never did find out which critter killed poor Blossom, but later on that week, I came home after a late moonlight stroll & found a possum in the same spot where Blossom died. At first, the creature just pretended to be dead. But as I moved a bit closer, it actually scrambled away, only to have an owl swoop down from the darkness, surprising me as it grabbed that possum & disappeared into the black night from whence it came.

Circle of life. Eat or be eaten. Life & death, the eternal cycle. I didn't know if this critter was responsible for killing Blossom, but I did feel pity for it, even if I knew that this was nature. And like it or not, I killed living things, too, & I ate them to survive. I knew that & accepted that I am an omnivore, & I do consume life to maintain my own. And when I pass on, other creatures will consume me to ensure their lives.

But Blossom's death bothered me, because I really did think that maybe I could grow plants, that I could bring life to plants instead of just razing & slaying them. The Blossom experience put me off from trying to grow anymore plants. And for years, I've been satisfied with that. I gave no more thoughts to trying to grow plants. No more thoughts until last month that is.

I was cleaning out the bottom kitchen cabinets when what should I find but two sweet potatoes germinating in the dark! These were two leftover sweet potatoes from a sack I bought just after Christmas! I thought that I had used all the sweet potatoes, & I had thrown away the empty sack months ago, back in January. But these two sweet potatoes managed to roll to the back of the cabinet & started growing.

Once again, circumstances made me act. One of the sweet potatoes was kind of shriveling, smaller than the other. It needed to be planted to survive. But I didn't have any potting soil, much less experience growing sweet potatoes. Regular potatoes, yes when I was back on the farm. But I've never grown sweet potatoes before. And I wasn't sure the soil & weather conditions were right for growing sweet potatoes in my region.

But as it just so happened, it was very windy & stormy that week. I found two empty five gallon buckets. One had been blown into the back yard. The other I found on the side of the road during a night stroll. But the most surprising find was a bag of mulch that I found on the sidewalk corner during a morning dawn jog.

It seemed to have fallen off the back of a truck during the previous night. And it was heavy from the soaking it got from the rain that night. But it felt wasteful to leave the bag of mulch crumpled on the sidewalk corner, so I stopped running, bent down, & hauled that heavy bag of mulch back home in the dark dawn. The next day, I found those two sweet potato spuds barely hanging on to life.

It was as if the universe was sending me a sign. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could plant the sweet potatoes in the buckets & use mulch instead of soil. There were a few internet sites that reported success growing regular potatoes in mulch. But none had ever grown sweet potatoes in a mulch container. But I was curious & figured, what the hell? Why not experiment? Conventional gardening methods have always failed me.

So I cleaned those containers, poked a nail hole in the bottom, filled the containers with wet mulch, then planted a sweet potato in each container. I made sure to water the containers every other day, being mindful not to water too much, as is my nature. I wasn't sure if it was going to work, but I had to give it a shot.

One month later, I can report that the smaller sweet potato died. But the other sweet potato actually grew!

There were some more shoots growing out of the spuds, but I didn't separate them. I should've though, because it would seem the biggest shoot drew all the nutrients from the spud, killing off the smaller shoots. Next time, if I'm successful, I'll separate the shoots to give them a better chance at surviving.

I have to say that I'm pretty happy that the experiment is progressing well so far. Sure, the other spud died, but it would've died anyway without my intervention. The fact that the other one is still alive & growing makes me happy & hopeful that it will survive & thrive.

I'd also like to add that the container with the dead sweet potato did not go to waste. In fact, last week, I was about to throw out an empty pinto beans sack, when I realized that there were some dried beans left in the sack. There were five to be exact. I wasn't sure what to do, as some sites on the internet said to soak them overnight before planting. But I decided to experiment. Two beans I soaked overnight & planted. Nothing happened. Three of the dried ones I planted then watered. I spent a week watering every other day. The result? One actually germinated & grew ridiculously fast & tall within a week!

See that long, dried, shriveled brown debris in the middle of the container? That is the sweet potato that died. Follow a diagonal line from the bottom of the dead sweet potato down to the bottom left. See that oval dark maroon brown pebble? That's actually a bean that failed to grow.

I was impressed that the living bean grew out of its cover so fast. See the covering still attached to the top? That cover fell off into the mulch & new leaves just blossom the next day. Pretty impressive!

Honestly, I didn't expect anything to grow, much less live this long under my care. But what a surprise! I shall be keeping tabs on the sweet potato & bean & report on their progress. I'm going to call the sweet potato Chip, & the bean will be named LL. I must remind myself not to over water them, & embrace that if I leave them be, they'll be fine. Here's to hoping it all turns out well! Wish me luck on growing Sweet Potato Chip & LL Bean! I love being an experimental gardener!

Related Links
Blooming Onion
The Experimental Gardner: Challenges


  1. Oh gods! I do wish Chip and LL luck as they're in your care!

    Seriously though, your tendency to over water shouldn't be a problem, as the mulch looks pretty free-draining, so hopefully, those plants will thrive. I shall keep my fingers crossed anyway, though.

    P.S. I keep meaning to try sweet potato, and now that I've seen those beautiful leaves, I'm going to buy a pack and grow them in mulch, just like you!

    1. IDV, we're going to need all the luck we can get to ensure Chip & LL survive! I've cut my watering to every three days, but the soil still seems moist, so I'm going to a weekly watering schedule since I've learned the sweet potatoes & pinto beans prefer dry environments. I'll water when needed, when the mulch gets really dry.

      I was surprised too that the sweet potato is doing well in a mulch container. This past weekend, my friend's aunt told me she's successfully grown regular potatoes in mulch! She didn't see why sweet potatoes couldn't do the same. Also, she grows sweet potato vines using glass jars & bowls 1/3 filled with water that is changed weekly, because she loves the look of the leaves & vines indoors!

  2. I am also a plant killer.... my poor plants have long lingering deaths and then keel over.
    I wish you all the very best with Chip and LL!!

    1. Thanks for the well wishes,Scarlet! So far, Chip & LL are still alive & growing new leaves. The hardest thing has been restraining myself from watering everyday like I want to. I water weekly as the plants need it, when the mulch is dry. So far, no drowned plants!

  3. I tried being a gardner even had some yummy tomatoes once but the bugs - darn bugs infested the zucchini and no matter the measures I took they were relentless - I gave up and changed the garden space into a flower bed haha - you obviously have the green thumb I lack!

    1. Saimi, Thanks for the compliment & welcome! I'm trying hard to be a green thumb, as I've no talent for it whatsoever! But so far, the experiment is going well. Sorry about the pests destroying your crops. As someone who grew up on a farm, I can totally sympathize with the fears & frustration of keeping crops safe from pests, blights, bad weather, & so many other obstacles that make farming a daily, ever changing challenge. I hope your flowers are doing great.