Adventures in Raising Your Own Dog Food

Sorry, there’s no pictures of baby farm animals. I wish I could say I had a flock of ducks or sheep to show you, but sadly I’m talking about raising plants. Firstly, if you’re squeamish about bugs then growing your own vegetables will go one of two ways: You’ll either lose your entire crop to pests, or you’ll overcome your fear and go on a bug destroying rampage.

Last year I dipped my toes into gardening, but aside from a very productive indoor jalapa pepper and a 9-foot tall tomato vine(that I got maybe two edible tomatoes out of) it was a complete wash. My thyme and strawberry both sprouted up as weird, demonic fern-things that did not remotely resemble the plants they were supposed to be and that would stab you with furry needles if you accidentally brushed against them. I still have no idea what was actually in the seed packets I bought that year. I ended up giving up on everything but the jalapa, which we saved indoors and brought with us when we moved to the barnhouse. Despite losing all it’s leaves and a few branches, it survived the winter and sprouted quite a few peppers. Jalapas are like jalapenos, which is actually what I thought I was buying, but are smaller and hotter. While my jalapa plant is of questionable heritage, I decided not to replace it with a proper jalapeno that came with a GMO-free guarantee purely because it’s the first plant my boyfriend and I bought when we moved in together and I’m a sentimental sap. I nearly killed it again this spring when I put it outside right before an unexpected cold snap. I’ll likely plant a proper hot pepper outside next year and the jalapa can live a cushy indoor life as a decorative houseplant in the loft. When they’re not half dead pepper plants are actually very nice looking.

Pepper

This year I had planned to start a large outdoor garden, but I wasn’t able to set up a space in time for planting and had to settle for a deck garden again. Every little bit helps though, and if you only have time and space to grow 1/10th of your food it’s better than nothing. I’m raising (with questionable success) two determinate tomatoes, a bush bean, a red bell pepper, garlic chives, thyme, and calendula with plans to add some cooler weather plants for fall and winter. Right now I have three little pea plants. There are a variety of reasons I’m raising plants, but Suki’s needs played an especially important role in starting the garden. The vegetables are of course for her (and the humans) to eat to increase food quality while decreasing food costs, the chives were an attempt to deter aphids (apparently they dislike the smell), and the thyme and calendula are because she loves to sit and smell fragrant flowers. Yes, I plant flowers just so my dog can smell them… She’s especially fond of thyme. Thyme is also a great natural alternative to over the counter antibiotic ointments.

PlantSniffer

As much luck as I had with hot peppers, my experience with sweet bell peppers has been the exact opposite. Shortly after the little plant sprouted blossoms hundreds of aphids descended on it, causing the flowers to shrivel and fall off. I attacked the problem with soapy water, spraying everything and meticulously wiping down each and every leaf only to have them set up shop again. I’ve learned the hard way why bell peppers are on the “dirty dozen” list of pesticide loaded fruits and veg, and why organic bells are so expensive. Just as I was near my breaking point, ready to give up and bring out the chemical warfare, a ladybug moved in. For those of you unfamiliar with gardening (or that have better luck than I do), there is very little more satisfying than watching a ladybug chow down on your garden’s aphid infestation after weeks of losing the battle with the green devils. The tiny pests were running in terror, climbing the support pole, and jumping ship. At this point any shred of sympathy I might have had for them was gone, replaced by pure malicious glee. Clearly gardening turns you into a heartless monster. I wasn’t able to get my own video, but here’s one from Youtube.

Then she flew away, and I watched in horror as the aphids returned to suck all the life out of my bell pepper like the plant vampires that they are. The silver lining is that the ladybug left me a present in the form of ladybug eggs! I’ve been able to watch the various stages of ladybug life develop on this plant, and it’s been so cool. It has also reaffirmed my distaste for insecticide sprays. Had I sprayed the plant the ladybug would probably have died along with the aphids, or simply not visited the plant at all, and I wouldn’t get to witness nature at work.

LadybugLarvae

Since the ladybug came to visit my pepper plant has grown strong enough to sprout around a dozen bell peppers. The plant smells wonderful, and I’m eagerly anticipating the first signs of red on the peppers.

Bells

The bean plant is… Successful? Something has been chowing down on it, but it’s still produced enough green beans to make a meal out of and continues to sprout flowers. Neither Suki nor I are big green bean fans, but even we like these fresh pods.

BeanAfter they’ve been steamed, anyway.

Bean2

And this leaf. I have to share a picture of this leaf with you because the size of it just shocks me. Is this normal for a bush bean?

BeanLeaf

I found a decorative sign online that says “my garden isn’t dead, it’s just sleeping” and I think I need to get that. It sums up how my technique seems to function: Sad, wilty, stunted little plants that magically turn into luxuriously healthy specimens overnight. I don’t know what I’m doing, but it seems to be working.

I think. Viva la green revolution?

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