At this point in the summer, I had high hopes of sharing the wonders of my advanced lazy gardening skills, and stories of the bounty we’ve reaped while growing our own food at home.
This time last year, I had the most beautiful zinnias growing out of every bit of dirt that would hold a carefully cultivated seedling. The colors were stunning, the plants were healthy and beautiful and almost took zero effort to grow from seed.
Skunks dug up one bed of young zinnias, and I was able to replant and restore them and they grew tall and happy, for months on end. Oh, the false confidence I felt.
I needed the color and beauty of the zinnias last year, and the day before our first frost, I cut back all of the flowers and filled every mason jar in the house with the gorgeous color of sunshine in a jar.
This spring, rather than flowers, I decided to focus on vegetables. We’ve had successful home gardens before, and you can’t eat zinnias, so why not?
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the last six months, it’s that if our survival depended on the food grown with my green thumbs, we would starve. Quickly.
If we could sustain on cactus, aloe vera, basil, rosemary, cilantro and dill – things that I can grow easily in the harsh West Texas climate – survival might happen. But, we can’t, and it wouldn’t.
The ground here is hard, and filled with rocks. It’s very dry. It’s basically the complete opposite conditions of the gardening I’ve had success with in the Hill Country.
So, I opted for container gardening, where I could start with fresh soil and keep everything in a sunny spot on the porch. Surely pots of plants were safe on the front porch, right?
Wrong. Turns out, skunks, javelina and even deer have no qualms about walking up steps to get to juicy green foliage. When I found a thornless cactus that I’d been nurturing in a pot on the porch, dragged out into the yard and chomped one day, I should’ve known nothing would be safe.
Growing spinach and kale in window boxes, we enjoyed two early harvests of baby greens, and were looking forward to more. Until the critters discovered them and helped themselves. And still, I don’t seem to learn.
About a month ago, the manager at our local hardware store told me to take the wilted tomato plants out front because they would be heading to the dumpster that evening. Headed to the dumpster?! I wasn’t really looking to grow tomatoes at that point, but couldn’t imagine all those perfectly salvageable plants being thrown away.
I ended up taking 21 tomato plants, mostly Roma and Beefsteak. And our empty planter boxes were refilled, 21 tomato plants saved from immediate doom.
With water and care, those plants have grown and are holding several tomatoes ready to turn red, with maybe a hundred blooms. And just as they were growing tall and lush, almost every plant was chomped by half. I should start calling my gardening efforts, “deer feeding.”
But since they only ate half of the plants, I’m focusing on the half they left. I still have hope. Our tomato plants are half full.
I brought home a spaghetti squash the other day, and when I cut it open to cook it, found that most of the seeds inside had started to sprout. It looks like we’ll be trying for a bumper crop of spaghetti squash this fall.
My Roasted Salsa Recipe
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
2 small white or yellow onions, cut into wedges
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 Serrano chili peppers, stemmed (use less for a milder salsa)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use avocado oil because of its tolerance for high heat and mild flavor)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
If you are using a grill, place your veggies that have been tossed in oil and salt on the grill and cook for about five minutes or long enough to char the skins and soften the veggies.
If you are using an oven, preheat the broiler and set an oven rack about 5 inches beneath the heating element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, whole Serrano chile peppers and vegetable oil directly on the prepared baking sheet and toss with your hands. Broil until softened and charred, 10-15 minutes.
Transfer the vegetables and juices to a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or a blender. Add salt and cumin and pulse until just slightly chunky. If you left out some of the Serrano peppers because you were afraid it would be too spicy, taste and add more if you want more heat. Add cilantro and fresh lime juice, and pulse until the cilantro is chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and more lime juice if necessary.