Last year at this time, I was just getting ready to move to Oregon, but I was also planning for my container garden I wanted for out balcony. I had bought several seed packets of various spices, but also kale, green bell peppers, and of course, zucchini, because you can never go wrong with zucchini.
By June I had several small seedlings that were promising to be productive and prosperous. I had divided them into several larger pots, purchased plant food and kept my fingers crossed that I would soon be enjoying the fruits of my labor.
In mid-late-June we were enjoying munching on zucchini blossoms, but eagerly awaited the vegetable that was surely to follow. I had planned out all sorts of recipes- Zucchini casseroles, Zucchini stew, Zucchini bread, Zucchini spaghetti, Zucchini chips. I felt like Bubba Gump listing off recipes for his vegetarian brethren. But the promising fruit never came. In August, my plants all had nicknames of “Freeloaders”. They grew and grew- my tomato plants were as tall as I was, and they flowered, but produced zilch food. They drank my water, ate my plant food, and soaked up my sunshine but didn’t give me a damn thing to eat.
I felt like a gardening failure. Where had I gone wrong? The soil? The containers? Not enough sun? Did I start the garden too late? Or was I just a horrible plant mommy? Fortunately, I may be a failure, the jury is still out on that possibility, but I am a stubborn gardener! Earlier, I had purchased some bok choy and raddicchio seeds on sale. I also purchased some tomato and pepper seedlings, along with packets of basil seeds, lemon cucumber, and because I’m still certain you can never go wrong with them, zucchini seeds. I wondered where I was going to put all these wonderful plants along our deck when my landlord offered me some space in her garden. When she saw how much zucchini I was planning she warned me against it. “Your neighbors will hate you!” Considering she is my only neighbor, I felt she was not just warning me, but threatening me. And then I told her that I might have a black thumb and that my zucchini didn’t grow last year except to produce the blossoms. “Well, did you pollinate them?” Wait, what?!?! How was I supposed to pollinate my plants? “You know, did you have bees, or butterflies?” Thinking back on our time in Beaverton, I could not recall one instance when I saw a bee or any other animal visit my balcony. I suddenly realized that part of my gardening failure of last year was my apartment complex’s fault. They sprayed and removed bees’ nests that were located around the buildings. So, one of the main pollinators in the area was eliminated from helping me out. The other part of the blame still lay with me. I had ensured that the only plants in my container garden were vegetables, even though I had sunflower seeds and had access to getting pollinator attracting plants. Therefore, I had nothing to entice or persuade pollinators to visit my garden with.
This was a huge revelation to me. After reading Jane Goodall’s book “Seeds of Hope”, my view on the plant world did a 360, and I saw them in a completely different light. Plants are such an intricate complex necessity to our world. Everything works together to provide us and wildlife with sustenance and shelter. Without the pollinators such as bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds, we are at a distinct disadvantage in growing food that will sustain us. But bees aren’t the only factor that we may want to consider when looking for methods to improve our success with growing our own health.
During the Native Plant Sale at the refuge, I was assigned an interpretive table that related to conservation (for Earth Day) and gardening (for the Plant Sale). It was on composting with worms. I admit I was a little unsure about my qualifications to discuss composting considering my only experience with the subject was my dumping the elephant manure truck in the ZooDoo yard at the zoo and making sure I didn’t dump it in the wrong pile. I knew absolutely nothing about vermicomposting! In fact, I didn’t know there was even a difference between composting worms and earthworms. But the longer I stood at the station, the more I was able to read up on the subject. And the more I read on the subject, the more utterly amazing the prospect of composting with worms sounded to me.
Here’s what’s so flipping amazing about worms and bees. They don’t have anything to do with each other. One consumes decaying organic matter and poops out nutrient rich soil. The other is looking for pretty flowers to steal the nectar but inadvertently assists in plant sex. But they have everything to do with helping plants reach their fullest potential and bringing forth their incredible edible produce!
Next to me at the Plant Sale was a vendor from Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District, who was giving away free native pollinator attracting seed bundles. So I picked up a bundle, and while I was at the nature gift shop at the refuge, I picked up a mason bee house, too. I plan on having all my zucchini dreams come true this year. As well as my bok choy, cucumber, and broccolini desires fulfilled. And I’m not going to leave anything to chance. I am going to plant the flowers in containers and place them strategically around the garden, provide a home for the helpful local pollinators, and I’ll discuss with my landlord our options for providing our plants with the most nutrient-rich soil by investing in a vermicompost bin.
I’m utterly fascinated with this complex web of life that happens right under our noses. I have a distinct feeling, even if I don’t grow a lot (and I imagine that I will), with all the intricacies of worms and bees, this is going to be a wonderful and fruitful summer!