by Rene Allen
I have a chancy green thumb. That means whenever I plant something, there is a chance it will grow, but don’t make any bets.
I’ll admit, the odds are against me here in the desert where caliche starts a half inch under what might be considered the worst top soil in the state – gravel, pulverized eucalyptus leaves and dead ants. I’ve added a ton of mulch but I think there is some kind of mulch eater that comes around at night and devours it. Next morning, all that nice, dark stuff is gone and the ground is just as hard as the day before.
There’s also the problem of getting water to the plants. We have run a mile or so of drip line just to keep the mesquite trees alive.
I have good luck with oleanders. Each spring I prune them back to about four inches about the ground and each summer they threaten to take over the front porch. My husband says you can’t kill bougainvillea or oleanders. Obviously, these are good plants for someone like me who has a chancy green thumb.
I have thrown away at least a dozen dead gardenia bushes. I’ve put them in planters and in the earth. Either way, they make it to the monsoon season and then wither into nothing. Likewise for roses, honeysuckle, and a bunch of other green things that don’t like to take chances.
The reason I keep planting things, is because I like to watch them grow. And with vegetables, is anything more satisfying than bringing in that basket of fresh produce, picked from your own vegetable garden?
With my green thumb that basket is mostly an illusion, although this year, I have improved my chances. I discovered the Earth Box. It is a semi-hydroponic, reservoir type of growing system. Basically, it is a black box that has a 2 gallon reservoir in the bottom. This is topped with potting soil, fertilizer and the whole thing covered with a silver plastic shower cap. The plants are put in holes cut into the plastic. A tube gives you access to the reservoir. Every morning, I put 2 gallons of water in the tank, then stand back and watch things grow.
Seriously, I’ve picked about a hundred eggplants this summer. And with all the concern about salmonella infested tomatoes, this was the year my vines decided to bear fruit. I had to cut back the basil – it was so big and heavy it fell over. And I have enough jalapenos to flood the neighborhood. For someone with a chancy green thumb, this has been a good year.
I take nothing for granted, however. I could wake up tomorrow and find everything in the final throes of terminal droop, the kind overdosing on fertilizer and flooding with water does not help. These, by the way, are my first remedies for ailing plants. The fact they already may be over-watered and over-fertilized only occurs to me late in the game, when it is too late for the first aid of restraint.
I’ve lived in Tucson for 35 years. Other than the first ten years when we lived in town on an old chicken farm that grew everything, sort of like the Garden of Eden, I’ve applied my chancy green thumb to the whims of desert gardening. It’s a challenge. But this year, picking all those sweet tomatoes and a hundred eggplants, I’d have to say taking the chance definitely paid off.