Gardening For Dummies (Or... What NOT To Do)

My hard-fought green thumb lessons—including the one about not using liquid soap for pesticide and why everyone should grow yard-long pole beans—for a "good-enough" summer garden

We are, once again, trying to have a small summer garden. Last year went pretty okay—we had several varieties of tomatoes, yard-long green beans (yes, that is a thing), and peppers that were too hot to eat. Despite my best efforts to kill everything, a large portion of it survived and came to fruition.

I made several mistakes with this garden though, so it is only by sheer dumb luck that we got anything at all. It's both a blessing and a curse to be "goal-oriented" rather than "process-oriented." I will leave it to you to decide which one of these things you think I might be.

Firstly, I added fertilizer to the already fertilized soil we bought, apparently subscribing to the "if a little is good, a lot must be better" school of thought. This resulted in yellow plants about three days after putting them in. With lots of theatrical cursing and sighing, we pulled everything out, dug out the bulk of the dirt, added straight topsoil, mixed it up again, and crossed our fingers. Miraculously, the little seedlings managed to survive, returned back to their lovely shades of green and started growing again.

Undaunted by my first error in judgment, my next trick was to try to use organic methods to control pests. Noticing some bugs on my now well-established and thriving plants, I took to the ol' innerweb to find some good home remedies to avoid using pesticide. One of the first things I ran across was to use liquid soap and water as a spray repellent. I can do that, I thought to myself (of course not taking the time to read the entire data set). Grabbing the Dawn (with BLEACH) dish detergent from the kitchen, I mixed up my concoction and proceeded to drown all the plants in the mixture. Walked away from this feeling quite smug. Two days later, the plants looked like someone had been hovering nearby with a blow torch. Apparently dish detergent (with BLEACH)—while indeed liquid—is definitely not the same thing as liquid soap.

This misstep required a fair amount of dedication to rectify. But at this point I was invested, dammit. And my obstinate-natured self wasn't going down without a fight. It took about three weeks of serious babying, but once again, the unlucky plants that we brought to our house managed to survive. We picked off the dying leaves, but not too many at once, we added mulch to help them fight the hot South Carolina sun, we I even considered doing some sort of ancient earth goddess dance. Fortunately, nature turned out to be more resilient than I am destructive, so they made it. 

I did learn some stuff throughout all of this. One, the green grape tomato may very well be the most delicious food in the world. Two, be sure to plant enough of the same plant so that you have yields that can feed more than just one person, especially if you are a family of four. Three, do not plant purple jalapenos unless you like insanely hot food. (they are a gorgeous plant though—all red and green and purple... lovely). Four, don't be a dumbass like me and get all cray-cray with the chemicals. Do some real research or ask someone who actually has had a successful garden. Five, everyone should try the yard-long pole beans. Delicious, prolific growers that are basically idiot proof, which is why they not only survived but thrived whilst climbing our humble chain link fence.

Anyway, we begin again today. Here is where we have gotten so far:


I think the wrecked plane in the background is a fair indicator, don't you?
So, learn your lessons the easy way—by not doing what I have done. Your tomatoes will thank you for it.