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Organic Gardening For The Beginner: Part Two

Organic Gardening For The Beginner: Part Two

Okay, if you are just tuning in, you might wish to read my previous blog post first. Here’s where we left off. I have the Garden Tower 2, assembled, with soil and proper vermiculture composting completed. Just need something to grow now!



I first thought I’d go for starting from scratch…buying seeds. That seemed the best way to ensure what I grew was indeed organic. So, I bought seeds…many seeds! In fact, I spent probably an hour standing at that little rotating seed packet tower at the hardware store looking for just the right ones. I picked out green, red, and orange bell peppers; cucumbers; sweet (green) and purple basil, and many others…all my favorites. I was feeling so smart. But then when I got them home, and I looked on the back of the packets, not one of the selected seed packs were recommended for the summer months here in Central Florida. ARGGGHHH! Now what? I wasn’t going to wait for three more months to begin my journey, so I had to go back to the store and buy starter plants. I figured I would make the summer my learning stage, and plant again in the fall when it wasn’t so hot. I might forfeit all the starter plants, too, but I had to make an effort.

In multiple trips to several different nurseries, I found the plants to “learn” with. I got pepper plants and the two kinds of basil. No cukes yet, but I would keep looking. Oh, and I bought some flowering plants that I can’t eat, too. Why? Well, the Garden Tower Project website recommends that because most vegetable plants don’t  really have enough flowers to attract bees and other pollinating insects, and if the blossoms aren’t pollinated, you get no vegetables. Plus, it just makes the tower look so much prettier!

On the Project website, I read up on where to plant what. It recommended planting taller plants on the top level, and others on the sides in a “diagonal” pattern. Evidently, this helps your tower not only look nicer, but also allows for sun access a bit better. I kept the little plastic labels that came in the pots and put them next to each plant, too. That way, I wouldn’t be picking my orange bell peppers while they were still green! I decided to start small since this was my learning phase, so I only planted about half of the planter. Here’s how it looked once I got done planting.

It’s so convenient that most starter plants come six to a pack. I put one plant in the top level, and the other five diagonally down the side as recommended. Perfect fit, and pretty, too! Notice that I left one diagonal row empty in the front (as well as the entire back of the tower). I was saving room for those cucumber plants I was sure I would find.

And eventually I did find them. In fact, in a week or so, I even found burpless cucumber plants. (Have you ever heard a cucumber burp? It’s hilarious, but you don’t want any of that going on in your garden!) So, now my experimental garden was complete…at least for a few months. All I needed to do was water it (three gallons every couple of days), and I’d have fresh organic veggies in no time.

For the next month, my garden was doing fabulous! It continued to grow, and since it rained A LOT when we went on vacation for a week at the end of June, it even survived no attention.  Every couple of days, I dumped the “liquid gold” that was collecting in the bottom drawer onto the top layer of the garden. I was so pleased with this organic fertilizer that the worms were creating for me, and it was working wonderfully. I had several peppers, and a few cucumbers growing nicely. Isn’t that tiny cucumber (right behind the yellow flower) just adorable?

And overall the garden looked lovely, too. It was growing…and fast! It wasn’t long before I realized I had planted the cucumber plants in the wrong place on the tower!

Learning #1: Even if a cucumber plant says it is a “hybrid bush,” it doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be great big, long vine. And cucumber leaves? They are HUGE compared to the other plants’ leaves. I was afraid they were going to take over the tower, and in no time, they did!

The cucumber plants were turning out to be monsters! They latched on to the basil plants with their tendrils and pretty much killed all of them because they either broke because of the weight or they couldn’t get any light. Yep, all but a few were dead in a couple of weeks except those on the top layer out of the reach of the cuke monsters. They were indeed a vine in search of something to climb.

Learning #2: Plant vines on the very bottom layer and let them grow along the ground. After the fact, I read that recommendation on the website, but hey, too late for this go ‘round.

And oh, one more Learning #3: that I read about too late…if you put vines and other plants that will grow down, then it makes it really tough, if not impossible, to turn your Garden Tower. This didn’t matter currently since the back side wasn’t planted anyway, but it is something I will remember for the next planting season. I think “monster cukes” was an apt name for these cucumber plants though. Don’t you think?

Still, I got plenty of basil for making caprese salads and tomato sauces. Although I like both kinds of basil, I like the flavor of the purple basil the best. Kind of clove or peppery tasting. And it’s so pretty! I even have gotten a couple of bell peppers and a few cucumbers…and as you can see, one of those cucumbers was HUGE!  The taste of the veggies is excellent. Sweet and fresh and all of the things I’d hoped for. And then…



The first problem I noticed was that the baby peppers had this brown crusty stuff on them. Not sure what that was exactly, but I did notice a stink bug on one of the plants.

Learning # 4: Stink bugs STINK if you squish them. REALLY stink. Just don’t. Websites say to drown them in dish detergent water. That sounds like a much better idea. My nose has still not recovered! Ugh.  As I was headed out of town for work, I researched something that was safe to kill stink bugs and pretty much anything that might negatively affect my garden, and while I was gone, I coerced my hubby to purchase Neem Oil…a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the neem, an evergreen tree native to India. He mixed it according to directions on the bottle and used a spray bottle to apply it to the top and undersides of all leaves. I haven’t seen any more stink bugs, and since it’s totally organic, I feel good about using it in my garden.

The second problem was lubbers. They are REAL monsters. Not the cucumber plants kind of monster (which did continue to grow), but huge grasshoppers…three inches long. They are about the grossest insect there is. And NOTHING short of chopping off their heads kills them. Not only can they leap tall buildings in a single bound (I’m sure of it), but they can fly! I have been petrified of them since childhood when we used to call them locusts. They were all over my yard and deck, and windows…as you can see here. I was real brave to take a closeup picture only because there was glass and a screen between me and that critter. There were hundreds of them. They ate almost all of the foliage off of my amaryllis plants, and pretty much anything else they wanted in my yard. I killed as many as I could with a shovel, but still, they persisted. They at most of the new growth on my pepper plants before I executed them. (Yep, the buddha in me just vacated for a while there.) I still see a few in my flower garden, no doubt finishing up on some of my other beloved plants, but the good news is that they only show up once a year. So, once they are gone, I will be good to plant lubber free in the fall.

The third problem was that the leaves on my pepper plants were curling up. At first, I thought it was just the heat or lack of water, but then I noticed some of the leaves were actually folded back. When I unfolded it, I found this little worm, no doubt the larva stage of some nasty something or other. I found three such critters, and since I want to stay organic, I just picked them off and squished them with my foot…with shoes on, of course! I sprayed with neem oil again, and hopefully, I will be rid of anything that continues to haunt my poor peppers. There is new growth beginning to show up and I have more baby peppers, too, so hopefully, this will take care of it.

The fourth problem was that the cucumber plants continued to grow…and grow…and grow. The vines were so long that we couldn’t sweep the deck off. So, I decided I would just turn the whole tower toward the deck rail and droop them over the deck. Well, that worked for a few days, and then…I noticed SOMETHING was eating the leaves. I mean completely. Not sure what these are, but whatever they are, they are hungry, and they love cucumber leaves. They don’t seem to like the cucumbers, per se, as now I can see that I have two almost full grown and several more little, tiny ones. As you can see, it was a pretty devastating hit. I can’t see any worms, but do notice many, many ants! Hmmm…while I don’t know what “this” is, I am hoping that the neem oil will help.  Neem oil is good for what ails most plants, it seems, so I will be using it more diligently from now on.


Learning #5: Cucumber plants have thorns. Well, maybe better said, little bitty, needles on all their vines and on their leaves, and even on the cucumbers themselves. (You can see them on the vines if you look very closely at the pictures of the emaciated leaves above.) I found this out the hard way. You see, when I moved those cucumber vines, I got stuck plenty of times. It hurts, but not massively, like a stinging nettle hurts, but it does sting a little. And, just like the stinging nettle, it causes numbness wherever it touches. So, for a few days I couldn’t feel the tips of some of my fingers. That’s resolving now (day five), but after some research I found that in fact, even the cucumbers we buy in the store that seem smooth had needles on them before cleaning. When I thought about it, the ones I harvested did, too, but I was using gloves, and simply handling them made them all fall off leaving a smooth thin, skin. I read that some cukes actually have actual thorns, which makes sense now that I think about it. That’s why pickles have those bumps on them; it’s where the thorns were! Anyway, if you grow cucumbers, use gloves when doing the harvesting or otherwise handling the plants.

So here is my tower today with the poor, drooping cucumber vines that hang over my deck railing. Most of the plants in the tower can be seen. It is producing, although not optimally. I won’t plant again until late September or early October, and I will likely start with seeds to see how that will go. I have some lovely lettuce seeds (all kinds) and all the other seeds I bought several months ago that will still be viable. I’m hoping to continue to learn and be able to make this a more fruitful garden (see what I did there?) with all my favorite veggies. Thanks for going on my journey with me. When I have some new learnings, I will share again. Meanwhile, happy gardening!




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Kelly brings more than two decades of experience in education, training design and development, organization development and executive coaching to the IDEAS team.