Things got pretty ugly in the end.
The terra cotta balcony farm is now officially a graveyard.
All through the spring and summer, I watered and pruned and picked. I fussed and fretted. Through tornadoes and hurricanes and thunderstorms, I guarded them anxiously. When nights got chilly, I dragged all seven pots in to my apartment and nestled them on a towel in front of an eastern window; so grateful, I imagined they were, to awaken to rays of sun instead of crystals of frost.
The day that we finally lost the tomato plant…that was a sad day. The last of the underdeveloped little fruits shriveled and dropped to the dirt, and the plant’s jaundiced leaves finally turned from sallow yellow to toasty brown. I yanked the plant out by its crusty stems and placed it, roots first, into my kitchen trash can.
With the tomatoes, I admit, I failed.
But the rest of the venture was relatively successful until about a month ago.
At some point, I suppose I just stopped caring. Diligent daily waterings became thrice – and then twice – weekly. Winds whipped around the building and I averted my eyes from the sliding glass door, choosing not to see the little peppers clinging desperately to their stems. Nighttime freezes came once again, but this time I tucked myself into my warm bed, leaving the tender basil leaves to face the frosty dawn on their own.
I know. I know. They’re just plants.
This isn’t nearly as bad as the time that I left my poor pet lizard for dead, banishing his tank to the basement as I traipsed off to college one sunny August – only to discover that he was still very much alive when my mom forced me to deal with what was supposed to be a postmortem cleanup of his terrarium when I returned for winter break. Kramer, his name was. God, I felt horrible.
(In my own defense, Kramer had an annoying habit of burying himself in the sand for days on end, and at the time of my departure I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks and totally assumed he was dead. So my intentions, while highly immature, weren’t exactly murderous: I simply hoped that my mom would clean that shit up if I just left it there.)
(Yeah, I realize that doesn’t make it all that much better.)
Anyway. The balcony plants are done for, their demise accelerated by my purposeful neglect over the last few weeks. And I know they wouldn’t have made it much longer anyway, but I’m still plagued with a faint guilt that I didn’t try my very best to help them make it to their natural end.
But at least I learned a few things from the experience. Next year’s terra cotta balcony farm will be bigger and better. On the hollow stems of this year’s crop, I pledge to:
1) Choose smaller species and/or bigger containers. This was definitely my number one mistake in choosing and potting my plants. According to the guy at the nursery, a too-tiny pot was almost certainly responsible for the fall of the tomatoes: the pot didn’t have enough soil to hold an appropriate amount of water for the plant, and the thing literally died of thirst, even though I watered it constantly.
(Also, I probably shouldn’t have chosen big beefsteak tomatoes to grow in a tiny clay pot. Grape tomatoes or little romas would have been a better choice. In retrospect: DUH.)
2) Keep the bush trimmed nice and short. Many of my plants (particularly the basil and the oregano) got really “leggy” over the course of the season, probably from me trimming them infrequently and/or poorly. In the end, my basil plant actually looked like a little basil palm tree: its stems got really long and reedy and the leaves got smaller and smaller until they looked like little basil fronds atop these freakish stem-trunks:
Kinda neat looking, but not very good for seasoning my pasta sauce.
3) Be a little impractical. They may not be edible, but flowers are nice too. After the tomato plant bit the dust, I replaced it with this random pink and white flower plant that was on clearance at the nursery. It was lovely to look at, attracted pretty butterflies, didn’t need to be picked or trimmed and was seemingly ambivalent about its watering schedule. Win.
So thank you, plant class of 2011, for being my guinea pigs. I know it sounds ridiculous, but until this summer I had never successfully nurtured anything involving soil and water before, and I learned a lot from the experience. And even though the tomatoes were a bust, it was wonderful to have loads of fresh mint (for mojitos!) and fresh sage (for frying in butter!) any time I wanted.
And also, little plants: I’m sorry I’ve let your tawny corpses sit out on the balcony for nearly a month now, basking impotently in the late-autumn sunshine. One of these days, I’ll summon the energy to give you a proper burial.
(Or maybe I’ll just wait for my mom to come visit.)