Sunday, August 14, 2011

(guest post) Operation Deliberate Neglect: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Operation Deliberate Neglect: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Hi! Shari asked me to guest post, so welcome to my garden! It's basically a front-yard garden (where it gets the most sun) with four very long raised beds, native perennials, fruit trees, berry bushes, and herbs. My zone is 7b, in the North Carolina Piedmont area.

I'm going to confess that I haven't been tending to my garden diligently as I have done in the past. I hurt my back earlier this year and our area has been suffering from a mild drought and record high temperatures. There really hasn't been any watering, weeding, or regular harvesting. So I'm calling our summer garden season "operation deliberate neglect" and in spirit of experimentation, I thought I'd share the results. By the way, I do not recommend this method, especially if you have a hard time growing -- it's just that I live in the South, and practically everything grows like a weed or an invasive here.

Let's start with the Ugly:

1- Stressed trees. They're not really ugly, just mildly fascinating and sad. I don't think consistent watering would have helped the tree, though. This is a dogwood, which was planted two years ago, and is still trying to find its footing (rooting)? Hopefully the stresses will make it stronger over time.

2-The weeds are taking over. This used to be a gravel pathway. To be fair, I was expecting this, because weeding is one of these things that require, in the immortal words of Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance.

The Bad:

1-Overripe cucumbers. I like to tell our younger neighbors that they are dinosaur eggs, and generally toss them in the backyard in hopes that rabbits will eat them and that the vines will overcome much-hated English ivy or poison ivy next year. (Note: if you find cucumbers that are just slightly yellow, they are still very edible- just deseed and peel the tough skin).

2-Our tomatoes are literally bursting. However, it also means next year we are going to find volunteer tomato plants all over the raised beds, which is sort of not a bad thing (unless you end up with 50+ of them).

3-I don't think it would be a summer without overgrown, thick, hard-as-a-rock okra. Even when we harvested everyday, we still ended up with a couple of these pods. I've used them as Halloween decorations (they vaguely resemble dragon teeth) and dried them to re-use the seeds for next year. I think I'm going to roast them and use the seeds for a salad or succotash dish.

4- I'm not sure if this is a terrible thing, but there are still a lot of vegetables that are waiting to be harvested, and sometimes they are easier to detect when overgrown. For example, red peppers and dried butterbeans.

(if you look very closely in this photo, you also can find green butterbeans.)

And now, the part you were probably waiting for: The Good.

1-We still got a lot of tomatoes.They are still growing strong! Some people even say that tomatoes taste better when you stop watering them because the flavor will concentrate in the fruit.

Imagine what would happen if we actually paid attention to the plants.

2-We got pumpkins, to my surprise. I expected squash borers and powdery mildew to overcome our plants, but I haven't found any. We also planted acorn squash and butternut squash and haven't found anything yet, but it's nice to have pumpkins without much of an effort. These are the sugar baby variety.

3-The arugula that we planted in the spring reseeded itself. I love it when that happens to the right plants.

4- My back is healing nicely, and the sight of brown/dead plants is making me want to clear the beds and start fall planting. Normally, I hate removing perfectly viable plants to prepare for another season.

Lessons Learned:

1-The south can be a wonderful and terrible place for gardening, depending on what you want to grow and how much effort you want to put into it.

2-"Natives" or varieties that grow well in your region will require very little care. For example, okra, butterbeans, southern peas, and sweet potatoes thrive on neglect and extreme heat/humidity.

3-Planting different varieties of one vegetable can be a good thing, as is planting them at different times to ensure a continuous harvest all season (or one big harvest in the end).

4-Not watering constantly, but relying on one big initial watering and mulch and the weather, can be a boon to plants, because it helps with formation of strong roots, which in turn makes for healthier plants.

5-Adding compost or fixing nitrogen in your soil every year is always a good idea. Sometimes that is all you really need to ensure a good crop.

6-Mulch is a lazy Southern gardener's best friend. It holds water in, keeps weeds out, and disintegrates into a lovely soil amendment.

7-There really is no way getting around weeding except weeding.

8-Don't worry if you won't be able to take care of everything. Nature eventually finds a way to take care of it all. And you can use this as part of your ever-growing gardening experience!

Eunice lives in Durham, NC where she walks and trains dogs, goes on bike rides, and chases food trucks. She is long overdue posting at The Accidental Southerner (where you can find seasonal and local recipes) and A Dream of Eu (where she talks more about her garden and books and life ), but in the meantime, you can find her on her Flickr photostream.


  1. Ladies! Sorry to interrupt with a non sequitur, but I wanted you to know I gave you a shout out on my blog. Keep up the wonderful work.

  2. thank you, allison! and thanks to eunice for writing a guest post for us.

  3. Visiting from "Pay It Forward" blog meme. I've found that gardening It's amazing to me how hard it is to keep up on all the work involved. I've always thought that it was my lack of a green thumb making it more difficult for me. It's nice to see that others struggle at times too! Thanks for sharing your garden troubles~and successes~with us.


  4. Yeah, I didn't really realize okra grew to foot long statuettes. :-) Speaking of which, I should probably go check the okra.

  5. what a great post! this is my garden exactly - i am in southern kentucky. literally bursting with tomatoes - too many to keep up with. i don't like okra though, so no dragon teeth here :)

  6. This post made me LAUGH OUT LOUD SO MUCH! Thanks, Eunice. I want to come eat from this neglected garden of yours.