The Big Garden Ramble.
Yesterday P and I spent a very satisfying day in our gardens. We have two community garden plots blocks away from each other. One is “his” and one is “mine” although he mostly leaves the planning to me and I pawn off the projects like bed building/repair and hose wrangling. We make a good team.
Last year we were just starting in the community gardens and we got our plots a little late. We were scrambling to get things in and planted pretty willy-nilly. It worked out okay for site one, but site two was rather under-utilized. It’s a plot about 15×20′ with no particular beds or markers. We planted potatoes down one side last year, plunked the tomatoes in the middle, peppers in front with the zucchini, put the herbs in a small corner which was eventually overtaken by runaway dill, dotted collards up the other side and seeded beans, squash, kale and edamame in the back. With no real paths or beds it didn’t work very well. We lost everything in the back. I think that was due to shading from the tomatoes as well as nutrient/water loss from the huge roots of a nearby tree. Oh, and the rabbits and birds.
I did worry about compaction. I planted clover where we walked. It stands up to foot traffic, fixes nitrogen, and helps regulate compaction. The entire plot was rather, um, sad when we got it so we worked in a few bags of compost but felt overwhelmed at re-doing the entire thing.
No one else had paths or markers, either, and I guess I didn’t worry about it too much. Until some really late planters got the plot across the way. They took the time to come in and create actual beds and paths. It was very simple, actually, and rather brilliant. Their plot now looks like two rows of rectangles with one path down the middle and paths lining the sides of each bed. I hit myself on the forehead a number of times and resolved to do that the following year.
So this year we hauled in the rake, pitchfork and shovel. We raked up the winter debris to find the clover up and running already, doing it’s glorious green mulch thing. I want to use clover a lot more. It worked so brilliantly, stayed put, kept the treaded soil fairly loose, and fixed lots of nitrogen. We used leftover straw to mark out paths and then took the shovel and pitchfork and dug and loosened, dug and loosened. For hours. We took two bags of cow manure and worked it in. We pulled out five gigantic roots from the tree along with enough rocks to start to mark permanent paths. The plot is beautiful. I was surprised at how much healthier the soil looks compared to last year. We found hundreds of worms, thick beds of mycellium, and a rich, loose soil. I was astounded. We put in three kinds of potatoes, mustard (I hope to harvest the seeds for mustard making), and onions. I have been wanting to plant little “scatter garden” sites with a broadcasted mix of lettuce, radish, beets, carrots and whatever else I decide to throw in. I love the idea of planting once (just throwing the seed on and watering!) and harvesting all season. As the lettuce and radishes come out, the carrots and beets have room to expand. It might not quite work out that way, but I’m trying it anyway. I planted a small scatter garden in between the rows of potatoes with just radish and lettuce. Those should be up and out before the potatoes get too unruly.
Site one was an easier fix. There are raised beds there that were already in good shape when we took them over last year. We dug deep and planted six asparagus crowns in a bed we built for it last fall. Phil reinforced a bed that was sinking. I planted more potatoes, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, more radishes (you’d think I loved radishes. Mostly I love how fast they grow), bee’s friend flower, forget-me-nots, peas, arugula, bok choy, and more onions. I prepared the sites a little more than I did last year – digging deep where the carrots, beets, and onions went in. Working in more compost. Thinking a little more how to organize the pea poles and planting them along with the seeds so we don’t disturb the roots later. I busted out our wedding tablecloths from last fall – sewn burlap bags – and cut sections to fit over the carrots to help keep them moist on their long trek to germination. We took no chances with the squrrils this year. We covered the raised beds with strips of chicken wire. It’s ugly, but it was the only thing that worked after replanting some sections three or four times due to digging by the unfriendly little critters. I’m planning to leave the vast majority of the wire in place and let the plants grow through it. We’ll see how that goes.
I have plans to put in a “three sisters” planting of corns, beans, and squash. I have two varieties of dried beans I’d like to trellis up blue sweet corn. I’m not holding a lot of hope to actually pull out any sweet corn that’s good enough to eat, but I can’t help but keep trying. I’m adding a fourth sister, sunflowers. I’d like to use the sunflower seeds to sprout this winter. I’m planting a lot more flowers this year. I’ve chosen varieties with eatible flowers, sweet fragrance or the power to pull in bees and other pollinators.
We’ve started hardening off our starts. The leeks, kale, collards, and broccoli should go in the ground this week. That will make room for the final seed starting extravaganza next weekend. The squashes and a few flowers are still waiting their turn under the lights.
Last year was the first year I was in charge of my own garden. It all seemed to big. We had a moderately successful year, but I wasn’t used to keeping track of all the fine details – things I’d previously done only when directed. I knew a lot of “stuff” but hadn’t yet put it all together thusly it was a year of significant learning. This year I’m feeling more confident and capable and organized. Co-workers and friends have been coming to me for advice in starting their own gardens. A friend who started gardening last year and was so very overwhelmed and unmotived by the end of the season annouced this year that he’s going to start seeds again. I couldn’t have been happier. It’s rather addicting, isn’t it?
Ps. Once I finish the tub of yogurt I bought, I”ll be posting a tutorial on yogurt making. My starter went bad while I was away so it was time to start fresh.