My Far-From-Perfect Garden

Gardening.  It is one of those things that is expected as a given for anyone interested in nutrition or sustainability.  I have to be honest, though.  I suck at gardening.  I never get the watering right.  I either drown the poor things, or they die of dehydration.  Sometimes they struggle between both states.  It is feast or famine with the water.  I don’t mean to.  I just have not figured out a good system yet.  One year I planted potatoes in a spot that turned out to be very shady, so the plants snaked across the yard to where the sun was and then grew vertically. I think that although I love the concept of gardening, I don’t like the actual gardening itself.  Maybe it has been because I have always had less than optimal conditions for gardening.  I live in the Granite State, and our prime crop is rock.  I can’t dig a hole without wrestling rocks.  And not just pebbles or small stones.  Some of these rocks are football size or larger.  Whatever the cause, gardening has been a less-than-fun experience for me.

Reality v. Ideation

I believe in the concept of gardening, and I like the idea that i have complete control over how the plants are grown.  I have spent over $200 on seeds in some years, only to still have most of those seed packets unopened four years later or more.  This year, I decided to give myself a break.  I bought seedlings from the farmers market.  I did not get them in the ground right away because I needed to prepare the beds first.  And by prepare, I mean I had to start from square 1 – deciding where in the yard they would go.

I have a nice big front yard.  It even faces more or less south.  I wanted lovely raised beds.  I was happy to start with just two or three to get started.  I know myself well enough (finally) to know that I do get overwhelmed by my tendency to jump into new projects whole hog.  So this year I decided to start small.  I don’t have to grow every vegetable my family is going to eat for the whole year in my early stages of learning to garden.

Past experience

To be perfectly honest, this is not my first ever garden.  My very first garden was grown when I lived in public housing several years ago.  I asked for some garden space and the housing authority was kind enough to create an entire community garden for anyone who wanted to grow.  The maintenance personnel brought over rototillers and dug up a nice big patch and we divided it fairly amongst everyone who was interested that year.  That was probably my most productive garden.  I had tomatoes that the neighbor kids ate off the vine, and the above mentioned potatoes, peas, and broccoli and cauliflower, some carrots and radishes.  It was very much a beginner garden.  A few years later, I planted some seeds in my mother’s garden space, but I was too distracted by life emergencies that summer to pay any attention to the garden.  Honestly, the best gardens I have had have been the compost volunteers.

first carrot

M, L, and R with our very first carrot several years ago

Back to this year.  I wanted these gorgeous raised beds from a local timber company.  I figured I could get three built and filled for $1000.  That number is a psychological barrier for me, though.  I can’t conceive of having that much money to spend for anything, and that has blocked my progress in many areas of my life.  I bought seedlings at the farmers market and set them out on my picnic table to soak up the sun while they waited to go in the ground.  I set them in shallow trays and filled those trays with water every morning so they wouldn’t run out of water.  The idea was that they would wick up the water as they needed it.

Not dead, but not alive

The problem was that they didn’t grow.  They didn’t die, but they didn’t grow either.  They were kind of in limbo land and I didn’t understand why.  The geranium I had managed to keep alive for three or four years is doing well in my kitchen window with this method of watering.  It blooms and seems to be thriving.  I just didn’t understand why my veggie starts weren’t doing the same.  I knew I had to get them in the ground, and I hoped that would be the trigger event they were waiting for in order to really take off.  But I had no place for them yet.  My whole lawn was full of grass.

I borrowed my mother’s rototiller to remedy the problem.  After much finagling, and disassembling the handle to fit it in my Suburban, we got it to our house and discovered that we were missing a vital piece of safety equipment.  It was supposed to have special pins in the wheels to allow the blades to turn.  It was not going to run for me and I was still at square one, with a picnic table full of plants, and no place to plant them

Just stuff ’em in the dirt

One day, I finally decided that if they were to have any chance of really living, I had to just do anything to get them in the ground.  I pulled out my spade and dug one hole in the ground.  It was one spade-width square.  I took one of the tomato starts and pulled it out of its plastic pot and stuffed it in the hole.  It was rootbound in the pot.  It was already flowering, and had teeny little tomatoes trying to grow on it.  I folded the lawn dirt back around it and did a second tomato start the same way.  I then realized that I should probably use potting soil around the plant in the hole, so I only did those two plants that day.

The next day I bought a bag of potting soil from Agway.  I dug more individual holes in my lawn and planted 6 more tomato plants, two of which had to be separated from the peppers they shared a pot with.  I planted my 6 tiny cabbage starts, and my surviving pepper starts.  All of these poor plants were so very rootbound.  I disentangled the roots from each other just to remove them from the pots because they had grown out the watering holes in the bottom.  The roots were 6″ past the pots.  I planted the most recent broccoli purchases that were so much bigger than their cabbage cousins.  One broccoli plant tipped as I planted it and within a couple of days, it had adjusted to grow straight up from that point, so it has an elbow, so to speak.  I planted my cucumber, and finally I planted the bean that A had started in preschool and was struggling to stay alive with one remaining leaf from my poor care.  It came home as a nice healthy plant in early May, one of the few survivors of their forgetting to water their sprouts over April vacation.  At that point, I ran out of potting soil, but I also only had a handful of herbs left to plant.  Since they included basil and mint, I wanted to confine the herbs to a pot so they wouldn’t take over the entire yard.

For a week or so, I watered my plants in the yard, and I watered the herbs on the picnic table still.  I then got another bag of potting soil to fill the nice big planter I had chosen for my remaining plants.  I planted basil, mint, creeping thyme, and rosemary.  These, too, were potbound.  No wonder nothing was growing.

I finally now have all my plants in proper soil for them.  I set the sprinkler to water them for an hour each morning unless we are expecting rain that day, or unless it rained overnight.  They have responded with relief.  Although they really aren’t thriving yet, they at least have a chance to grow now.  I wonder if I am the only person who waited until the end of July to plant a garden.  Around here, the customary advice is to wait to put tender veggies out until Memorial Day, since some years we can still have frosts in May.  July is pretty late, even for here, though.

cucumber and bean on fence trellising

cucumber and bean on fence trellising

cucumber blossom

cucumber blossom

a baby cucumber

a baby cucumber

Broccoli post harvest

Broccoli post harvest

Cabbages in back, peppers in front

Cabbages in back, peppers in front

Eight tomato plants are playing hide and seek in the lawn

Eight tomato plants are playing hide and seek in the lawn

My potted herbs

My potted herbs

Volunteers

Amazingly, I discovered that I have volunteers again this year, too.  And of course, they are faring much better than their cultivated counterparts.  I noticed some yellow flowers in the spot where greenery took over our former compost pile.  And the chickens have enjoyed having volunteer squashes of some variety or other (probably multiple) in their pen from the kitchen scraps we give them.  The chicken pen is so beautiful with the giant yellowy orange flowers all over that corner.  I think the chickens might have helped themselves to one of the immature veggies, too.  And that’s okay.  It wasn’t a planned harvest, and as I said with the berries last month, it is good to share the bounty with other animals, too.  The chickens will appreciate them just as much as we will, and probably more so than the children will.

Can you spot the tomatoes?

Can you spot the tomatoes?

Little fruits

Little fruits

Maybe a pumpkin?

Maybe a pumpkin?

Maybe an acorn squash?

I think it might have been zucchini before the chickens found it

I think it might have been zucchini before the chickens found it

Chickens love squash in their pen

Chickens love squash in their pen

Squash growing through the chicken fence

Squash growing through the chicken fence

Several squash plants in the chicken pen

Several squash plants in the chicken pen

Your turn

Have you gotten a garden in this year?  Are you more organized about it than I was?  Please share in the comments below.

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