Spring has been announcing itself for weeks around here. The daffodils have been blooming for almost a month, and more recently, the hyacinths made their dramatic appearance. I took this picture about three weeks ago.
Now, if you know anything about me at all, you know that warm weather and blooming plants mean I’ve been itching to get my hands in the dirt, and early spring seeds planted. This year I’ve been even more impatient to get things growing since I attended a workshop at our local library on companion planting. This was presented by a county employee and a master composter (I didn’t know there was such a thing!), and they had tons of interesting, practical information. As a result, I was inspired to completely reconsider my usual planting habits and actually sit down and draw up a plan—to scale, even.
You can tell by the dirt smears that I waited until after planting to scan it. The idea behind this plan is to spread out crops to avoid disease and insect infestations, and interplant with others that discourage pests, provide compatible nutrients or shade, or attract beneficial insects.
So instead of nagging Miss Chef to clean out and replant her overgrown herb bed, I’ve included oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender right into the garden. Most of these, along with fennel, have the tiny multiple flower clusters that attract pollinators; some encourage pests to eat them instead of your crops.
I also planted radishes in among the lettuce, because they discourage pests, and placed them in the afternoon shade provided by the growing peas. Carrots and onions are interplanted among the broccoli because they won’t take much space and can be fitted easily between the broad-leaved monsters; also onions are supposed to discourage carrot rust flies, which apparently cause “root maggots.” I’ve had some trouble with worms of some kind chewing the tops of my carrot roots into mush, so maybe this will help.
As you can see, I also have left a broad blank space right down the middle. Since companion planting encourages more dense growth, it will be impossible to walk in among my plants (which you should avoid anyway, as it compacts the soil). It’s been a few years since I first considered putting a path in, which would create two planting areas which can be reached from there or the outside edges. It seemed this was the year to put it in place.
Which is what this picture was about.
We have a ton of paving bricks left over from our ambitious plans when we first moved in. It was Miss Chef’s idea to put them to use by using them for my path. It was my idea to put about four layers of landscaping cloth beneath them, to prevent them from acting as a cozy shelter for my hated garden nemesis, Bermuda grass. It was not my idea to spend frustrating hours digging a trench and painstakingly laying out the bricks one by one, while trying to keep them even to each other and level overall. The cloth underneath kept bunching and twisting, the bricks had to be hauled from behind the shed in the wheelbarrow, and even the most even, smooth looking dirt made the bricks lie all wonky.
I started this on a Sunday about two weeks ago, and ran out of energy and sunlight by the time I was barely halfway through. Thanks to daylight savings, I was able to make small progress the next day after work, but then it began to rain…and rain. And then we went out of town the next weekend, putting me two weeks behind my mental schedule.
So you can imagine my determination to finish the path and get my already-purchased seeds and seedlings in the ground. Fortunately, this Saturday promised beautiful, temperate weather. Unfortunately, my plans for an early start and a full day of focused work were sabotaged by a brunch invitation we really couldn’t turn down.
Look, when a bunch of chefs get together for an impromptu meal, it’s worth making time in your schedule. I provided the cheese that’s just above the salad to the right, a yummy brie-like farmstead cheese made locally. As is almost everything on the table—greens, goat cheese, bread, jam. Even the eggs were laid by hens not more than 100 feet from our table.
Miss Chef’s contribution was bloody Marys with quail egg garnish!
See how distracting this can be? Have you forgotten about my neglected garden bed already??
I hadn’t, so by 2:00 we were headed back home. I slipped on my trusty garden gloves, started hauling bricks, and proceeded to once again give them a piece of my mind. I got just irritated enough to get the dang path finished up, for better or for worse. It still looks wonky in places, but the plan was that the 14 cubic feet of compost I’d purchased two weeks ago would help raise the soil level and support the second layer of bricks. (The green sprouts along the edges are the garlic crop I put in last fall; they should mature in June.)
This was the first part I was actually looking forward to, opening those bags and spreading the black, nutrient-rich compost. Our favorite goat farmer was dealing with health issues last year, so I didn’t want to impose on her for another share of the wonderful composted manure I’d gotten from her before. And it wasn’t until my workshop that I learned that my generous layer of leaf mulch wasn’t enough; I need two inches of compost to keep the soil happy. So I bit the bullet and made the monetary investment necessary to keep building good dirt in my bed.
I had to do more than just spread the compost, however. It all had to be dug into the bed. By hand. So the fun compost part got a lot less fun real fast. I was already sore from hauling bricks, and generally out of shape anyway, so I did take a lot of breaks. I had brought McKenna outside and put her on the line, and during one of my breaks, I lifted her up in the low crotch of a tree.
She did start climbing up to the right after I recorded this, but I grabbed her line and made her come back down before she got too high. I didn’t have time for a cat rescue mission.
As the late afternoon wore on, my breaks got shorter and simpler. The sun was setting, my muscles were aching, and I wasn’t sure which would run out first—my energy or the light. Somehow, miraculously, in spite of telling myself multiple times that I’d have to finish tomorrow, I managed to turn the last spadeful of soil before it got too dark.
Now the newly enriched dirt looked gorgeous, but the encroaching darkness meant I was going to have to do the actual planting on Sunday. Unlike this day, the forecast called for colder temperatures and 90% chance of rain by the afternoon. I promised myself I’d get it done, even if it meant I was out there digging holes in my rain jacket.
As it turned out, Sunday morning was actually comfortable, in the upper fifties, if a bit overcast. I started out in a thin long-sleeved t-shirt. By the time Miss Chef helped me dig in the pea trellises and lay out the seedlings, the first sprinkles arrived and I was cold enough to appreciate the extra layer of that rain jacket I’d sworn by. The sprinkles were short-lived, but by the time I had all the seedlings in—broccoli, lettuce, fennel, onions and herbs—and was planting carrot and radish seeds, the temperature had dropped by 10 degrees, and the blustery rain was making it hard to delicately scatter the tiny grains evenly.
However, as I’d promised myself, I got everything in. And I’m a little stunned by how good it looks.
Did you notice the new addition in that picture? That Sunday two weeks ago, while I was cursing at bricks, Miss Chef was busy in the shed, using wood left over from the bookshelf project to build me a second, sturdier trellis. The original one is about on its last legs, and may require some serious surgery to serve again next year, but in the meantime I’m very excited about potentially doubling my pea harvest!
I’m also a little stunned by the variety I’ve crammed into this bed. Garlic, peas, lettuce, radishes, fennel, onions, carrots, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage and dill—as well as parsley growing up in the tiny overgrown bed you can see in the background. As the spring crops fade out, I’ll have to find room for beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers and basil…all I’ve figured out thus far is beans; we’ll have to see how everything grows in.
In the meantime, I’ve realized that I neglected to deploy the crushed leaves I held back last year to use as mulch. Maybe a thin layer will make it a little harder for those darn birds that have invaded to eat my precious worms and carrot seeds. So I guess it’s back on with the rain jacket…gardening is a job never finished.