Sunday, July 20, 2014

If I Say So Myself

Every day compulsion drives me outside to gaze upon my garden.

Garden 07 (11)

A large part of its charm arises from the minute daily changes, whether it’s green beans one day closer to harvest, or a previously undiscovered cucumber suddenly revealed beneath the foliage.  Today I decided to pull out the last straggling radishes, and make a point to check for weeds.  That’s when I realized I’ve taken an enormous step in garden management.

Here’s a shot from last July’s garden.

garden 07 (3)

Yes, the squash plant has collapsed, but aside from that, the lemon balm has overgrown half the garden, and grass is invading everywhere.

garden 07 (12)


Whereas this year…

Garden 07 (2)

This is the spot from which I just pulled the radishes, and where I’ll be putting something in for fall (not sure yet what…).  Here’s another picture near the middle of the bed.

Garden 07 (7)

I can see one or two unwelcome sprouts, but mostly I see beans, carrots, tomatoes, herbs and marigolds (and a bonus McKenna).  I give a lot of credit to that layer of crushed leaves I mulched with, one of the big lessons I learned this year.  This picture also illustrates some of the head scratching that goes on in the garden.  The bean plant on this side of the path sprouted at least a week before the one behind the path.  Part of the problem was that the front one was overgrown by radishes, but not that much.

Perhaps these guys have something to do with it.

Garden 07 (4)

These are about a half-dozen volunteer tomato plants that I let grow, thinking they were marigolds--the young leaves are similar, and I tried to spread the flowers throughout the bed.  Though these are mostly cherry tomatoes, I’m just as happy to have them, since my one beefsteak tomato plant looks like this.

Garden 07 (5)

Skinny, gangly, with a single fruit.  This will be one of those classic $5 tomatoes we gardeners have all grown at some point.  Wrong place for tomatoes, I guess.

I’ve tentatively concluded that I’m more of a spring gardener.  My peas, broccoli and root crops do well every year.  I just pulled up most of the remaining carrots to donate to Friendship Gardens.  I got four pounds, not a bad haul.  And they were pretty, too.


I’ve donated almost 15 pounds of produce this year, from herbs and radishes to cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

Now, besides keeping up with the weeds, I have been busy keeping up with deadlines, too.  My writing career is still more of a hobby, but it has been growing steadily.  I’ve had 10 stories published online with a local independent paper, one actually in print (which pays significantly better), and another coming out next month in a special dining section.  That one involved a visit with a photographer to a local farm.  As happens often, the space limits made me chop the experience down to just a few hundred words, so I wrote up a more complete story here, on my other blog.  (If you’re tired of reading about my garden, I strongly suggest you click on over for something much more interesting.) 

I’ve also just been assigned two stories in the local Edible magazine—which pays even better yet.  It’s nowhere near enough to even pay the mortgage, but I’m happy with this progress.  I have two or three more weeks of a journalism class, which will finish up with some pointers about how to pitch a story, after which I plan to start submitting to more publications.  I’ll be in a good position then, with so many published articles to point to.

In the meantime, I’ve got a very part-time, probably temporary job managing a donation station at a local market.  And of course, I’m filling lots of time with volunteer work for Friendship Gardens.  So although I’m mostly unemployed still, I am not bored or lonely.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I’ve Learned in the Garden This Year


Spring this year heralded the beginning of a surprisingly steep learning curve for me.  We’re only halfway through the main growing season, and yet it’s been such a different experience out there, I feel like I should get it down now.

The first lesson I’ve learned has actually taken a couple of years to sink in.  That is, prepare your garden bed in the fall.  In the late summer, when the bed was getting overgrown with grass, and the harvest was coming to a stuttering halt, I used to neglect my garden out of sheer guilt and leave it to its own devices all winter.  As a result, I’d start out my spring gardening season with such a weedy mess that I often considered quitting the hobby.  Then there was the magic year of the goat poop.  It didn’t take me too long to notice that cleaning and mulching the bed in the fall made for an easier, much more enjoyable planting season in the spring.

Which is closely related to lesson number two: take care of your dirt, and it will take care of you.  I’m a bit ashamed I ignored this for the first 3 or 4 years of gardening.  Even that first addition of goat poop didn’t solve all my problems, but after a second year of adding compost, I have much healthier plants and much prettier, disease- and pest-free harvests.

Along with that good soil, I’ve benefitted this year from a third happy lesson: a little mulch makes a big difference.  Last fall I got very serious about saving fall leaves.  Not only did I mulch the bed for overwintering, but I also stashed away three contractor bags’ worth of crushed, sweet smelling flakes of fall to use during the growing season.  I mulched once when I prepared and planted the bed, a second time after the seedlings had emerged, and again a few weeks ago when the hot, dry weather hit and I could see patches of naked dirt peeking through.  Nature does not like bare soil, and by keeping it covered, I’ve minimized the need to water.  I’ve also had a lot fewer weeds coming up from seeds blowing around the yard.

The newest lesson, and the one I bring up in every gardening conversation this year, is that of companion planting.  I completely changed my planting design, and I like how it’s worked.  I can’t be sure if the drop in pests on my broccoli, or my great crops of carrots and onions were a direct result, but I do know that I’m making better use of my limited space.  Last year I’d guess at least a third of my garden bed went unused after I pulled my spring crops.  This year almost all the gaps I see are being slowly filled by summer plants growing in.

I’m hoping the learning curve continues in the coming months, as I’m planning on trying out a fall garden for the first time.  Now that July is here, it’s time for me to start making decisions about what, when and where I want to plant.  I was going to start with just the planter Miss Chef and I built, but after receiving 50’ of row cover material for my birthday, I might expand my plans into the main bed.  Ambitious!

In conclusion, I’d like to present this year’s garden champion:


That’s a 14 oz onion bulb (397 g for my metric-minded friends), which was donated to Friendship Gardens.  Also, there’s a cat, just for “scale.”

In spite of my best intentions, my new writing “career” and course homework have been stealing time from this blog.  On the other hand, you can see what became of that time by reading my articles here, including my first one in print, an interview with a new local baker.