Caroline and I are well into our third year of tending our vegetable garden plot at a local community garden. Previous years I blogged more often on our efforts to become locally renown green thumbs. Come to think of it, other years I just plain blogged more often.
Since it is August already I’ll give a very quick history of our efforts and observations to date:
Planning next year’s garden starts pretty much as you are gardening in the current year. It also takes up to three mid-winter coffee and muffin meetings at Grounded Kitchen and Coffee House where you spread out all the books and records and bring out the planting wheel. We talk crop rotation, soil amendments, powdery mildew and companion crops. The planting wheel indicates which crops grow well or not well next to each other. It’s planning to make a project manager proud.
We decided to start many plants from seed this year. Let’s just say Caroline is much better at it than I am. For weeks on end I had plants downstairs with grow lights, upstairs in the bedroom and living room, using watering mats and transplanting when they got bigger. End result? By the time I moved the plants out to harden them off gradually, I’d say at least 50% of those plants perished. Someone, please, tell me what I did wrong! What a bunch of work for nothing, I thought when it happened. I’ll never do try that again, I thought. And the next week I thought, this won’t beat me, I’ll go at it again next year. You have to be part masochist part eternal optimist to be a gardener. At least if you have my level of knowledge, you do.
Spending money on vast amounts of mushroom compost, Lee Valley Tools Drip Irrigation systems and row covers is a good investment. Accountants and economists would not find the investment cost-effective if you look solely at the cost of buying things at the grocery store versus our inputs. We rationalize by factoring in the value of working with Mother Nature (good for your soul), knowing how the food was grown (totally organic, no animals were harmed in the making of these beans), spending time with a dear friend and boring our family and friends with talk about our “farm”. I think it’s similar to having an ugly baby where the parents see beauty and others look and say politely “Well, that’s a baby!”
Parsnips are very difficult to grow, at least for us they are. They don’t want to sprout and after two plantings we have 4 lonely parsnips. Pretty pathetic. We had trouble last year too. However we learned then it was because we thought their tops looked like carrots and when other shapes emerged we weeded them out. Pulled out our very own parsnips, we did!
You cannot outsmart Mother Nature. For example, we didn’t plant potatoes this year as there were too many potato bugs and diseases in the past. So this year the potato bugs decided to go at our tomato plants as a surrogate! Fortunately they haven’t been too bad at all compared to past years. Also, we have some sort of grassy weed that grows right next to our wanted plants. If you pull up the grass then you pull up the vegetable too. The weed is saying “Oh yeah! If you take me, I’m taking your plant with me .
For every hour you spend picking vegetables be ready to spend one to two times as long cleaning and storing them when you get home.
Zucchini wear camouflage. You look for them one day and there are none and a few days later they are as big as a baseball bat.
Your vegetables will not necessarily be the size you see in the grocery store. We waited for a few of our tidy smallish cauliflower to grow into monsters and they grew grotesque and discoloured instead. We should have picked them earlier.
Gardening is coming to an end for the 2012 season. It is time to put the “farm” to sleep.
We continue to marvel at how things grew this year. How most things grew might be more accurate. Here’s a few lessons learned as the season draws to a close:
Little seedlings that look like 90 pound weaklings can grow into behemoths. Have faith. And a watering system. And add lots of mushroom compost.
Do some research about what plants might look like if you have never grown them before. In our case, it was parsnips. We have been lamenting that our parsnips never germinate. We plant, they never grow up. We buy news seeds. Nothing. Late this year we discovered we had been mistaking any little parsnips for weeds and had been regularly plucking them out of the ground. Darn things don’t look like carrot tops when they emerge.
Pay close attention to invasions of insects and other pests. And then try to figure out what to do about it before it’s too late.
Cleaning up the garden can be bittersweet. Good bye to the growing season, sigh. No sooner does that thought enter your mind than you start thinking about crop rotation and what you’ll plant next year.
One of the greatest joys of gardening is sharing the results with others. This year we actually had some produce to share and we did so with great joy. Do you have any gardening or horticulture highlights from 2013?
Caroline, my dear friend and gardening partner, and I are embarking on our second year of “farming”. The plot is the same 20 ft by 50 ft garden we rented from the city last gardening season.
During our first year, 2011, we decided not to invest too heavily in inputs (ah, the farming language is wonderful) in case we decided not to garden beyond year one. After last year, a year of mixed success, we decided to invest in more inputs or soil amendments as Caroline calls them. Late last fall that took the shape of 10 cubic yards of mushroom compost delivered by a dual axle dump truck that beeped when it backed up and then spewed out a great mass of steaming smelly compost onto our plot. I was speaking with Bonnie (from Bonnie’s Lavender Farm) about gardening this coming season. When I told her we’d purchased mushroom compost, she said “that’s just horse shit”. I thought at first she was dissing our investment but then realized she was calling a spade a spade or in this case, calling mushroom compost horse….well you get it.
No matter what we call the inputs, we are hoping it will turn our 2012 farming season into a smashing success. We feel very good about trying to grow our own food. We are hoping this year our bounty will increase and that the compost will make a world of difference.
Some things that would make us very happy this year:
to have more than one resident, migrant earthworm in the whole plot
to produce carrots that don’t look as if they were grown in a nuclear waste site
to have fewer than 4, 427 potato bugs to squash throughout the season
to really sit down, once in a while, in the lawn chairs we take out and store in the little shed
We do get teased about how you can buy 20 lb bags of carrots in the fall for $3.50 a bag. No matter, those are not our carrots, that were started by our hands and our attention to water and our monitoring and our great discussions about thinning the plants and on and on. In a way we may be living the old joke about the farmer who won a million dollars and was asked about his plans. “Oh, I dunno”, he said, “probably keep farming till it’s all gone”.
Do you have some gardening experience to send our way? All guidance and advice is most welcome.