Aka, what happened to the garden?
This year our vegetable garden is just a little scary looking. I'm trying to grow a very low maintenance, more natural garden, and I think it's going well, but, I really have nothing to compare it to.
I have seen Back to Eden gardens, No Dig/No Till gardens, Permaculture gardens, raised bed gardens, and of course my next door neighbor's tiny but pristine garden. Coming from a sort of farming family, well, some of my relatives farm, some of my ancestors farmed, does that count, well, anyway, one would think growing food was in my blood. Apparently I have quite a bit more to learn.
In years past I have grown gardens under a variety of conditions, mostly sad, unimproved plots of dirt, but, I usually get some success.
One year, we lived in an old rental house that had long long ago been a farm house. The area behind the house showed remnants of a barn foundation, but, any signs of tillable, rich soil were long gone. Still, we were poor, and needed to find ways to feed ourselves that came from the sweat of our brow rather than the single income we were eeking out. We used pick axes, shovels, and rakes to loosen a 15x15 section of ground, and with no money for amendments or fertilizers, we just put our seeds in the ground and prayed for the best. To our amazement that garden grew and produced quite a bit of food. Our first peas were, to us, the best tasting peas in the world.
That little garden was such an important thing for us, and so satisfying when it was actually growing after all our hard work, that we would often bring lawn chairs out and sit by it, just watching it grow.
Our next garden was a huge plot in the backyard of the first home we ever owned. Again, no real amendments, just horse manure and lots of it. The garden at that house grew whatever we planted in it.
And then came our current property. Tim just loves his lawn, and each inch I dig up for garden spots causes him almost physical pain. I have the philosophy that it's just grass, it can grow back if we want it to, and no body is doing anything in our back yard, so, why not make it work for us.
It was true, the kids stopped wanting to be in the back yard when they all started to hit teenage. "it's boring" is the phrase I heard the most whenever I suggested they go spend time in the back yard.
There was no fighting it, the back yard was just grass that needed to be cut and nothing more.
At first I settled for a small patch of garden that the previous owners had set up using three garden boxes. I hated it, the boxes were too small, and working in them was a pain. So, the following year I increased the size quite a bit, and grew some of the basics, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, zucchini, and pumpkins. The production was great but I was still not satisfied.
Every year the garden got bigger and I increased the varieties I was growing. Finally, last year, we rented a sod cutter and removed the sod from a 50x50 foot section in the back section of the yard, and finished clearing the original garden, cutting sod there too to make it 50x15. It's still not big enough for me, but, I had to concede that we were fighting with the automatic sprinkler system. It limits where we can dig and how things get watered. Sigh. For now I will try to be satisfied.
After the garden was in last spring, I fought the battle of the weeds. We had rototilled both gardens, mainly to just loosen what was very compacted soil, but, I knew we were bringing weed seeds to the surface so I expected the jungle I ended up with. My thinking was that the weeds would hold moisture and in the extreme Utah summers having something to slow the drying out process is a good thing. I was mostly right, but, the weeds were also crowding out the vegetable plants, so, I had to concede to weed.
In the end, I was disappointed with the low production overall, but, encouraged by the fact that what did grow was so healthy. I determined that my plan would be to work with Mother Nature rather than against her and try to let her guide me. Sounds kind of granola, tree hugging, I know, and that's kind of a natural way of thinking for me, being a child of the sixties and all.
After the garden was pretty much done producing last Fall, I set out to collect as much leaf matter as I could. I solicited my neighbors for their bags of leaves from raking up after all those colorful trees. They happily contributed about 10 bags of leaves, and I spread those bags over both garden spots along with all of our leaves and grass clippings. I didn't till it in, or rake it. Just laid it on top of the harvested garden. Then I let my chickens have their way with it, digging around, pooping, and controlling the pests that might be in the leaves. They were thrilled and I let go of any thoughts about that garden for the rest of the Fall.
By Winter I was planning my Spring planting, buying seeds (heirloom non gmo) from various seed sites, and just knew this year I would be the master gardener I imagined myself to be. Using a journal I kyped from one of my kids, I drew my garden spots out, made lists of companion plants, mapped out where each vegetable would be planted. It was beautiful. I was excited. And then came Spring.
Maybe someday I will get good at the indoor seedling thing. I do great at first, and everything grows, but, I must not be doing something right because the seedlings never get as big as I believe they should in order to survive transplanting. Still, I forged ahead. By the time the second week in May rolled around Winter was still hanging on for dear life, and the ground was still too cold to put anything in the ground. The rain came right after that, so it wasn't until end of May before I had much planted at all.
I cut back my plans drastically, and only got peas, carrots, a few varieties of tomatoes, pole beans, bush beans, and leeks in. In June I put in squash, cucumbers, kale, brussels sprouts, radishes, collards, butter lettuce, cabbages, arugula, and peppers.
Then came the heat. Weeks on end of temps over 100 every day. No rain in sight, either. That went on through July and by August the rains came back with the usual monsoon flows we get this time of year. Still, temps over 90 everyday.
I did amend a bit this year, but, as naturally as possible. The leaves I put down last Fall did a great job of creating a nice layer of dark, rich soil. I added to my plantings some bone meal, blood meal, and epsom salts, and scattered some coffee grounds around. The chickens had done their job adding plenty of nitrogen in early Spring. So, why is everyone else getting lots of tomatoes, and zucchini, and peppers, and my plants are only just now starting to put on fruit? I let the weeds grow but not overtake. I keep mulching with grass clippings and dead weeds. I get emails from neighbors asking if anyone wants their surplus veggies and I look at my poor garden and wonder if I'm going to get anything ripened before Fall sets in.
Mother nature doesn't have this much trouble. She just drops seeds and lets them do their thing.
I peer over the fence at our neighbors tiny but productive garden and while I know they use chemical fertilizers and such, it still irks me that for all my effort I look at my 30 tomato plants and can count a dozen tomatoes total, and they are all small and green and a long way from harvesting. My dreams of a table full of freshly canned tomatoes is quickly fizzling away.
And yet I press on. Maybe all my work will actually pay off in the end. Maybe the early Fall will bring a huge harvest. Even if it doesn't, there is always next year. Which reminds me, I have an order of seeds coming in for planting my overwinter garden. Yep, giving that a try, too.
In the garden there is always hope and always next time.
I'm a mother of eleven children, wife of 37 years, Latter Day Saint, and 911 Dispatcher and a budding homesteader. Come along with me as I journey toward self sufficiency, one baby step at a time.
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