Friday, February 22, 2008

It's Time...for a Garden!

Quit staring at the screen as if I were insane! I promise you, I'm not. In the past week, my jonquils have bloomed, the grass has had a mysterious shade of green appearing in spots, and my Spring Fever has switched into overdrive. That means, its time to be thinking about your gardens! Preparation is key to a thriving garden and really, there isn't that much prep time left. Ask me how I know!
Coming from a long line of farmers and gardeners, I decided last year, I would try my hand at gardening. Ofcourse, me being me, I could not simply do things the way my family has always done them. If its not broke, don't fix it right? WRONG. I wanted a different way. One that suited me a little better, and didn't require all the gardening gadgets that we didn't have like a tractor and a tiller and at that point.....we were even hoeless. What were we thinking?
So Steve and I looked at our land and how we used it, and picked out a spot. I set off in early spring to research and investigate and read as much as I possibly could so that I would have a show piece of a garden. I was not about to do the trial and error method my first year out...which ofcourse as you know, no matter how much you think you know, its always trial and error the first time around! After much research, we decided on the BioIntensive Method. This method is basically ecologically friendly and yields four times the amount of produce on less land. (Perfect for suburban kitchen gardens.) My Garden bible? "How to Grow More Vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine" by John Jeavons. I live with this book and occasionally have even slept and bathed with this book. If you want to garden on a small plot of land, BUY THIS BOOK.
To give you a brief overview of last year, I will go ahead and tell you..we made several mistakes. We started too late, miscommunicated the design (but finally got it right-our first argument was literally over the garden..or as my husband NOW refers to it "my wife's dam garden boxes"), planted too late, didn't water enough, etc. The area we chose was a landmine field of roots and stumps which was a problem in itself so we did end up needing a tractor for the initial dig.
Fortunately, my father became our knight in shining armor and rode in on the most beautiful pile of rust I had ever seen in my uncles crappy old tractor with glorious blades of rust that dug in, turned soil, and ripped at roots. After much chopping, digging, and raking we had the majority of the roots and grass removed and it was on to the tiller and the hoe. Now, the normal Biointensive Method uses a double dig process which is labor intensive but can be done with a simple shovel, but in case you haven't figured it out, I'm not I did bring in some of the traditional methods in the beginning. Once our boxes were built and in place (thanks to my darling sweet and complaining husband) we did the Double dig method more or less to "fluff" the dirt....all of this...took so much longer then we originally thought; so we were WEEKS late in planting and missed the initial spring crops all together. We did not actually get any "food" until the first of JULY.
My point in all of this is: Gardening Prep takes time, so plan early. Seed starting for my area of NC actually starts in two it is TIME to be thinking about your garden plans. Most farmers who do traditional row plantings have already started preparing their plots and it is a beautiful sight to behold. Gently rolling fields of NC dirt (red clay) spreading off in rows for acres and acres as you drive through the country. Your first seeds should be started inside (if you choose to do seeds rather then buying the plants already started) on average six weeks before your estimated last frost. For my area, that date is April 22nd this year, so that only leaves two weeks to get ready. I am not big on starting seedlings, and usually buy beautiful plants from my reputable local nursery to save me time and space, but this is a good date for me to go by to know when I need my garden beds prepped for planting!
All in all, despite the mistakes and late starts, my garden was beautiful (even though it was weedy) and produced more then anyone expected. We suffered losses (RIP baby zuchini and squash) and reaped the benefits (tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and green beans coming out of our ears). We had corn and cucumbers, eggplants, spaghetti and acorn squash, watermelons etc. We have a better idea of time frames, planting methods, and produce quantities. I even had praise from my mother who referred to my garden as the 'yuppie garden' in the beginning but was envious of it by the end of the year. This year, I pledge to have a better handle on it, and share the amazing journey of mother natures bounty with all of you! So grab your gloves and a shovel and come plant with me!

These pictures were taken last week (on Valentines Day actually). This is my garden with its "boxes" bedded down for the winter and melting snow. Four 5' x 20' boxes and Two 5'x 10' boxes surrounded by 3 foot pathways. At the very far end is our big pile of sandy soil that we will be adding to our boxes along with lots of horse manure over the next few weeks!

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