"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Garden History (August Update)

Every year since I was nineteen years old, I've put in a garden of some kind. Nineteen was the first year I had any dirt of my own to work with, and it wasn't much; just a bit of vacant lot behind the old theatre I was squatting in in south Seattle. I planted peas, and come summer I couldn't tell the peas I had planted from the natural vetch that was springing up anyway.

Some years my garden was only a few potted herbs, which usually died sad and lonely deaths of neglect on hot windowsills. After I moved into my first house one of the first things I did was plow up the back lawn and start planting. My mother gave me two apple trees as a moving in present, and those trees are still alive and doing fine. Just the other day, in fact, I drove by the old house and noticed that the trees are up over the roofline and it's high time somebody did some serious pruning.

In any case, I can't take much credit for the gardens in those early years - most of the impetus came from my Dad, on the one hand, and my then-boyfriend, Kevin, on the other. Where I envisioned a polite twenty by twenty plot with a few tomatoes and beans, the two of them went to town with a rototiller and eviscerated the entire backyard. We must have had some decent soil in that suburban yard, because for several years an extremely good garden arose: I have pictures of twelve foot high sunflowers; sprawling pumpkin vines; respectable corn stalks; and exuberant scarlet runner beans.

As a matter of fact, there is a high likelihood that I owe my happy marriage to that garden. My husband tells me that on the occasion that he first spent the night at my house (a few days after I met him - I work fast), he was amazed and delighted to see a good-sized patch of tall corn stalks in a small urban plot. Being Mexican, he must have seen the corn as a good omen. Or perhaps he thought a thriving garden presaged a hardworking woman - little did he know my father was doing most of the work. In any case, that corn was no small part of his decision to ask me out again. So thank you, Chicomecoatl, Aztec corn goddess.

When we moved up here, we were faced with some serious garden challenges. This land had previously been used as a dairy farm, and most of what was available was compacted and highly over-nitrogenated. Not to mention tons of construction debris that had simply been plowed into the ground and left there. This is some of the debris that came out of the ground when we finally hired somebody with big machinery to dig it all up:
My guess is a couple of tons. And there is no doubt more - every time we wield a shovel we hit some kind of twisted metal. But at least we have finally removed enough crap that we can more or less plow and more or less sow and more or less use the land like land is meant to be used.

I have tried a number of different ways to raise a garden here - far too many to go into right now, at eight o'clock of a lovely summer evening. In some future post I may compare in-ground planting to container gardening and write up a review of my new greenhouse. For now, I simply want to give an overview of this year's vegetable based food production:

1) the orchard - the baby goats escaped sometime in June and in twenty minutes did an insane amount of damage. The four surviving fruit trees from last year's planting are just barely alive. I think three will certainly live, and one looks like a goner. But the ones that live will have been put back a full year or more. Damn goats, I will take a grim satisfaction in cutting their little throats come October. Otherwise, the older fruit trees are doing well - no plums on the bum plum tree, but the pears are producing beautifully and the two cherries have provided a small but delicious crop. The blueberry bushes look like they are planning on producing a bumper crop. The goats ate the raspberry canes down to the ground - and it would have been the first year, too! - but at least the canes will survive. All in all, the orchard is a qualified success.

2) the greenhouse - maybe I need to read up more on how to make use of a greenhouse in this climate. This was my first year with a greenhouse, and it is true that (a) it was never finished properly, and never sealed, and is therefore quite drafty, and (b) this was an unusually cold and wet spring, with nothing like normal weather until mid-May. I am sad to report that the greenhouse didn't provide me with anything like the benefits I had hoped for - I may have gained a week or two on salad greens and I still have hopes for some things I would never have tried without a greenhouse like cantaloupes and eggplants, but for the most part, I have been disappointed. Before the rains start this fall, I will try and force my husband to seal the sucker up with silicone.

3) The garden - My early crops (peas, spinach, radishes, arugula) didn't do very well due to the crazy cold wet spring. Even the ones I planted in the green house did poorly, though exactly why I can't say. Many of the things I plant in containers do poorly and I think it is due to the hard, clay-ey soil that sets up like a rock if not watered five times a day. My first crop of potatoes - April - rotted in the ground and I had to re-plant in May. Those potatoes are doing okay but the ones that really took off are the late potatoes I planted in mid June. I thought it would be too late but those taters look better than almost anything else!

Other things which are doing well are my celery (slow to start but now taking off); cabbage; eggplant;


-Heidi said...

I hear ya! This season has been a hard one... but, I've had a little success. I did a potato comparison, to see which method of potato planting would do best in this climate, and so far I think they all did well... I'd better get busy processing potatoes (also strawberries, peas, and bring on the squash). I finally have tomatoes (from the greenhouse) and I didn't have any luck with tomatoes without the greenhouse. I ended up moving many plants back to the greenhouse and finally I have peppers too. The squash are starting to show themselves in the garden. I think every year is a learning process. I moved to Port Angeles, WA from SLC, UT a few years ago... I'm just learning what works for me here. I think fixing your greenhouse is the best idea for this area... I'm getting most of my success in the greenhouse... besides, with mild winters, we can grow in the greenhouse year-round.

Sunny said...

Thanks for sharing your challenges and triumphs. I've been growing for two years.. but we don't own this property and our time may be limited..

I realized that life out in the back hollers is not easy and we lose stuff food and animals..but it is toughening me for the hard times ahead.

How awful reading about your original digging of the land, that people should be so careless.. It hurts me when I see dumped mattresses and old tV's in our beautiful national forest...

I give up with squash and am totally successful with tomatoes [N.Georgia mountains] and okra flourishes with hardly an insect attack...

I think part of successsful gardening is learning what works and what does not...

Last year we were inundated with cukes, and I wish I'd known Dilli Gaff's recipe for Agua Brava... !!!

Thanks for the blog,we need more people like you sharing.

Laura said...

Down here in the southern Willamette valley, I don't know how people are going to get tomatoes, unless they wave their magic wands! The weather has not been conducive to growing most crops unless they happen to be rice or watercress!

Such is the lot of farmers. Some years are great - some years are not, and you hope you have saved enough from the good ones to get you through.

I hear you on the goats - the little buggers! I had sheep do the same thing to some gorgeous trees - they tasted really good (the sheep, not the trees!). You can wrap the trunks with burlap or cotton towels (keep them moist, but not sopping) where they've been partially girdled. It will help the tree heal.

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

You crack me up...you need to send out a bulletin to all the single women wanting a partner --- that they should plant a corn crop. The Magic Marriage Crop!

I do think that working land together and raising some farm animals together does bond a husband and wife, more than can be imagined.

Olive said...

Home grown celery !! there is nothing as good as the smell of celery from your own garden...love it.

Anonymous said...

Corn as husband bait! What else might work...asparagus? Cucumbers? Japanese eggplant? Yard-long beans?

Rose Plated said...

Wow! I really enjoyed reading your post! It gave me hope for my garden that has a lot of pieces of old bricks and big rocks!

Tabby Dinosaur said...

It is really hard to plant on a clay soil. I had experienced it one time that I have to buy garden soil for my plants. But with perseverance and knowledge on soil management, I had produced my own garden soil. Keep it up.