Monday, January 10, 2011

Our first garden

We began our first backyard garden in May of 2007. It was my highest priority and took precedence over most everything. In fact, I started seeds using fluorescent lighting hung from random things such as kitchen chairs in our old upstairs apartment months before closing on our house. We ordered asparagus crowns, raspberry canes, blueberry bushes, and strawberry plants well before our big move into the first home we've ever owned. My husband had to talk very fast to keep me from also buying 25 chicks in advance of our transition.

Most people would spend their first months in a new home refurbishing and painting to get it the way they wanted. Instead, my husband and I were cutting trees and tearing out beach roots to make a modest area for planting. We worked outside despite the spring rain through exhaustion until dark most days to get a space ready for our garden. I was five months pregnant and this can only be described as intense outdoor nesting.

I still remember the look on the cashier's face when I rolled into the heavy equipment dealer to buy a chainsaw, pregnant belly protruding. He comically asked if I wanted to try it out...give it a spin. Oh how I wanted to, but kept my enthusiasm in check and declined his suggestion. We hadn't even bothered to plug in the TV, we were so busy. After a long day, my husband would sit in the floor, having no furniture, and I would play piano for our entertainment. It was a most unusual and enjoyable time in our lives.

To describe our freshly cleared garden plot as anything but sand with a layer of rotted leaves on top would be very generous. I can't really call what we started out with as soil, but we did a "soil" test and found most nutrients lacking and not surprisingly an acidic pH from all the leaves. This was good enough for the strawberries and raspberries, which are very accommodating and it was nearly suitable for the blueberries. The starting material did not dampen our enthusiasm and against better judgment we planted tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, peas, potatoes and so on. We discovered with that season how much work we would need to do in order to get things to grow and that it would take years to convert our plot into a productive kitchen garden.

Since then we have piled every last piece of goat poo and chicken bedding on top along with worm casings from our red wigglers and amendments from our compost pile. Every year our soil looks better and our plants show their appreciation through their productivity. In retrospect, it amazes me that we grew anything at all in 2007, but there are some things (like kale) that do well regardless of what they are given. Aside from fertilization, we have learned to use row covers (Agribon) for insect control and season extension. We also dutifully rotate the beds and stick to what we know will grow in our short and wet season.

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