Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Garden Roulette

I grew vegetables the first year I moved to the country. I had a dream of self-sufficiency, and with 3½ acres, why not? I flagged down a farmer with a plow one morning, offered him $10 to plow me a small plot, and I was on my way. I learned a few things--beans are great producers, and I knew nothing about growing corn.

But my career got busy, and since gardens take work, I abandoned the practice for several years. After all, the stores were full of produce, and veggies were only part of my diet anyway. Things change, though. Fruits and vegetables have become most of my diet (for both health and maturity reasons), and with that much more skill in choosing them and constructing appealing meals. Add to that sharply rising prices and not always a good selection out here in the country without traveling to the city all the time to a superstore, and it was time to grow again. Anyway, I kind of like the “back to the land” thing anyway.

Time was still scarce, however. What to do? Experiment.

I designed a few separate plots. I did not invest in extensive turning of the soil, but rather hoed a few rows at a time with the intent of creating a “rolling harvest,” not a ton of produce due all at the same time (as I’d be too busy to deal with such a harvest during the academic year). I covered these plots with large sheets of black plastic with slits for the rows--the idea was to eliminate the need for weeding and to see if I could extend the growing season by creating warmer mini-climates. (The plots in different areas would also help cope with the weather, since different spots receive differing amounts of sun and water. One year one will be too wet, another year too dry, while another plot may be fine.)

At first, nothing. I had forgotten one thing--rabbits. I bought metal stakes and chicken wire, dug trenches around the gardens (to bury the bottom of the fence), and with the fences--suddenly I had lots of produce. (I still need to fence the strawberry plots, but one thing at a time. The strawberries will probably need netting too if I want them before the birds.)

OK, I had forgotten two things--vines climb. Without other opportunities, they climbed the chicken wire--and it’s just not sturdy enough to bear all that weight. The fences are still sort-of there, but I’ll have to invest in sturdier construction and something solid for vines to climb. (While I’m at it, I’ll enclose clear plastic between the new fence and the old chicken wire, then build similar panels for the top. That way. perhaps I can create warm enough spaces to start planting in April and grow through October.)

I didn’t start planting this year until June, so I was taking a lot of chances. I lucked out on the weather, though, with the first frost in the last weekend in October. I harvested lettuce, spinach, peas and beans all summer long, and I now have a few cantaloupe, one pumpkin, a fair amount of small, baby watermelon, and two copier boxes full of “close to ripe” green tomatoes (which will hopefully ripen soon). I didn’t get anything from the peppers I planted--just not ready yet.

What really hurt was the broccoli. I harvested a grocery bag of it, but it was just getting going, growing quickly. In another week, I’d have had 7-8 bags of it. Oh well. Next year.

At least I now know which crops do better in which plots and can plan accordingly. I’d also like to start growing some produce indoors--see if I can plant a little each week and hopefully have fresh produce ready all year round. At least so for, my gardening gambles have worked reasonably well.


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