Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Learning to Garden


I have certainly killed my share of bonsai trees and balcony herb gardens in this lifetime. This fact wasn't going to stop me. My husband and I moved into our new house at the beginning of last June. We did not have grass, a fence or a driveway. We didn't even have a paved street yet. (Nothing has changed so far this year.) I desperately wanted to plant a kitchen garden. My husband wanted me to relax, "wait until the city puts in the street," then we can start with paving, landscaping and growing some of our own vegetables. This logical suggestion fell on deaf ears.

There is a history of farming and gardening in my family. My great-grandparents farmed for their livelihood. They grew everything and kept livestock and a catfish pond on a 200-acre farm that sits just below Mount Magazine, the highest peak in Arkansas. Not only did my great-grandparents work the soil, but my grandparents followed in those footsteps. I have always admired the green thumbs in my family. The land upon which my grandparents live is an Eden. There is a large garden of tomatoes, peppers, okra and greens – mustard, kale, collard, spinach and turnip. There are blueberry bushes lining the perimeter. In the center of their back lawn is an enormous fig tree with the most delicious fruit. At 18, I ran away from all that – went to college and moved to the city for better job opportunities and an apartment dwelling existence without a speck of space to garden. After over 10 years on the “run,” I finally had a house with my husband. I finally had a spot to create a garden.

I tried to remain calm, but that only increased my obsession. By the middle of the month there was no stopping me from getting my first little garden in the ground. I really tried to control myself. Of course I wanted to go nuts - to plant heirlooms and every fruit and vegetable in every variety under the sun. I ransacked the local nurseries for whatever seedlings and herbs were left on the shelves. I was a bit late to the game, but I am beyond stubborn sometimes. After admonishing myself repeatedly to be very adult about this endeavor, I settled on one cucumber plant, one tomato vine (pictured above at its height), two hot pepper varieties (jalapeno and red time bombs) and a red bell pepper plant. That was my first problem - only buying one of each, but this was a "trial" garden.

I dug large rocks out of our yard and arranged them in an oval. Looking back, the small plot looked more like a pet graveyard than a garden. I filled the middle with potting soil and stuck the seedlings in the ground. I watered fairly regularly. I didn't add or spray anything to the plot for miracle growth. We aren't allow to use pesticides in Quebec, not that I really wanted to douse my vegetable plants with chemicals anyway. So this was basically a plant and see what happens sort of year.  

I lined the deck with potted herbs – parsley, sage, mint, rosemary and cilantro. I am not sure what the cilantro finally became - it might have bolted or it might have been "long" cilantro. I am still uncertain. There was a noticeable difference in the plant I bought versus the herb I buy at the grocers. I honestly believed the leaves would magically transform their shape at maturity. I did use the cilantro in my salsa. It was good, interesting, but not exactly what I was wanting.

Well the summer came and went and not much happened in my garden. I grew enough produce to make one batch of salsa. I planted everything side by side. I am fairly sure the cucumber vines strangled the life out of everything else. I did realize at one point what the vines were doing, so I staked and tied them to grow in a different direction. But it was fairly hopeless. My cucumbers were supposed to be English cucumbers. I waited and waited for them to grow into long, dark green beauties, but they stayed short and pale. I finally picked them. They tasted horrible! The cukes had obviously been on the vine too long. I have since read that maybe I shouldn't have planted tomatoes and cucumbers in the same small bed, or at least that is what Wikipedia's guide on companion planting tells me. There are several others that report cucumbers and tomatoes together are beneficial, including one by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

At the end of last season, I thought vegetable gardening should just be left to the experts. I was determined that gardening was just not my "talent" even if there is a definite gene in my family. From then on, I decided that all of my vegetables should be bought from the grocery store, farmer's markets or local farm stands.

Well...spring is here! And my dreams are yet again consumed by obtaining a fantasy vegetable garden. (It seems my talent is definitely stubbornness.) I even found this online tool to plan my vegetable beds. It has template beds or you can design your own. Of course I went nuts. My must-haves this season were a salsa bed, a lettuce and "greens" bed and one I call the "Indian" bed, mostly because it was to have corn, beans and squash - and melons and cucumbers. These are called the "three sisters" crops because these vegetables benefit from growing together and they were the three main crops planted by Native Americans.



Well, with the help of my sensible husband, I have scaled back. The salsa and tomato sauce bed is going in the ground now. We originally went to the store to find wood to build the beds, but... I had read that we should look for untreated redwood or Douglas fir because these are rot resistant. The only wood that was available to us was treated or untreated pine. They told us that pine would probably rot in a year if it wasn't treated. Of course, I couldn't get treated wood because those chemicals could contaminate my vegetables. 

After visiting three "home" stores, we returned to the house empty-handed. We gave it some thought, I did a little more research and decided that cinder block beds were the way to go. I built a raised bed from cinder blocks yesterday. I staked the middle for my tomato plants. Today I will be adding in composted manure on the bottom and organic garden soil on the top. I will plant herbs and companion flowers in the cinder block holes around the garden. I am still thinking of taking my large rocks from last year's garden and possibly making a "three sisters" patch - plus those melons and cucumbers. Oh! I could use my pots from last year to plant some lettuces...

To be continued...

© 2009-2010 Madame Monaco All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment