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Where I try to learn from my mistakes and, again, plant a garden

by John on May 13th, 2014

The mistakes from last year rang in my mind. I wanted an epic vegetable garden then, and I still want one now. But, last year, I went about things the wrong way, and things did not turn out.

  • First off, we planted on a truly beautiful day in early April. While our April, last year, was quite mild, as far as Aprils go, we were not clear of the final frosts when the plants went in the ground. The pepper and tomato and cucumber plants we bought? Did not survive the month.
  • When buying plants, we decided “ooh, let’s try this,” or “let’s try that.” There wasn’t much rhyme or reason, other than “this vegetable is tasty, let’s plant it!” Broccoli and cauliflower, while indeed tasty, are not warm-weather plants. While they survived the frosts, they went to seed before more than a single, token meal could be salvaged.
  • When I tilled the soil (with a roto-tiller, because power tools are awesome!), I did little else to prepare the ground. The thing about grass is that it’s resilient as fuck. Not only was there minimal barrier between “garden” and “not garden” but the “garden” part had large clumps of grass that had been disturbed, but were still together. So grass encroached from all four sides, and from within the garden, itself.
  • I did a piss-poor job of remembering where I put seeds. Because of this, when anything broke through the ground, I had issues identifying whether it was a plant or a weed or grass.
  • The Brussels Sprouts incident.

The garden wasn’t a complete disaster, however. I grew enough lettuce for several, large, salads. Chinese cabbage grew aplenty for a few stir-frys. I was able to make a few loaves of zucchini bread. But, all in all, it was a sweaty, expensive learning experience.

This year, we did a lot more planning.

  • First off, I researched what vegetables I should expect to be able to harvest in the height of summer, in central Pennsylvania. I love broccoli and cauliflower (seriously, for years, I shied away from cauliflower . . . then I decided to roast a head on a whim and, since then, it’s become a staple of my diet), but there is no way to grow them in the heat of August1.
  • Where possible, we bought seedlings instead of seeds. I know this was more expensive — but, my goal this year is to succeed in harvest, not to minimize budget. Next year, I’ll look at seed starter kits and actually start what can be started inside, in early Spring, but baby steps this year.
  • The tilled area remained from last year — but we attacked it
    • Two borders of the rectangular garden are chain link fence — I put railroad ties down on both the outside & inside of the fence, to inhibit grass migration (and, hopefully, to dissuade any burrowing creature from making the trek2). Inside the chain-link fence, we have a small picket fence (to keep the dogs from “helping” with harvesting and/or weeding) and we lined the inside of said picket fence with mountain stones.
    • Manually, we turned all of the soil, discarding anything that was green or had a root — it took significantly more time than the roto-tilling, but I feel that we have a base where we actually discouraged weed/grass growth.
    • We placed newspaper on top of the manually tilled soil, to provide yet another barrier between anything that’s trying to get through the ground and the sunlight it’s trying to reach.
    • We brought in soil, so that the top layers of dirt were near-guaranteed to not start with life that we’re hoping to avoid having.

    Some lessons learned from this go-round

    • Tutus are not, necessarily, appropriate gardening wear. The La was “helping” by digging in the soil as we manually turned it. She sat on a hill of ants. They started biting her. The tutu acted as a net for the damn insects, so that, even after we brushed them off of her, another wave started.
    • After said ant attack on his sister, CJ would flip his shit whenever we saw any bug, of any size. We were outside. You can guess how well that went.
    • It takes upwards of 10 minutes to put gardening gloves on preschoolers. They don’t do near enough with their hands to warrant protection.
    • I hated having the plants that I wanted to plant and still having to wait to finish all of the prep work before starting the actual planting. The “actual planting” is what the kids wanted to do . . . if my desire to ‘get going’ was so great, imagine the patience level of my preschoolers.
    • You know that scene in Goonies where Stef steps on the head of a rake and scares herself when the pole hops up and she screams when some rags & a dead fish are stuck to it? Leila tried to re-enact that scene, but wasn’t wearing shoes at the time. Fortunately, the rake tooth didn’t break through her skin.

    With all that said, I’m feeling confident that we’ll have a good harvest this year. Lots of tomatoes (some heirloom vareities, Roma, and cherry), jalapeno & bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, onions, carrots, string beans, watermelon, pumpkin, and herbs.

    I’ll be checking in as we harvest 🙂

    1 This is not to say that I won’t grow said vegetables this year — it just means that I’m going to have to be quick, possibly aggressive, when deciding which plants are unlikely to yield any more fruit, and re-use the space when August rolls around, in the hopes for September harvest.
    2 I’m not too manly to admit that I screamed like a little girl and jumped like someone who had stepped on hot coals when I picked a carrot last year and disturbed a family of moles who had made their home directly in the middle of the carrot patch.

From → Gardening, Parenting

  1. Why no pictures? I wish we could plant a garden. Our yard is crap. I guess I could try planting out of pots to at least have some herbs. Start small.

    You’ve got an amazing garden going there!

  2. I second the request for pics! And I sometimes dream of planting a garden, though not getting cauliflower out of it would be tragic, but then I remember I still haven’t mowed my lawn this spring (yup, spring) and I may or may not be responsible for my block’s sudden dandelion epidemic.

    • Yeah, I know, pictures — I’ll post some shortly — here’s the one I took of things actually in progress:

      The previous homeowners paid some serious coin for a landscaping company to maintain things for them . . . the company did all the hard work, and the couple did the fun part (planting). I’m pretty sure most, if not all of the neighbors, came up with their landscaping strategies based on the previous homeowners of my house . . . so when I took over? Well, we’ve actually had the township called on us because the riding mower broke and my ankle was sprained and the grass grew to about half a foot in height and my neighbor decided to go to the ‘thorities rather than come speak to me. But that’s a long long story.

      And yeah, I’m the main culprit for any/all dandelions about the block in my area. Though I actually have weed & feed ready to go . . . just haven’t had the time to actually spread it.

  3. I’m impressed as hell. You learned and are moving forward and it’s all about VEGETABLES.

    I would love love love a vegetable garden.
    But someone else would have to grow it for me.
    I kill all plant-life. Inevitably.

    But I do love cauliflower.
    So good luck, John.

    And good luck, moles!

    This garden might not be big enough for the both of you…

    • My issue is that I “only” need 5-10 minutes/day to work on maintenance. If I come home from work, head to the back yard, I can keep any pests/weeds at bay with minimal effort, and it’s actually somewhat enjoyable.

      But, there are days that I don’t get home until after dark. And there are days that I get home while it’s still light out, but it’s raining/hailing/whatever. And there are days that I come home and the lawn NEEDS to be mowed, so I skip the 5-10 minutes . . . and then it’s dark again.

      I actually am pretty good at growing things, truly — just, well, I’m good at other things, too, and that means that making the garden the priority that it needs to be, up to this point, just hasn’t happened. Here’s hoping this year is different.

  4. It’s really spring down there? Lucky.

    I couldn’t put my peas in the ground until two weeks ago, and I’m still nervous about my herbs and bean seedlings.

    Stupid never ending winter.

    But I am determined, and in possession of a Home Depot gift card for gardening supplies!

    • Yes, it’s truly spring down here. We’ve had several 80+ degree days, and the threat of frost is miniscule.

      That said, I had hoped to start a month ago. The whole tilling/weeding/preparing the soil . . . I meant to start that in April, and let the nitrogen cycle work it’s magic — as long as I managed to get out every few days to get rid of anything that might be breaking through the ground, and did a full re-till a few days before planting, I could have gotten away with buying a whole lot less soil (possibly, without buying any soil at all).

      But the weather didn’t allow that, as trying to break through frozen ground has ZERO appeal to me.

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