Friday, July 29, 2011

Gardening: Slow learner improves

I'm not good at changing my behavior based on written instructions. Cookbooks tell me to bring eggs to room temperature; I bake with cold eggs. The Square Foot Gardening book told me how to persuade carrot seed to sprout; I read it, ignored it, and failed for several years before "developing" a successful method... that was the same as the Square Foot Gardening method. But I didn't get any carrots, because I'm still ignoring the advice to sift the soil and add sand.

But my learning cycle is getting shorter, because the other day I did the right thing in the new garden, after ignoring good advice for only a month and a half.

The tomatoes, the cucurbits, the peppers, and the corn all wanted feeding. The corn was fighting with hundreds of half-grown weeds. Strawberries wanted picking. Lettuce wanted watering. Blueberries wanted acidifying. The last batch of bush bean seeds was waiting to be planted before the season gets too late, and enation-resistant peas were waiting to be planted so I'll have something legumey to eat after the beans are over. Columbine and Japanese anemones were waiting to be planted in the shady ornamental corner. And the cucumbers were luxuriating above nice clean soil with just a few barely-visible weed seedlings nervously poking their heads above ground. Of the above situations, which did I address first?

I got out the scuffle hoe and hoed the cucumbers.

This slaughtered a teaspoonful of weeds. Then I hoed all of the other "clean" parts of the garden. That took ten minutes, a number that tells you both (1) how easy it is to scuffle a few bitty weeds out of already-weeded ground and (2) how little of the garden is at the nearly-weed-free point of being scuffleable. When it's all at that point, I expect that scuffling the whole thing will take an hour or two a week.

Then I went on to hand-weed a hundred square feet of weed-infested corn, on my hands and knees, until I wore out after about an hour and a half. Another four hundred or so square feet await. Of corn. That doesn't count the tomatoes and the peppers and the melons and the parts of the garden that are merrily growing weeds and nothing but weeds, as we work on getting around to planting them. Did I mention that this is the biggest vegetable garden, by far, that we've ever had?

Hoeing first, I have realized, is the key to getting on top of the garden. (I say "I have realized" even though more than one garden book has already told me this.) No matter what else is screaming for my attention, my first step should be to scuffle up the tiny weeds in any "weeded" ground that hasn't been hoed in the past, oh, three to seven days. Because if I don't do that, I will be on my hands and knees weeding that patch a week and a half later. While other weeded patches are growing a new crop of weeds. Which I will be hand-weeding another week and a half later. And round and round and round. If I want to someday stand and survey a whole garden where almost all of the green is cultivated plants and not weeds, I have to put top priority on scuffling.

I realize, of course, that this ignores other dandy weed-suppression strategies like mulch, newspaper, toxic potions, and flamethrowers. But we're avoiding the potions, Bermuda grass laughs at the mulches tried so far, and only the large-plant crops like tomatoes seem entirely appropriate for the "punch through newspaper" strategy. So for now, the scuffle hoe is my weapon of choice.

Image: By H. Wright Corp./National Film Board of Canada. Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gardening: The Farm. Y'know, sort of.


We've got the new vegetable garden. OK, really, we've had it for three weeks now. Possibly four. I forget. I am a blogging slacker, or perhaps I've been too mud-covered and sore-muscled to type. I remain excited.

We hired a Garden Projects Guy to deal with the space, and in addition to adding sprinklers he prepped it by repeatedly tilling it and raking out Bermuda grass roots. And please don't tell me that using an oversized blender on persistent roots is not the very best idea and you can't get all the roots out without spending a year hand-sifting and that we'll be arguing with Bermuda grass until the end of time. Because we know. We knew before he tilled. We did it anyway. Watching the window for corn closing in front of your very eyes will do that to you. It's tilled and squashy and plantable, and so far I'm more or less keeping on top of the weeds in the planted areas, so I'm going to maintain my delusion of control until the grass lassos me and knocks some sense into me.

The very largest vegetable garden in my past was three hundred square feet. This one is roughly eight hundred linear feet of four-foot-wide row, or ten times that.


We're calling it The Farm, since the name The Garden is taken by the garden around the house. I do realize that some people work vegetable gardens of an acre or six, without giving them grand names. I choose not to care; it is The Farm.

And so far we've planted bush beans and tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers and melons and squash and lettuce and basil and strawberries and blueberries and artichokes and cardoons and corn and tepary beans and parch corn and chives and onions and herbs and beets and radishes. And the leek seedlings are growing along, and I'll be starting the seedlings for autumn-crop broccoli and cabbage and brussels sprouts and cauliflower soon. Oh, and planting peas.

I'm ignoring other realities, in addition to the Bermuda grass. I'm ignoring the moderate to high likelihood that several things, like the parch corn and the winter squash and the melons and the tepary beans and quite possibly the cucumbers, may not mature in time for us to eat them. I'm ignoring the fact that the onions went in about eight weeks late and will therefore be scallions, not bulbs. Don't care, nope nope nope.

I ate a blueberry today. I have banana peppers ready to eat and lettuce a week away from eating and lots of hard green tomatoes busily progressing and itty bitty barely-there green beans, and only two plants so far have been yanked into the Gopher Twilight Zone. So there.


Image: By Vitchybini. Wikimedia Commons.