Monday, July 14, 2008

, Albeit a Small One





What kind of crazy people put in a garden in July? The kind of people who don't get around to it until July but don't want to put it off until next year. On July 8th and 9th, we crossed the garden project off my summer wish list. The whole project took almost two entire days as well as two trips to Agway, one trip to Daisi Hill Farm, two trips to Paley's Farm Market, and one trip to Amenia Nursery. I have lost track of how much money it cost at this point; it was a lot more than the value of the produce we will harvest, but I really felt it was important for Duncan to be a part of growing food from the ground up.

We began with the principles of square foot gardening laid out in Mel Bartholomew's All New Square Foot Gardening. I'm a sucker; let's get that out of the way. I was easily entranced by how easy Mel made the entire process sound and how much one can apparently grow in a single square foot of real estate. We don't have access to power tools so rather than build the raised 4 X 4 beds he advocates, I purchased two 3 X 3 grow beds from Gardeners Supply Company. Rather than build a permanent grid, as he describes, I cobbled mine together using bamboo stakes and string. At this point, I'm not considering this a garden but an experiment so I'm comfortable with that adjustment. Mel also provides a formula for a grow mix that is supposed to limit weeds and promote plant growth; it's a healthy 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. We mixed the concoction on one of the hottest day of the year, only to discover we did not have enough to fill both beds. We couldn't stomach mixing another batch, so we went with the purple bag that starts with F at Paley's. Then I realized that we had filled the boxes 12 inches deep, and they only needed to be 6...so you do the math regarding how many shopping trips we really needed. Anywho, now, we're doing a little experiment to see which works best. It's rather an uncontrolled experiment because we didn't divide the plants between the boxes (i.e., one tomato in Mel's mix, one in the Purple F mix). Oh well. I gave up being a perfectionist on March 13, 2006.

I knew it would be difficult to find any kind of vegetables to put in at this time, but I didn't know JUST how difficult. I bought the last four ratty tomatoes at Agway, three of the last five ratty packs of basil at Amenia Nursery, and some other herbs at Daisi Hill Farm. We picked out some cooler weather seeds that can start now and be harvested closer to fall (carrots, radishes, tiny pumpkins, cucumbers, which I know are a gamble). The fascinating thing is, we already filled our square feet and have no room to replant for additional "crops." I save a little space for the tomatoes Duncan started from seed in June and for some lettuce as the weather gets cooler, and we have filled 18 square feet of garden!

And how does Duncan feel about the project? It was difficult to keep him entertained; he had only so much tolerance for direction. He LOVED watering with his little can. He loved digging in the dirt. In fact, he spent a lot of time trying to dig up the seeds he and Jamie planted. In the intervening days, he has continued to enjoy the watering, likes to move the labels around (I don't need them any more anyway), and says "hi" to the garden each day. So far, I'm pretty happy. My own biggest revelation...as a some time gardener who usually only deals in shade plants...is that SEEDS WORK! I had forgotten just how miraculous it is to plant something in the ground, wait a few days, and see tiny leaves sprout from the dirt! How could I forget? My family and my job, both literally and figuratively, exemplify this concept each day, but somehow, I had forgotten that sometimes you don't have to wait years to see what happens!

Mel was mostly right. It was not THAT difficult, and it will be even easier next year. I'm already fantasizing about how many more square feet we need to be useful. Last night, I finished Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I began the day we "finished" the garden, and it validated my desire to grow some food. I strongly recommend this book, which will make you think about the food you purchase in an entirely different way. Thanks Mel, thanks Barbara, thanks Jamie who did a lot of the icky labor, thanks Duncan for playing along, and thanks to all the gardeners in my life who have helped me realize that I have nothing to lose except a little time and money and a LOT more to gain.
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