Monday, February 13, 2012

The Garden

Back when we bought our house I knew one of the first things I wanted to do was plot an area for my garden. We moved into our home in the fall so I had plenty of time before getting down and dirty with gardening in the spring. Unfortunately we had a few things we needed to work around before we could do much of anything with the garden.

The first issue was that nearly our entire backyard is a septic leach field. Now, despite things that I read online about how it is safe to garden in that area – I didn’t want to be growing food for my family in a leach field. It just didn’t sit right with me. We got the mapping of the septic lines and were lucky to find a nice size area that was closer to the house that would be great for the garden. It would get the full morning and afternoon sun (which is both a blessing and a curse in Alabama) and I had room for growth if I chose to expand my garden.

The second issue was that our soil is hard packed red dirt and clay. Not ideal for growing much of anything. That was an easy fix with a couple raised beds. But without a truck I found myself buying bags of garden soil, manure and compost. I couldn’t believe that I was actually buying bags of poop!! I grew up in Vermont! I could have driven to any farm with a truck and asked for a load of aged manure and got it for free. But there I was at Lowes buying cow feces for four bucks a bag. (Luckily I have a truck this year… now I just need to find a farm.)

We built two raised beds with untreated landscape timbers. I thought that two 4x8 beds would be plenty of grow room… and it was for a small salsa garden. I was able to plant some cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, jalapenos, bell peppers, squash, tomatoes… I had basil and I threw in some marigolds to keep bugs away.

Year one I got a great crop of green beans. My son, then two at the time, loved sitting in the garden while I worked and eating the fresh green beans. We never cooked a single meal with them because we ate them all as snacks while working outside. Everything grew great in the garden. It was so exciting to see things start as little seedlings and grow into mature, producing, plants. I got a monster zucchini from the crop and a few small summer squash. Then the squash bugs came and devoured my squash crop and eventually moved on to my cucumbers as well. Within that time I had a large tomato harvest along with bell peppers and jalapeno. I canned salsa for two days. Then hornworms found my garden and made quick work of my tomato plants and jalapenos.

Throughout the slow consumption of my garden I kept trying to treat my plants with insecticidal soaps and with a hot pepper mixture. Nothing helped. Eventually, toward the end of the grow season, I bought chemicals… and I soaked the garden. A few days later the bugs were back. I was so frustrated. I just kept treating the garden at the first sight of bugs and washing my produce as soon as I picked it.

I vowed I would learn from the experience and my second garden would be better.

It wasn’t.

Last year was so hot that it was impossible to grow a hearty supply of vegetables. We went under a water restriction – though I still snuck in a watering – and my garden suffered.

But before all that, I decided I was ready to add a third bed to my garden. I wanted an herb bed in addition to my vegetable beds. I took time to read some gardening books and decided to try Square Foot Gardening. It seemed brilliant and like a really easy way to keep everything organized.

My husband and I built an extra bed and fenced in the garden area since we added a dog to our family during the winter and we didn’t want her digging in the garden beds. Things looked great and I was so excited to have a garden again. We’d recently found out that we’d be expecting our second child and I wanted good fresh veggies to eat to feed my growing baby.

My list grew for that year. Again I had green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, jalapenos, bell peppers but I also added banana peppers, lettuce, broccoli and carrots.

We never got to eat the broccoli because it went to flower the day it was ready to be picked. The tomatoes shriveled in the heat and the cucumbers went bitter. The green beans, jalapenos, bell peppers and carrots were by far the best crops. I had more hot peppers than I knew what to do with!

I think that if it hadn’t been for the heat my garden would have been fantastic. We had some tomatoes and lettuce, enough for a few salads. We got a couple good cucumbers but nothing like the year prior where I was able to make pickles.

So once again I am back to doing research on gardening. This winter has been mild and my fingers are crossed that this summer will follow along in that trend. This year my goal is to have a baby garden. I want to grow food for my family, including foods that I can blend for my daughter who will be starting solid foods this summer. I want to make sure she has the best food available for her and I want enough that I can freeze vegetables to use in the winter time.

Again, I’m planning on expanding my garden. I plan to do raised beds but I’m moving away from the solitary boxes. I want to outline the fence area with beds and have on bed in the middle of the area we have for the garden. I want a small area set aside so my four year old can have his own garden to be responsible for. I’ll let him plant whatever he wants in that spot (he’s going to pick broccoli…)

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