Five Green Acres Mary Jo + Andrew Borchardt Poynette, WI
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I’m actually scared to death of the garden.

I’m actually scared to death of the garden.
May 28, 2008 Mary Jo

The weekend, if you can call it that, has left us sore and dazed, not unlike a pair of shipwrecked sailors finally washed ashore. (I’m a big, big fan of metaphors, so I’m going to go with this one a bit. Or, in fact, similes, for you grammar geeks.) By this, I mean that we’ve traveled a great distance, but still have to drag our sorry carcasses off the beach to avoid being pummeled by the surf. And we’re almost too wiped out to do it.

But before I get into the meat of it, look at what the chickies pointed out to me last night: we have Lupine growing in our prairie/wildflower area! (above)

Here’s our main garden. One of three fenced-in gardens, in fact. But for now, it’s the only one I can barely wrap my brain around, so I’m trying to block out the others until I find I need more space. Because, really, I’m a pretty novice gardener, at best. My past experience has been mostly with the flowerbeds. Which are perennials and never really got a whole lot of my time, because they’re pretty well-equipped to care for themselves. And they are only flowers, after all; nice if they bloom, no biggie if they shrivel and die. Andrew’s been the veggie garden guy in the past, but the little things like watering, weeding, and even the meager harvest had taken a back seat to our grueling summer tour schedule. (weddings, parties, picnics, cookouts, and other obligatory visitations)

While I love the idea of a big, sustainable, symbiotic garden and the guaranteed satisfaction (and nutrition) that comes from growing our own food, I’m in uncharted territory here, and it’s got me scared to death. I’ve been reading and learning and plotting the best way to go about this for months now, but have been mired in the very idea of what this “best way” is. This ideal of mine is just different enough from how everyone else I know does it, rendering all my real-life resources not quite as useful as they would otherwise be. (though they’re still rather useful) A book called Weedless Gardening got my attention right away, so I designated it as my go-to manual. It seems right up my alley, as I don’t care to weed, and it seemed to fit nicely into what I’ve discovered is my style of gardening: Laissez–faire. I’d like to supply the necessary conditions up front (mulch, support structures, a mostly-weed-free space, regular watering, and companion plants) and then let the plants go to work doing what they know. Oh, I’ll periodically check in on them, in the midst of chasing a 2yr old out of the chicken coop, pulling fresh-baked bread out of the oven, sewing up a nice little something, indulging in some blog-formatted self-reflection, and attending to a pared-down summer tour schedule. Can this work? Hope so – it’s all I’ve got to offer right now.

The first hurdle was with irrigation. I quickly realized that it had been our downfall in the past. Cultivated plants apparently need more water than they get from the sky, even with a healthy layer of mulch to insulate them. Setting up, monitoring, and moving a sprinkler neither seemed sustainable enough nor laissez-faire enough for me, so I took Lee Reich’s suggestion in the book to set up a drip-irrigation system, one that is hooked up to a timer. This amounted to WEEKS of confusion and bumbling and defeat in pouring through websites trying to understand how they work, which was appropriate for my setup, what parts were needed, etc. I gave up at one point, bought the standard garden center soaker hoses, found they only really work (poorly) up to 50 feet of hose, not the 250 that I needed in just the one garden. So back to the drip-scenario, and I finally called one of the companies referred by the book. In less than a half-hour, the clouds were lifted from my vision, and I had a plan in works, on paper. Amazing what a live, talking human being can do that pages and pages of web content can’t. Note to self: learn from this.

First up this weekend was setting up this system, as everything else relied upon having these hoses in place. Before that, though, I needed to delineate the rows and then choke out the weeds that had taken up residence there while I was busy agonizing over how to do this “garden” thing. “Weedless gardening” it seems, is synonymous with permaculture, or mimicking how Mother Nature gardens, from the top down. Tilling or likewise disturbing the soil is a big no-no, but piling mulch on top, smothering the weeds, and planting into the top layer builds the nutrients and thus creates the “weedless” part. Sounds good to me! In a search for some newspapers to lay down as the first weed-busting layer, I came upon our roll of 24″ corrugated cardboard that we had used to reign in the chicks. The chicks had been thoughtful enough to lightly season it with their brand of fertilizer, so it was truly ideal. I laid it down in the garden to form my rows, laid the drip hoses over that, then Muscles (or Kind Husband) covered it all with some delicious composted horse manure, which we’ve trucked in by the trailer load. My understanding is that, because it’s composted and no longer “hot”, it’s an ideal medium for fostering the growth of delicious vegetables. Let’s hope that’s the case, because I’m planting EVERYTHING into it.

I did manage to get 3 rows planted. The tomatoes, cabbage, and some peppers are in. My other helpful book The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food listed cabbage, coriander, basil, and calendula among the plant allies that work with tomatoes, so I worked them into the tomato beds. I couldn’t be bothered to use a bazillion tomato cages, so I fashioned an accordion-like support from some wire fence that we had laying around, giving me Hulk-like forearms, biceps and super-human strength. This zig-zag grid work created the foundation that I planted around. I’ve got a nice little drawing of it, for posterity and next year’s garden planning, shown below.

T is for tomato, and 4 varieties are planted in the two rows.

K is for kraut, or the cabbage we’ll turn into kraut.

B is for basil.

I’ve got high hopes that this all works.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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