Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Containing the Garden

This comes as no surprise, but gardening is a lot of work. And in the spring, it is the best of times and the worst of times—anticipation,  planning, ogling colorful seed packets, getting your hands in the dirt, the thrill of spotting the first seedlings... then the weeding and watering and waiting, the constant toiling away with no tangible return until the harvest that is weeks if not months away. We knew this. No, the surprise was that we don't particularly like gardening.

We like harvesting our own produce and eating what we've grown, but it turns out we don't like the weeding, weeding, weeding that our community garden plot requires. And hauling the water, and hauling the compost, and meticulously placing the compost around the individual plants because you can't just spread it willy-nilly over 600 square feet. Ugh. There is one family that rents six plots every summer, and they have an amazing garden. It's lush and tidy and productive. But guess what? They are out there all the time. We do not dedicate the time (gardening is just one of our many hobbies) or feel the inclination to put in quite so much effort; no wonder our vegetables are always spindly and choked with weeds. Meanwhile, there are a few plants in our yard that thrive despite getting very little attention from us, and I love them: strawberries, raspberries and onions.

So, in the interest of finding some middle ground between our beloved low-maintenance edible garden at home and our forlorn high-maintenance community plot, we decided not to rent the plot in the community garden this year, and we're trying to maximize what little yard and patio space we have at home.

In the fall, Len ripped out the last remaining juniper bush from our south-facing (i.e. full-sun) front yard and extended the raised garden bed, so we have twice as much space out front as we did before. However, half of it is in the shade for half the day because of trees nearby—including our apple trees, and wow, do I owe you an update on those!—while the sunny half is monopolized (duopolized?) by strawberries and onions.

Strawberries and Egyptian walking onions coexisting happily

I'm hoping cool-weather plants will do well having only morning sun, so we have carrots, beets, broccoli and radishes in that corner. We have zucchini and cucumber in the spot that gets morning sun and dappled afternoon sun. Front and center with the strawberries and onions are also cilantro and parsley, which we've had for a few years now, plus asparagus, which is in its second year. We will need to control the seemingly effortless spread of those first four plants to allow the asparagus room for its own propagation.

Like we did in our community plot, we still have to gingerly hand-pluck baby weeds out from among our baby carrots and beets, but three things make it less of a nuisance at home, besides the fact that it's a smaller garden: It's easy to spend just a few minutes at a time weeding every day when all I have to is step out the front door—at the garden plot, if we didn't have at least 30 minutes, we weren't likely to go weed. It's also easier to spend an hour weeding when a short break in the kitchen or bathroom is just steps away. And, the weeds aren't quite so bad when the garden is not surrounded by a prairie that is continually loosing all manner of prairie seeds into the steadfast wind.

So that's the front bed. The rest of our garden is in containers, most on our back patio, a portion of which enjoys full sun for several hours midday, with a few pots hanging on the front porch. Some plants are proven container stars—tomatoes, peppers—and should do really well, as long as we stay on top of watering (another chore much more convenient at home) and occasionally repositioning the pots for maximum sun exposure (a challenge when our back patio is on the north side of the house and surrounded by tall shadow-casters like other houses and a privacy fence). Other plants in this year's garden are an experiment—like sweet corn grown in strawberry pots. This idea could be a dud, or it could be genius. Come back in late summer to find out.

Next task: planting some mixed lettuce among the carrots and beets so that space is still in use once the carrots and beets have been harvested. But we do need to clear a few more baby weeds out of there first, lest we find ourselves eating a mixed salad of who knows what.

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