Sunday, July 3, 2016

My first (real) foray into gardening

I love the idea of gardening.

What's not to love? Being attuned to nature, being active outdoors, raising the most local food possible, saving money, saving the earth, knowing where one's food came from and how it was grown – gardening seems like a no-brainer for everyone who has enough energy and enough space to do it.

In practice, my past attempts at gardening have not been very successful. It has varied a bit, depending on where I have been at it my own life and heart, but on the whole, my thumb is not green. At times, I have felt sorry for the plants that came into my life. I remember being given some "Lucky Bamboo" once as a house-warming present in Toronto and thinking, "No, this bamboo is not lucky. It is Unlucky Bamboo." And sure enough, a couple of months later, it was dead. Many of the plants that have come into my life have suffered from a combination of neglect and over-compensation. Many have perished.

As a result, though I grew up in a gardening family, I have not had a garden of my own for many years.

Sure, back when I was a yuppie, I had a backyard that the previous owner had had professionally landscaped. It occasionally warranted a little desultory pruning, but that hardly counts as gardening and those were ornamentals - and those don't count for me - at all.

Over the years, I've had a number of failed attempts at vegetable gardening – some things in containers at various urban apartments, and one summer since I moved home I was invited to grow a few things in my folks' garden – 45 km away. Not too surprisingly, much neglect (and good-natured ribbing) ensued.

I find it difficult to pay attention to a garden. The shriveled tomato plants and dried up herb gardens of my past haunt me, mournfully waving their reproachful brown leaves at me.

But, I love the idea of gardening. And I especially love the idea of gardening here, in the Crooked Wood. So this spring, as you may have already read, I got help from a friend to build a hugelkultur bed and my folks gave me a raised bed kit and away I went.

So far, things are going well. I planted a few things from seed: peas, beans, spinach. The spinach didn't take, but the peas and beans are thriving: 
Peas and beans – June 22
Peas and beans – July 3

The onions and potatoes are doing well, too. Some tomato and leek starts that my pops gave me out of his greenhouse are adjusting more slowly.
Potatoes, onions, leeks and tomatoes – June 22
Potatoes, onions, leeks and tomatoes – July 3
I also got some starts from some other local sources – a few from Stewart Hebb's, some from the Village Nursery and some from the West Dublin Market: Zucchini, arugula, mesclun mix, butternut squash and a few herbs. Interestingly, two tomato plants that I didn't have room for in the raised bed and put in the hugelkultur bed are now twice the size of their compatriots. I'm not sure if this is because they are getting more sun, or if they have more room for their roots, or if the hugelkultur mound retains more moisture in the dry conditions we've been having (which may or may not be because it got well mulched with seaweed and the raised bed did not. I ran out of seaweed – I will need to get a much bigger load next spring). 
Mixed greens, squash, tomatoes and herbs – July 3
Salinger enjoys the garden, too, and often hangs out with me while I'm working there – and gets all nice and schmutzy, rolling in the dirt.
Mmmm, schmutz!

I started small with my garden this year. With so many unsuccessful past attempts, I didn't want to set myself up for failure and disappointment. I think that was a good decision, especially with all of the dry weather we are having this spring – without running water here, keeping the two beds I have moist is enough of a challenge for me.

I think it's fair to say that I'm appreciating this experiment so far. I enjoy having tasks like, "Hill potatoes" on my to-do list. I expect I will have my first home-grown salad today. A garden is a perfect complement to a life with limited refrigeration. It's also great for a person living alone – I can pick things as I need them. I won't have any more big bags of purchased greens going partly to waste because I can't eat through them quickly enough.

And, since the garden is right outside my window, it's difficult for me to forget about it or neglect it. So far, at least.

Since things seem to be going well, I've started making plans to expand my garden next year. My Amazing Friend dropped off a gift of horse manure the other day and I have constructed two more hugelkultur beds (which I will drape with black tarps – on the advice of my friend Jude – to kill any weed/grass seeds in the manure and help it compost thoroughly before next year).

Next year, I want to grow broccoli and cabbage and bok choy and perhaps I will make another, deeper raised bed for some root veggies like beets and carrots. And some more potatoes. I only have a few blue fingerling potatoes planted this year; next year I would like to have more variety.
One of two new hugelkultur beds being prepared for next year. Next spring they will be topped with soil mix and seaweed and will be good to go.
One of the most enjoyable things about this gardening experiment for me is learning. I feel curious to find out what does well where. And I love the thought that I will have the opportunity to try different things in subsequent years – to test and assess and change and develop. 

Hopefully, I will build a gardening habit and gain some skills that have eluded me in the past. Now, if I could get get curious about organizing and tidying...


  1. Good for you. It sounds as if it's going well for you. Maybe you picked up more then you thought from your folks.