The Garden

Hope everyone had a fantastic Memorial Day with family and friends, and that you took a moment to remember those who have fought and sacrificed for the freedoms we all enjoy as Americans. And to those still serving, especially my brother Ross who is currently stationed in Japan, and my brother-in-law Blaine whose ship was just deployed last week to the Persian Gulf, and extra big thanks for doing what you do. You are my heroes!

Stephen, Munchkin, and I took advantage of the beautiful weather this weekend to do some work in the yard/garden. Our little subdivision farm is looking great this year, and we have already been enjoying fresh salads of lettuce and swiss chard from the garden for a few weeks now. If you have any dirt at all, whether it is a teeny tiny 1/10th of an acre subdivision lot like ours, or a couple of acres, or even just a few window boxes or pots on the porch, I encourage you to get out and grow something. There are few things in this life that are so satisfying as growing nutritious food for your family. You really don’t have to have a green thumb- trust me, for the most part I have know idea what I am doing! You just have to be willing to expirament, and learn (by reading or talking to more experienced farmers and gardeners), and most of all, to not give up when something flops! This is the 4th or 5th year that we have done a garden, and it has looked totally different each season as we figure out what works and what doesn’t. Last year was an utter disaster. We tore out part of the concrete patio that took up most of our backyard, and mixed a few bags of compost and topsoil into the dirt. It didn’t really occur to us that soil that has been covered by concrete for the past 15 years is totally and completely dead and void of any nutritional value to plants, and needs a lot more than just a couple of bags of compost. So over the winter we have been working really hard to build the soil back up, adding lots of organic matter like compost and shredded leaves from the yard. The plants are looking SO much better!

This year our list of crops include: lettuce, rainbow chard, beets, carrots, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, and various herbs. Oh, and apples! The little tree that we planted two seasons ago is finally starting to bear fruit and has five tiny apples on it!  It’s really amazing what you can do with even a very small bit of land.

I am by no means an expert, and still have SOOO much to learn, but I would like to share a few tips that I have figured out along the way:

  • Some plants are notoriously difficult to grow. Some are easy. Sticking with a few of the easy ones when starting out will make you feel much more successful and less likely to give up. You can always add a little more variety next year! Some of my favorite no-fail garden veggies include: Swiss Chard, which is not only hardy and resilient, but also extremely versatile in recipes. It can be cooked or eaten raw and reminds me of spinach flavor-wise, but with crunchy stalks that are almost celery like. This plant is seriously nearly impossible to kill. It grows all season, well into the fall and even survives a mild frost, and is a “cut and come again” plant which means you can just cut off a few of the outer leaves whenever you feel like a salad, and new leaves will grow in place of the ones you removed. Kale is another extremely hardy option. Radishes are one of the quickest crops you can grow- only about 45 days or so from planting to harvest- and require almost no work after planting other than occasional watering if there isn’t much rain and thinning  out any plants that are growing really close together. I have also had fairly good luck with carrots and pole beans. And, of course, everyone loves fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes!
  • Spend a little extra time to make sure your soil is healthy, and you will save yourself TONS of work down the road! You must start with good soil, especially if you are hoping to raise your plants with out chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Healthy soil produces healthy plants that are much more resistant to diseases and pests. Add in lots of organic matter (compost) over the winter, or consider “green manure” crops that can be planted and then dug into the soil to improve its quality. There are also many good organic fertilizers out there if your soil still needs a boost.
  • Rotate so that you don’t plant the same thing in the same area year after year. There are entire books devoted to crop rotation and companion planting, and I highly recommend checking a few of them out from your garden. But even without knowing all of the scientific details, and little common sense says that this is a good idea. Not only do different plants use up different nutrients from the soil, the soil can also harbor crop-specific pests and diseases from season to season. If in doubt, rotate.
  • If you have the room and ordinances allow it, keep a few chickens. We have three, and our entire lot is only about 1/10th of an acre. They are so wonderful for so many reasons! The obvious is that we are supplied with fresh eggs almost year round (they take a little break for a couple of months in the winter. They are also great little composters- turning all of our kitchen scraps, garden scraps, weeds, and clippings into fertilizer for our lawn and garden. We have a bottomless, portable coop or “tractor” that can be moved around the yard each day to a new patch of lawn, but still contains them so that they can’t get in the garden or certain areas of the lawn where we don’t want them. At the end of the growing season last fall, we just moved the coop directly over the garden beds and let the chickens take care of all the leftover plant stalks and stuff. It worked wonderfully!

Hmm… I’m sure there is more, but I am off to bed for now. I have to get up early in the morning to pick my dad up from the airport for a visit! YAY!

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