Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reaping What I Sow

When we moved last summer, it was too late to start a proper vegetable garden. Instead, Sue and I focused on a few potted herbs for the kitchen and establishing a landscape of native vegetation on our small, high country lot in the town of Black Mountain. Most of my time in the yard involved pulling up, weeding, herbiciding and otherwise eradicating the host of non-native invasive plants that were (and in some spots, still are) choking out the natural plant diversity. I still have a long ways to go. There's vinca or "periwinkle" that needs killing, oriental bittersweet that needs poisoning, multiflora rose that needs yanking, Japanese honeysuckle that needs stomping and a firebush that is trying to mount a comeback after I spent one back-breaking afternoon last August digging, chopping, hacking and hauling the mother-bush away.

That said, it has been decided that we will, once again, attempt a vegetable garden this year. I admit I was somewhat reluctant to put too much effort into the endeavor. Sue and I have grown, or more accurately, tried to grow, our own vegetables since before we were married - never achieving the level of success I would equate to justification for our labors and expenses. It would seem to me that we have never planted a garden in optimal conditions, be they soil, sun or water, nor have we ever been able to maintain the level of enthusiasm required to bring a garden through the rigors of weed season and summer swelter.

Why grow my own when my neighbors will sell it to me?
Now that we live in a land where independent, local farmers grow a bounty of organic and conventionally raised crops available to us from May through October, I must say my desire to half-ass another kitchen garden is on the wane.

Irregardless of my trepidation entering this project, we set about building our first raised bed gardens about a month ago. I hit up the local big box home improvement center for 48-some board feet of 2x12 untreated lumber, along with various and sundry hardware to make it all stick together. Since I am largely incompetent when it comes to construction of any type, I called my father out to the house for some expert assistance.

Dad is something of an idiot savant when it comes to such things. Measurements and workarounds that would take me hours of pondering and unacceptable losses from the stock pile to the kindling pile, come to him in a free-wheeling, do-it-in-your-head sort of way that has always been magical to me. In other words; I had the right man for the job.
"Picasso" at work.
In no time, Dad and I had two 4X8 boxes assembled and ready for deployment. Sue took the lead of this next phase of the project, weighing the pros and cons of sunlight versus culling tulip poplar saplings and pokeweed.
I dunno Sue. We might have to pull up that dandelion.
"The Decider" puts her back to it.
In a fit of inspiration, Sue and I set to "double digging" the base layer of our raised beds before adding our soil. This involved turning over the hard, red clay that now constitutes our planting medium in the backyard, thanks to the nice contractor who hauled off all of our topsoil when he cleared the building site. Whether or not it was worth the extra effort, I supposed we'll find out later. A couple of trips to the mulch yard had us flush with a yard of "Amy's Garden Blend" (whatever that is) and someone else's topsoil (thank you, you poor, unsuspecting saps).

Somewhere along the line, I found my second wind for this gardening thing. I think it had a lot to do with admiring everyone else's hard work. In the past three weeks, I've tried to do my part by sowing radishes, arugula, lettuce, carrots and sugar snap peas into the rich, fertile soil. Sue went and bought and old trellis for the peas to climb and I've been keeping a journal of our effort and expenses.
How does my garden grow? Quite nicely so far, thank you.
That's not to say we haven't encountered some setbacks already. I am learning on a routine basis that I was perhaps a bit over-ambitious in my planting schedule. The calendar says spring, but we still have nights in Appalachia that dip below freezing and endanger my little seedlings with death by frost. (Heck, it was snowing here as I started typing this post.) I have a large tarp folded at the ready for overnight protection when needed. Our tiny vegetables aren't big enough yet to attract the attention of the neighborhood rabbits, but I recently discovered the "outside" cats consider Amy's Garden Blend the medium of choice for taking a crap. The prospect of free range cat scat has tempted Sadie and Piper to enter the garden, in spite of the repercussions. We have experienced some radish and arugula casualties as a result of these ill-advised intrusions.

Nevertheless, I look out on our growing crops every day and take pride in their early vigor. There's supposed to be a frost again tonight and I'll dutifully cover them up to keep them safe. For whatever reasons, I feel more engaged in the process this time around. Maybe, just maybe, this year will be different. Then again, I've been fooled before.
Full of promise.


  1. I was out in the garden with my daughter this weekend myself, obviously there's not a lot of manual labour a five year old can contribute, but she made up for it in enthusiasm. Get a pellet gun and those vegi's'll come with free rabbit

  2. Mmmm I'm with SBW, rabbit and home grown veg, mouth watering.

  3. Boys, I think that rabbity opportunity will come, but right now I'm more interested in putting off the bloody cats.
    SB-Dub - that's probably a good comparison to my skills as a gardener; sort of like a five-year-old girl with not a lot of manual labor to contribute.

  4. Ah apparently mounds of tiger pooh put off cats - you know the reasoning; cat wanders in, cat smell tiger pooh, cat thinks 'shit that's a big cat', cat departs post haste.
    Just a thought

  5. John - Oh yes, of course, the old tiger poo trick.

  6. When the radishes come in try cutting in half, coat with olive oil, light salt & pepper, roast until tender. Frickin' awesome.

  7. Kid - I've been seeing a few treatments for cooked radishes. Never done it before, but I'm planning on taking your suggestion; God willing and the rabbits don't rise.