Saturday, June 20, 2009

gardening so far...dening

You may recall the utter flop that was our attempt at gardening last year. Or not. It wasn't particularly memorable. We set up a nice garden spot and did all the appropriate digging and dirt-moving and manure-adding we could, but the water we sprinkled on it wouldn't go away. A couple of local experts said we had a streak of nasty clay running through the property and that we were best off to forget about it and just haul in good dirt.

So, we canned the garden last year, and not in the traditional sense of harvesting bountiful bushels of colorful fruits and vegetables, cutting them into bits, and trapping them in glass jars with a pressure cooker to eat throughout the winter. I mean "canned" like threw in the towel. By then we were out of time, money, and motivation. (Those three scoundrels frequently run out of our lives together, holding hands, just when we need them the most.)

But this year is going to be different, we are saying. We have gone a whole new direction: Square Foot Gardening. And to keep in tradition with other new directions, we have a book as a souveneir:

It really is a fascinating concept. SQGs take up about 20% of the space of row gardens and take only a fraction of the labor and ongoing maintenance - after you get the boxes built. You fill the boxes with the dirt mixture that Mel Bartholomew recommends, which is a one-time cost, and then you simply update your soil with compost. This sounds more like us! What do we know though? We haven't succeeded at any growing much yet, other than one dog and one baby and now some chickens. Okay, and our love. And our waistlines. Dang. We've grown a lot. But to illustrate my point, the last time we attempted a quasi-garden was in Alaska when Steve came over to our cabin and planted carrots. All we had to do was water them. Easy, right? At season's end, we pulled at their beautiful green tops, and out of the earth came one-inch miniature carrots.
Jason and I actually have lots of gardening in our family roots (pun fully intended), but this year is our first serious go at it for ourselves as adults. Here's Jason building the boxes and attaching black paper to the bottoms to keep weeds at bay.

My job was to mix up the dirt recipe and fill the boxes. I recruited Brother Dave to help.
We still had a bunch of seeds I'd ordered last year from Amishland Heirloom Seeds, and then Jason ordered a bunch more from the Good Seed Company, which specializes in cold-hearty plants. Both companies are dedicated to heirloom seeds, which means they are not genetically modified to be only one-generation plants. You can harvest the seeds off this year's plants and use them next year. Anyway, those very special old-fashioned seeds sat in our fridge full of energy and potential, waiting for someone to plant and nurture them into life-giving food. But instead, we came along. [The Benny Hill Show theme music plays.] In late April and early May, we planted brocolli, brussels sprouts, sage, and cabbage indoors. This, in plain old seed-starting soil. Watered them. Loved them. Wished them to grow. Out of 80 or 100 little plastic, squared "pots" grew a handful of measly, pathetic seedlings.

Our friends, Jese and Nikki, ordered seeds from the Good Seed Company about the same time and had great success. We were so jealous! They're starting a community garden, so blessings are being showered down upon them. Actually, the main difference in their procedures and ours was the light bulbs. Tip: you've gotta use the ones with labels that refer to "growing things." Doh.

We did plant our few piddly seedlings into the garden, and within a few days, strong winds destroyed them. Another note to selves: wait and transplant strong plants, not just ones with a couple of true leaves. So two weeks ago we essentially started over with a new batch of seeds, and by then we had to plant different things - tomatoes, peppers, basil. I also direct seeded into the garden winter squash, zucchini, cucumber, three lettuce varieties, beets, and sugarsnap peas. We had some elephant garlic bulbs from the same Steve (and wife Darla) who'd planted us carrots before, and those are coming up beautifully! Jese and Nikki were overrun with successful plants, so they gave us some cabbages and tomatoes transplants. They are what makes our garden look like, well, a garden.

It's a rough start to our second year's attempt. But we're still going and learning a lot, typically by mistakes. For instance, within days of planting cucumbers and winter squash in the same 4x4 foot box (albeit not in squares directly beside each other), a lady I know said we'd better keep all gourd varieties separated from one another or we risked cross-polination. Dangit! So I carefully dug up my cucumber seeds, which were barely starting to sprout, and moved them to another box. I keep thinking how lucky we are to have time for mistakes, as opposed to homesteaders in a remote wilderness.
The main box we planted seems to have an inordinant amount of ant visitors too, which is disconcerting.
Have you noticed the holes in the leavery, perchance,
Measured and cut by protractor-legged ants?
Yes, I've got those same ants back home in my yard
And to keep them from working is hard.
I visit our garden every morning, often wearing Zoralee on my back. It is a sweet time of day for us. Near dawn a few mornings ago, I caught some images of dew drops on the cabbage.
What will happen next? Will edible things grow? If so, brother, we will be walking on sunshine.

Fun fact: as I wrote part of this post about gardening in northern Montana in June, I listened to a Mexican Salsa Christmas cd. Zoralee needed something peppy, and it was there.


Christi said...

Your brain is big.

Rachel Clear said...

A real great post!

Say, question: Could we plant a couple boxes like this on our huge balcony?

Okay then. Just have Jason make us some boxes and ship them to us and we'll get started! I desperately want to plant some of my own things, but we ain't got no lawn, see.

lori lls said...

Ha ha. What, Christi?

Rach, yes you could! That's the idea of this brand of gardening. People can use little nooks and crannies. Everything is based on a one foot by one foot square (6 inches deep). He tells you how many plants of whatever will fit in each square. It's a very approachable method, to my way of thinking. For a bigger space like we have, he suggests making 4x4 boxes, and you can still reach each square. But you can do them 2x2 or whatev.

See if the library has this book in stock and get started right away! The book even has great, simple charts for what you can plant at any time of year.

Try and get the updated version, like you see pictured there on my blog. He wrote the first edition years ago, and the concept is the same, but evidently this one is leaps and bounds better.

And the boxes are easy as pie. Just get 2x6 inch boards and cut them to whatever length you want your boxes to be. Maybe the hardware store would cut them for you.

Anonymous said...

Ooh - I felt a lovely swell of pride when I saw those cabbage plants looking so gorgeous and dewy on your blog page!

Rachel Clear said...

You sort of side-stepped whether or not Jason would make me boxes.

Er wait... were you wanting me to do the work myself? I see... I guess you didn't really side-step that. You said it flat-out. Hm.