Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Neglected Garden

Do you think your garden is looking a bit neglected? Has it got away from you on account of life getting in the way? Do you see pictures of perfect rows of bountiful produce, marching in unison across a lovely, weed-free ground and sigh, convinced that your garden will never be "good enough?"

Well, stop right there and let's take a virtual visit to my garden through photos I took today. 

We finally have had some rain, enough to make it not only possible but easy and actually FUN to pull weeds! And as you will see, I need to spend lots of time out there, doing just that! 
But, you know, life is still happening. I have a huge backlog of order for hex signs to complete, I am finally getting my act in gear and attempting -- with support and instruction from a neighbor -- to complete a project to put vinyl composite tile that I snagged for free a couple of years ago, on the back porch floor. I should hate to admit it, but the porch flooring project -- starting with adding 3/4" plywood over the original underlayment after removing the carpet that was originally there -- started 6 years ago. This year it WILL get done. But we still need to eat, so out to the garden we go.

This will give you a good idea of the status of the garden. Thanks to the paper feed sack weed block in the walkways, at least I DO know where the rows are supposed to be! You can't tell much from this image, left of the first two rows I began attempting to weed soon after the beginning of the rainy spell. The row on the left was seeded to lettuces (a few barely visible lower left) and carrots. The ones at the far end of the bed failed to germinate but as I weed toward the lettuces, I am beginning to find tiny carrot seedlings hidden in the much larger, dense grass. Fortunately, I do not mind "fine weeding" in this situation. It is
use time consuming and requires much care. A couple of hot days dried the soil enough that I had to let this bit go for a while and move on to other projects, as I was just pulling the tops off the grass plants. The bed on the right in the photo above was planted to beets with some germination, as you can see in the image on the right. I soaked the remainder of my beet seeds overnight and re-seeded the portion that I had managed to weed day before yesterday and will keep an eye on them, irrigating if needed. I have a friend who looks forward to my supplying her with beets each year, and with any luck we will both get some.

When I was out in the garage recently, I unearthed a mostly full bag of diatomaceous earth. I had read that one could dust potato plants "liberally" with the stuff to help with the potato bug problem. While I am not inclined to use chemical sprays, I am comfortable using DE, so I made a larger shaker, filled it up and
took to the potato beds last evening. I was a little short of the stuff to treat them all, so I have a "control group" of about 16 plants at the end of one bed that were not treated. As I walked the beds, dusting, I also squished any bugs (larvae) that I found. We had a wee bit of dampness last night and a brief shower while I was working in the garden today, but not enough to remove the stuff from the plants. I have not checked for bugs yet today, but I will this evening, as this is a once a day routine here in potato bug season.
Looking at these images , do you see a theme here?? No soil to be seen... and no, it is not especially deliberate. but I am not in panic mode either!
 When I got to the end of the first potato bed last evening, I continued down into the area where the vine crops are planted, doing some rough weeding to remove the taller hogweed and lambs quarters and once they were out, pulling the grasses that were up close to the hills. Eventually I will need to go back and work more on the grasses... or try to smother them some with spent hay. The vines like to have the soil kept moist.

The project of the day, though, was getting the tomato plants excavated from the sea of weeds (hogweed, lambs quarters
and grass) and securing them to the strings I added to their support system. I had to improvise a bit because, in the chaos from both the back porch project and the multiple signs I am painting, the
official tomato clips (left) have vanished. I looked in all the likely places in both house (where I think they are hiding) and garage, but it needed doing NOW, so I improvised with one of the
more useful and inexpensive homestead solutions: cable ties! I dislike using single use plastics, but in this case, it seemed a reasonable compromise. Look closely, they are GREEN. Not my favorite choice of color for things in the garden, especially things that I need to FIND again (like these things, to make sure I did not tighten them too much and to easily remove at the end of the season). I would have preferred red, or even blue... but green was what I found when I went hunting.

So now you know; my garden is far from weed-free and will remain so even once I get the "weeding" done. While I have no proof of this, it seems to me that having other plants in and around your target species (aka food) might help confuse some of the bugs or have other benfits that we have not noticed. I have, in the length of time we have been here (going on 12 years next month) declared war on bindweed (wild morning glory) as they are most invasive and do not play well with others. It has worked, and now I seldom see one! Of course it gets pulled immediately. I do wish I could figure as good a solution for the runner grasses, though.

Encouragement for Newish Gardeners

Every morning, I go out to the potato patch to hunt down potato bugs of all sizes -- from mature, potential egg layers to just hatched babies the size of a grain of sand and everyone in between, and search for the bright yellow egg clusters under the leaves, to pick and remove those leaves and eggs. I do not want to spray, even with products approved for use in organic gardens. I may be a fanatic, but in my world, manual control of pests and weeds is the best method all around.

While I was working, looking at my weedy, struggling garden and thinking about the crazy weather we have been having, my mind was also drawn to consider how many new gardeners have sprung up this year and how many folks have enlarged their garden plots, in attempts to become more resilient in the face of supply chain issues, among many reasons. And I have to say "Y'all picked a heck of a year to do this!"

I know we never have any control over the weather, but I am very glad this is not even close to my first rodeo. I am struggling and my garden is struggling and I have well over 50 years of growing stuff under my belt (and that does not even come close to counting the little toy chicks from an early Easter basket that I planted in my folks garden as a very young girl!). I have grown food in more states than many folks have even visited, and in conditions from optimal back yards to corners tucked in next to single level apartments to balconies and even just window sills when I was stuck in the city.  And I have never struggled like I am this year.

Our first lettuce
of 2020!
So my words of encouragement going out to you all are these: be thankful for whatever you manage to grow! And don't let failure get you down for long; certainly don't let it set you off trying to grow stuff. Keep trying, keep replanting. Talk to the gardeners around you, connect with the Master Gardeners associated with your county extension office (they all have one) and keep notes if you are at all organized.

Notes don't have to be detailed, but just writing when you plant, when you replant and why, maybe a bit about the weather and when you harvest -- or when your plants succumb to the fall frosts -- will help you build your personal knowledge base to move forward.

Here at hex central under the sign of the fussing duck, we had a very late "spring" so nothing got planted even close to when I usually do -- or when the charts based on "average last frost date" suggested. Yes, there were frosts, later than usual but the main issue was cold, wet soil. That means soil that cannot be turned properly and seeds that, if planted, lay there and rot.

So my peas and the other early crops were late. When done "right" (that is when the temperature and weather and soil and gardener are all in sync with the charts LOL) we have our first small picking of peas for July 4 here. This year, though I know a friend nearby who pulled it off, just barely, ours had to not only fight weather and timing, but got hit multiple times by hungry deer.

I put up three rows of electric fence wire around the garden. One at the actual garden perimeter has 3 strands. About 3' out from that is one that has 4 strands and the outermost one has 5. Unfortunately, rain and health issues slowed our work to electrify the outermost fence and the deer discovered almost immediately that they could just push it down/over and come in to eat. Repeatedly. They did not eat the plants down to the ground, but as they are growing back, I am not sure if I will end up needing the trellis for them to climb on this year! At least they *are* growing back, blossoming and now, in July, beginning to set pods! And, at this point, the fence is holding and our unseasonably high temperatures seem to have moderated into a cool, damp spell, which the peas like, so I am feeling positive about getting a crop.

At the same time, since my goal is to supply all of our year's vegetables (I actually produce about 95% of the fresh, canned and frozen veg that we use in a year) I am thankful that I still have some packages frozen from last year's bountiful crop.

If increasing your food resilience, to use the current parlance, is your goal as well, I also suggest that as you gain experience and skill, that you begin to plant more than you will use in a year. Not only does this hedge the bets against poor germination, predators and such on the fresh eating side, it also allows you to put by extra, or to have extra to share or trade with friends. I know the common wisdom is that home frozen produce lasts 8-10 months in the freezer. However, I have never personally had frozen vegetables become unsafe to use. And I can say that even when served plain, as a side dish, my partner with the more discerning palate has not (yet) complained about "freezer burn." Of course, he just might be holding his tongue so that he keeps getting fed! ;)