Let’s get it started: the Veggie Garden

My childhood experience in the vegetable garden started as a haphazard chore of weeding that quickly turned into a calamity as I worked my way down the row of seedlings pulling out competitive intruders and freeing up tender buds.  My diligence was unparalleled, but my labors were errant and I ended up removing an entire row of newly-sprouted carrots.  I will never forget the horrified look of disappointment on my step-mom’s face when she came to inspect my handiwork.  There certainly wasn’t a shred of doubt that I had cleared the row of weeds – in fact, not a single living plant dwelled in the garden bed anymore.

Well, my skills have become a little more honed and my weeding techniques are nothing short of refined, but I still seem to be the three-legged dog of gardeners.  I get by.  I make do.  I grow edible plants.  I experiment.  But, man alive, it’s a struggle.  I limp my way through the five months of growing season and end up with a mangled mess of gorgeous vegetables and fruit and a bounty that is interspersed with epic failures, riddled pests and a frustration level that makes me swear off vegetables and fruit for next year.

I don’t give up and each year I wage a battle with the garden and forge on…

Here is the thing I have learned about gardening in general – I am still learning.  It never ends.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out and you are glorified expert in eggplant husbandry, you learn something new or different or hear a tip that sticks with you.  And, so, the ball keeps rolling and you pick up more as you go.

One of our early mistakes in the garden was not covering the beds over winter.  The warmth of spring invited a bouquet of horrendous weeds and obnoxious root systems.  Our next mistake was covering the beds over winter.  {Huh?!}  We got the brilliant idea (actually we read it in a book that shall not be named) that straw was a terrific cover for gardens.  Uh, it’s a great cover if you want straw to grow the next year, and the next year, and then for a millennium after that.  Now, our cover of choice is a heavy-duty dark plastic that we reuse year after year.  It goes down at the end of October and in late February is pulled back to reveal a few hauntingly pale onion shoots and albino tomato starts and a precious weed-free canvas of midnight black soil.

Everything is still asleep under the black covers...

A sight to behold - beautiful, dark brown, weed-free soil

Now to seedlings…

My method of choice used to be a crazy busy weekend in mid-April where I kneeled for endless hours in the garden and dropped seeds in neat rows down the way.  By the time I was nearing empty seed packets and cramping in both my legs – the miniscule carrot seeds were being dropped by the handfuls and the pumpkin seeds had all been thrown into one giant hole.  Not great planning on my part and certainly a technique that needed tweaking.

If you have any foresight at all, you can probably see where this is headed.

Bushel upon bushel of deformed carrots for half a month in summer and then no more.  The notoriously prolific zucchini coming out our eyeballs for a week and then a drought on these green beauties.  An acre of lettuce heads all blooming one weekend and then nary a salad in sight.  I obviously understand that there is wisdom behind sowing seeds at various intervals, but laziness takes over and it has always been so much easier to dump and run.  Not this year…  I have put together a plan that will help me get seeds and seedlings into the ground on a predictable schedule and spread out the summer vegetable bounty.

If you want to see our garden layout – Garden Layout 2010

If you want to see our planting calendar – Garden Calendar 2010.

A shining example of "neat" rows - Thank you, broccoli!

When I started on this project, I knew that I would need to sharpen my skills and try to utilize our own garden’s abundance to feed our family.  I can guarantee chemical-free, GMO-clear produce.  I can show my daughter what a fresh, just-picked spinach leaf tastes like (note that I can “show” her because I’ll wager that she won’t eat it).  I can relish the opportunity to throw together an instant meal from our backyard’s bounty.

Learning as we go: lettuce in different stages of growth

Strangely enough one of my greatest resources has been stored on my very own bookshelf for a number of years.  The book is Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening by Steve Solomon and is often considered the bible of vegetable gardening in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s a don’t miss, gotta-have-it kind of tool that has an ever present waiting list at the library, so it’s good thing it was on my bookshelf{!}

The best thing that I have utilized so far is the recipe for organic fertilizer.  It’s an affordable, do it yourself, all-purpose plant food and soil conditioner that specifically meets the needs of the growing medium in the Pacific Northwest.  We made a 20-gallon garbage can full for only $45 and the ingredients were all available at our local farm store.

Here’s the recipeCourtesy of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon

(all measurements are by volume)

  • 4 parts seed meal (we used cottonseed meal)
  • 1/2 part lime
  • 1/2 part phosphate rock (we used bone meal)
  • 1/2 part kelp meal

Despite my lack of preparation in years past, my plants have done remarkably well and we have enjoyed an average quality harvest.  This year my soil is better prepared for plant growth than ever before and I have a plan.  Whether all the pieces will come together is still up in the air, but I do know we have an incredibly beautiful and bountiful garden in the works.  Now that we are winding our way out of April and into May, I have a garden with seeds sprouting their heads towards the sun, the broccoli and artichokes are beginning to reach their true size, tomatoes are still hiding underground but working on their spiny, tendril roots and the onions are subtlety producing their culinary scent.  Here’s to a season of eating as local as it gets – our own backyard.

This is the first installment of my forays in vegetable gardening – well, gardening in general – check back in to see what’s new, what not to do and what we are lovin’!

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4 Responses to Let’s get it started: the Veggie Garden

  1. Jenny says:

    I can totally see your step-mom’s face. LOL It seems like their whole family has two green thumbs and green toes to boot! I can still remember how the back yard smelled. What was that soft plant that grew all over the ground?

    Thanks for the review on the book! I saw it at the store the other day and was tempted to buy it, but went with “The new self-sufficient gardener” by John Seymour instead. It looked like a good book to start with. I am a beginner when it comes to planting a garden and basically everything else related to growing and keeping things outdoors. The chickens section looked particularly interesting. 🙂 Do you have to worry about predators?

    Please let me know how your tomatoes do. In Virginia, ours grew so well that we were giving tomatoes away to neighbors without any effort. Here though, not so much. Do you have a greenhouse?

    All the best this growing season! 🙂

    • sacredbee says:

      Hey Jenny,

      This vegetable gardening book is totally worth picking up. It is money well spent. We don’t really have “predators” to worry about, but we live in a neighborhood where it seems like we are the only ones that think it’s important to fence the dog or keep him in the yard. So, I am concerned about dogs. And, I have lost a few seedlings to errant tramples from neighborhood dogs… 😦 I am hoping that we don’t find out we have raccoons or other problems once we move the chickens outside…

      We don’t have a greenhouse, but we have access to a greenhouse. A family member has a greenhouse that I can use to start seeds in. I have always purchased tomatoes from start and planted them on our western side of the house. They do pretty well – just depends on how hot the summer gets. One summer we had a stretch of nice, warm days and we had cherry tomatoes for days… Only problem now is that the foliage on a tomato plant is deadly toxic (especially to kids) and I don’t feel comfortable having them all over our deck. I might have to move them somewhere else….

      I’ll keep you posted –

      Kate

  2. Pingback: Let the seeding begin… | The Sacred Bee's Blog

  3. Pingback: A battle is won | The Sacred Bee's Blog

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