As Scold of Jays is about to sneak onto shelves, I’m setting up the plans for this year’s garden.
The work season at the restaurant is ramping up, so this year I need a new watering plan. Last summer I worked such long days, I didn’t get home in time to water, so my garden stunted around July.
This year the plan is to put in barrels with soaker hose lines. I’ll be able to run the auto-water to the barrels, which will dispense through the soaker hoses throughout the day.
A sprinkler system would be awesome, but of course, I’m on a budget, AND my property plan is really spread out and disjointed. The new garden beds will be going in behind the house next to the creek because my light is best there for corn, tomatoes, the figs, roses and grapes. The bees will also be in the sunny locale. The actual gated garden is slowly being filled with beans, potatoes, squash, herbs, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, and cucumbers. The chicken coop will be extended this year, and that will eat up another chunk of the gated section. As the gated section has partial shade in the second half of the day it can’t do the heat/sun loving tomatoes, BUT the blueberries, some flowers, and the potatoes do great. Those raised beds also have the best soil as it’s been tended and amended.
So, the watering will be a trick of which areas need the barrels, most of which can be filled by rainwater from the roof spouts, and the other patches of watering with barrels that need a slightly more acidic addition. (Can’t water the blueberries with the same barrels for the beans as I’ll be adding acidic amendments to the barrels for blueberries, potatoes, and roses with the same ph range. Corn/beans/cucumbers will all be on a different water tank, see?)
I am not a gardener. I suck at growing anything, really. But I get better every year. This will be my third year with this garden, and I feel like I’m finally getting a handle on the soil ph, the light patterns, and the critter containment.
However, whether it’s the type of some plants I’m choosing, my inexperience, or the failure of the type of crop—I’m having fairly inconsistent results. My first year I just planted a bunch of stuff from seeds off the grocery shelf. (only the potatoes made it)
The last year, I went for a combination of starts and hybrids (some GMO seeds designed to work in my environment).
I did better – BUT—I didn’t like the flavors of the cucumbers (hybrid GMO), I wasn’t a fan of the starter lettuces, also hybrids, and I couldn’t make my peas grow more than a few inches and they gave stunted weird peas. Plus, everything sort of tasted, well, blegh. I began to realize the “dummy versions” of starts and GMO seeds were flavorless, and also not fail-proof, even though they still did better than the off-shelf grocery seeds.
Don’t grow anything I don’t want to eat. (That seems stupid obvious, but in the beginning, I was just trying to grow anything that would grow—then give it away.) So I made a list of types of foods I like to eat, cook with, preserve, and share.
When I really got down to the nuts and bolts of what I put in my body that I can potentially be responsible for—I was shocked.
I don’t actually like modern hybrid corn. I’ll eat it, but I’m not a huge fan of the cardboard nutrition-less, flavorless staple. I’d been trying to grow corn because I remembered doing it as a kid. (I do like corn on the cob with enough butter and garlic). I don’t eat radishes, but they’re in nearly every garden seed set. I began to realize that the expected staples of gardening were not the usual foods I’d go out of my way to prepare or work with.
I only eat green beans in casserole or when I’m on a keto diet. I only like peas when they’re fresh. Nothing beats fresh sugar snap peas off the vine. And so on and so forth.
Part of the problem with my avoidance of these foods is also that I am a huge flavor profile eater. I EAT FOR FLAVOR. And many of the store-bought, canned, overcooked, modified, and nutrient-deprived supermarket versions of these foods just don’t turn my crank anymore. Why waste the calories?
Since I’m not currently gardening for survival, why don’t I garden for curiosity and discovery?
Game changer for the newbie.
Because I have an interest in high flavor foods, AND I feel a responsibility to heirloom practices, AND I have a stake in stewardship of this land I decided to split the difference.
I would choose 1/3 new seeds and plants from heirloom, and odd, weird breeds I’ve never tried before to see if I like them better than their hybrid GMO counterparts. (atomic tomatoes, purple Brussel sprouts, black maize corn). I’ll experiment with the plant growth, and with the product to see if it’s a win for my lifestyle. I’ll also give away in seed share the heirloom varietals to see who has better luck in the growing process.
For 1/3 of my produce I’ll add tree stock, both fruits and nuts. (I currently have hazelnuts and apples, but will be adding cherry, fig, peach, and pecans)
For the last 1/3, I’ll do starts from nurseries and providers I’m familiar with for plants I know I’ll still eat, and need a fast, easy crop (herbs, peppers, and pumpkins, and strawberries).
Once I narrowed it all down, the garden beds needed to be shifted for companion planting, and the watering schedule. I felt so stupid that I’d never plotted the garden out by what I wanted to eat before. I’d only plotted and tried to grow based on what seeds were on the supermarket shelf, and what I thought might sprout.
Rare and heirloom seeds have been ordered from Baker Creek Seeds. Stock plants for tomato trees and such have been shipped from Burgess. New stock from Four Seasons is queued up, and my starter tray list is ready to go from the local nursery.
My new bee colony should be here the third weekend in April. As I was cleaning out my bee hives to get ready for the new colony, I discovered one of my hives had molded. Talk about super bummed. It was an old hive, bought cheap as a hand-me-down, and so likely needed extra special treatment I didn’t provide through the winter. I certainly can’t put a new colony in it, so it went to the burn pile with a dozen frames. I was so mad at myself that I hadn’t thought to check them sooner or find a dry place to over-winter.
The materials for the new raised beds and watering system will be ordered in May. This includes the frames for all the climbing plants, and the stakes for the giant tomatoes.
The raspberries are pruned, and half the winter deadfall is cleared, though there will be a bonfire of epic proportions for the dead tree and some big debris as soon as it dries out enough to keep a flame. (I think this means I need to be planning a BBQ menu for that day as well)
The garden beds are plotted, and ready to be turned, and the chickens are absolutely ready for a new coop this summer. That they haven’t mutinied on me is a miracle. They are not fans of the small run with the bird netting roof. But they are back to laying eggs and ready for a change in diet.
I have no idea if the rare and weird Chinese snake python bean will grow out here, or if I’ll enjoy cooking with it—but I won’t know until I try. I don’t know if purple Brussel sprouts will be more flavorful than store-bought greens, or if the atomic tomatoes will make good pizza sauce. But I’m looking forward to building a garden that produces interesting, repeatable (heirloom) produce that I’ll want to grow again and again; food I genuinely want to cook with, and products I’m delighted to share.
Now that I’ve plotted based on curiosity and flavor, it’s the most excited I’ve ever been about gardening. That’s my simple little life in a nutshell. I’ll post as I’m able through the summer. Hopefully by the time fall rolls around I’ll be launching my new online storefront (books/merch/cottage goods) patron program, and membership platform. Stay tuned!
Have a wonderful spring, folks.
P.S. Right before I posted this a coworker gave me a pack of cucamelon seeds… Can’t wait to see how those turn out!