Monday, July 21, 2014

Common Gardening Misconceptions and a July Photo Update

Common Misconception #1:

A garden that big must take a LOT of work!
(Actually, it REALLY doesn't.)

This statement is usually followed by something along the lines of
"I'd never want to..."

"I could never deal with..."
"I'll never have time to..."

You're right. 
You never will.

BUT! That's because you're limiting yourself, future gardener! If you've already closed off your imagination to the possibility of gardening, then you'll never actually do it. Don't sell yourself short! The possibility of success beings with deciding that it CAN be done.

Our garden truly doesn't take much time or effort, these days...

Time Spent Weeding: 20 minutes/week (if that)
Raised beds full of fluffy soil mean that the few weeds that pop up in some unclaimed spot can be plucked from the dirt without digging or back pain. It can even be done without getting your hands dirty!

Time Spent Watering: 5-10 minutes/day (if that)
Drip irrigation is pretty much the best thing ever. A garden this size could easily take me 2 hours to water. Now, all I do is turn on the spigot. There are still a few flower pots and special plants that need hand-watering, but that's no big deal.
It's been a cooler, wet summer in Mid-Michigan. I've gone whole weeks without watering!

Time Spent on General Maintenance: 10 minutes/day
Sometimes a pea plant or cucumber vine needs to be redirected onto its trellis, or a slug needs to be removed from a squash blossom (Yuck! I recommend old kitchen tongs). Planting can take a few hours, if it's time to put tomato plants in the ground. A few hours spent on this turns into a month or two of watching and waiting, and then months of feasting. It's worth it.

Bugs and Pests:
It's not so bad. Granted, a plague of locusts could descend at any moment... but so far, so good.

I've removed a half-dozen slugs from the squash plants (again, I use tongs), and Sean removed one nasty squash borer. He's the garden's official bug-squasher, and also deals with all orchard pests. The asparagus bed had a number of hungry beetles, also removed by hand. The kale crop is doing much better this year, though there are a few little green worms munching away. Our population of frogs and toads helps to keep bugs in check, and the garter snake keeps them from becoming a plague of their own.

The birds haven't been destructive at all, as far as I can tell. It helps that we've kept an all-you-can-eat bird seed buffet about 20 feet away from the garden. Beautiful butterflies are everywhere, as are the dragonflies. Honeybees and bumblebees do most of the pollinating work, and I haven't seen a wasp in weeks.

A good fence that cannot be dug beneath is worth the time and effort of installation. I've lost a few plants to squirrels, but most every gardener accepts the fact that nature will reclaim at least 10% of what your harvest. It is only 4 feet tall, but somehow it has kept our garden deer-free, as well.

I'm no distressing damsel, and have squished countless bugs! Good gloves make me feel invincible. Guess I oughta give myself more credit.

The Hardest Part: EATING ALL OF IT
I harvest continually, from April until Thanksgiving. It begins with radishes, lettuce and spinach, then swiss chard and kale get tossed into the salad. Peas start coming in, then strawberries. Then, the parade of currants, raspberries, blueberries and other yummy things. 

By the time the tomato plants are waist-high, the summer squash is ready to eat. Cucumbers, melons, broccoli, cauliflower, TOMATOES, peppers, and eggplant ripen in quick succession. Keep in mind, there's still salad to be eaten! Carrots, brussel sprouts, parsnips, apples, pumpkins and squash round out the year, sometimes with a new flush of snap peas as a bonus. And always, the salads.

In the bleak days of winter, some root crops can be dug up (Sunchokes, Carrots, Parsnips, Potatoes, etc). Add that to the store of squash, pumpkins, and whatever is in the freezer or canned, and we're enjoying garden-fresh, organic food all year round.

I think I'll try my hand at garlic, this year. It goes into the ground in late October, when everything else dies off. It'll be ready in the spring, just before the space it takes up is needed for tomatoes. It's as if it was planned that way, eh?

We've just completed our first year at this house, so our apple trees and berry bushes are not yet mature. We're supplementing with bulk produce from local growers.

Preserving the harvest does take time, but it's well worth it. 

This year we're drying and freezing most everything, as we're lucky enough to have acquired a giant freezer chest. It's already home to more strawberries than you'd think necessary. We'll add corn, fresh herbs (in ice cubes -- they keep really well!), broccoli, cauliflower, blueberries, green beans, summer squash, raspberries and peas (if we can manage to stop eating all the fresh ones and put some aside...). We'll top off the freezer with tomatoes, as they ripen, and use them to make pasta sauce this winter.

Of course, we'll use some fresh ones for canning our World Famous (well, family-famous) salsa. By the end of the season we'll have canned batches of dill pickles and relish, plenty of jams, and whatever else comes along.

Dehydrating can be more time consuming than canning, but having an unending supply of apple chips and chewy dried blueberries is life-changing. I'm looking forward to "sun"-dried cherry tomatoes, too.

The Point: It's not that much work, and the benefits are immeasurable. 

If it were really that time consuming, there's no way we could be renovating and maintaining our house, enjoying weekend get-aways, working our day jobs and relaxing. I wouldn't spend so much time on the internet, either. ;)

Here's how the garden looks, this morning.
Viewing Tip: Clicking on the image will enlarge it, providing you with a much better look!

HUGE Lazy Housewife Pole Bean.
They're usually harvested and eaten when they're MUCH smaller.
I'm allowing a few to grow big and dry, so we can save some seeds and replant next year.
Grape tomatoes (can't think of the variety right now).
I want to eat them!
Need some hot weather to turn them red.
Beefsteak tomatoes, plumping up.
Two rows of abundant green tomatoes (4 rows total, 10-12 feet long).
The left side is at least 6 feet tall, and growing.
I figure I'll have to lop off their tops before too long.
Next Year: Bigger Trellis!
I suspect this is a tiny Butternut Squash. Yippee!
Cucumber vine (and a poppy), with a promising number of yellow flowers.
Our fantastically productive squash mound,
growing in the Hugelkultur bed I keep meaning to explain to you guys...
Pretty squash flowers!
A few Kakai pumpkins, Sean's favorite variety.
Their green and white stripes are very Spartan,
and their hull-less seeds are the BEST for eating.
A baby Cinderella pumpkin, hiding in the grass.
The Cinderella variety is beautiful, and makes great pies.
Marigolds I grew from seed (after much trouble and dissatisfaction).
With every batch of new blossoms, I'm surprised with a different color combination! The first ones were huge and mostly orange, followed by this pretty scarlet flower.
Looks like it'll be back to big orange beasts in a few more days.

Very determined strawberry plants, striking out for new territory to conquer.
I love it, because these new little "suckers" will replace our 4-year-old plants as their production dwindles.
Sustainable, eh?

Baby Update:
Yup! I'm still pregnant -- about 6.5 months, or 30 weeks.
It's been an embarrassingly easy pregnancy, with no morning sickness or complications. Let's hope that continues. We're looking forward to meeting our daughter in late September.
Want to know what we're eating, making and doing?
You can find short, sporadic updates on the Barton Gardens Facebook Page.

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