Wednesday, May 11, 2011

lessons in gardening

I've got dirt in my fingernails and compost on my mind. My moments of daydreaming are filled with plans for vegetable beds, herb patches, and the wooded area of the back yard. In short, gardening is my new passion. Well, not exactly new. It's been simmering for a long time now. But this year, I'm starting to feel like I just might be getting the hang of it. Of course, it's still pretty early in the season, so the weeds haven't caught up to everything else just yet (though with the warm weather and rain we're getting, it won't be long, so I shouldn't get ahead of myself).

So how am I going to do better than last year? Well...let's make a list:

1. Don't assume the compost will take care of itself. This mistake of years past ended up in wet, stinky slime that had the neighbors referring to our "diaper pail compost." Fortunately, we are on very good terms with these neighbors, though I suspect another year of having our property reek of shit-smelling compost would have jeopardized that relationship. We got rid of the composter (we actually gave it to said neighbors, andtheir compost doesn't stink at all; someone explain to me how the same contraption works for them and not for us???) and just put up a fence to dump our vegetable scraps and leaves in. I think having the compost in the open air is working better, plus we've been turning it a few times a week to make sure enough air gets in there.

2. Wait, wait, wait to plant tomatoes, peppers and basil. In years past, I've been so eager to get these warm-weather-loving plants in the ground I put them in too early, and every year they get cold and suffer. Not this time. I vow this year not to put a pepper, tomato or a basil plant in the ground before the first of June.

3. Get a community garden plot close to home. Done and done. Last year we had one close to Stuart's workplace, which would have been fine if Stuart were the one who likes doing garden work. He doesn't mind being put to work to weed or water or what-have-you, but when it comes down to it, I'm the one with the time and emotional commitment to gardening, so it makes more sense to have a community garden plot that is more accessible for me. We got lucky this year and got a plot that's less than a mile from our house. I can walk there in 15 minutes, bike there in less than 10 minutes with the kids in the trailer, or drive there in 3-5 minutes, depending on the one stoplight we go through on the way there.

4. Take advice from people with experience. Last night I stopped by the community garden plot to water. I ended up chatting with a couple of fellow gardeners at least a generation older than I am - friendly, interesting, dynamic people - who have been gardening successfully for decades. They are not only knowledgeable, they are willing to share that knowledge with less-experienced, less-successful gardeners like me! They are the reason I know (now) not to plant tomatoes too early (see #2). Also, I learned a few interesting things about traditional gardening techniques in Sudan, but that's another topic...

5. Don't be afraid to rip out or transplant what you don't like. Several years ago I planted some thyme. It smelled lovely and bloomed so prettily at the end of the summer. But oh, how it spread and sprawled across that particular corner of my herb/perennial garden. It also dried up and got really ugly after the first couple seasons. A week ago, I decided to pull it up and move some irises over there instead, and I haven't regretted it one bit. I've also got native columbine coming up all over the place, the result of a flower I planted on purpose a couple years ago that re-seeded like mad. Columbine is a charming flower, but it comes up in inconvenient places. I've been digging up and re-planting every one in the wild, wooded area of my backyard.

That's it for now. I should do a whole post sometime on community gardening and how I think it could save the world, but that's for another day.

5 comments:

Jessi said...

I wish you greener thumbs than mine. I am going to have some gardening space at Grandpa's this year, though, so perhaps I should be wishing myself some greening. :)

Suze said...

Jessi, check out the book Square Foot Gardening. I finally bought a copy of the new edition, though the original was published in the 1970s. It's really good for novice gardeners like me!

Mrs. Allroro said...

Okay, Suze. That's the second gardening book I've seen you casually mention here. So, I must ask, are there a few gardening books that are awesome for beginners with not much space or money, and not much green in the thumb region? We have a small yard and a deck.

I am mostly interested in edible plants, but my mother in law is dead set on me planting some flowers.

(And while I'm asking, can you recommend a sewing book? One that will teach me what your mom taught you? Or, Jessi, can you?)

Suze said...

Ann, I absolutely recommend Square Foot Gardening. It's all about how you can get a lot out of a small space. Great for beginners, too.
As for a sewing book...hmm... I don't read sewing books much, so I'm not sure what to say!

Jessi said...

Suze - Thanks for the recommendation. I've got a hold on it at the library already!

Mrs. A - I don't really like to sew, so I don't spend a lot of time on it. Do you watch Sewing with Nancy? It's on pbs on Saturdays, I think. She's got books out and I would trust her, although I'm not sure about simplicity.