The 2015 Garden
I abandoned my garden to the elements and the rodents for more than a week while my family set off to Alaska and Vancouver to enjoy the locally sourced fish and an outstanding Vancouver restaurant called Forage.
It was almost as hard to leave the garden behind as it was to leave our dog behind. The dog, however, quickly integrated into a wolf pack at the sitter’s house and had the time of his life, nearly reverting back to feral state until we retrieved him. The garden was much the same.
My tomatoes were already sprawling out of control by the time we flew to Anchorage, so there was no telling what to expect upon our return. Would the squirrels and chipmunks take a bite out of each cucumber and leave the rest to rot? Would one of our regularly occurring violent thunderstorms knock the eggplant branches to the ground? I’m reminded that we often breed our garden plants for their beauty, taste and ease of maintenance rather than their ability to survive independent of us.
My wife arrived home a few days before me (which is how I got to enjoy a long weekend in Vancouver and the local forest-harvested mushrooms and nearby goat dairy cheese in the picture below taken at Forage) and sent me back a photo of all she cared to harvest in the first few minutes of returning home.
On top of that, she pulled 20 plump garlic bulbs out of the ground and handfuls of peas, which she ate before having a chance to photograph them. Turns out she left plenty still in the garden and the next morning I found these beauties, which hadn’t even started to grow before I left town. The husband of our Farmers’ Market’s hummus vendor gave me these Snake beans to plant, along with some Persian cucumbers, which are coming up quite nicely.
The big failure spot this year was (again) my potatoes. I had purchased bales of straw after reading about people who had success growing potatoes in a medium that didn’t resist tuber growth the way soil does. However, the constant rain of June and July matted down the straw and I did not see the stalk generating sideshoots above the soil line the way I had hoped. What few potatoes did grow were below the soil. They were tasty but small in number.
I also learned that two bales of straw goes a looong way. At first, I piled it up against the growing plants as mulch, hoping it would hold in moisture and keep away weeds. It was great at the moisture-holding part, but was a hotbed for weeds, including seeds in the straw itself. While I believe that my vegetables did grow better as a result of the straw mulch, I had an even bigger hand-weeding job than normal because the straw prevented me from using a hoe to scrape away at the soil and cultivate between vegetables.
Alternatively, I had placed cardboard down between my growing garlic plants (a vegetable notorious for succumbing to weeds) and the result was amazing. The cardboard–even as it disintegrated in the rain, held in moisture AND inhibited weed growth, allowing the garlic to grow unfettered. I would highly recommend cardboard for this purpose, but make sure to avoid colored paper on the outer layer, as the inks may not be suitable for your garden when the inevitably leach into it.
The biggest success so far has been the beans–pole beans and string beans–of which I have three pickled jars to prove it. Prior to that, we had been scarfing down pound after pound of organic lettuce, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard throughout the early and late spring. It’s all gone to seed by now, and I’ve managed to collect some seeds for a late-summer planting.
In all, we probably spent $35 this year on seeds, straw and other garden supplies. Add another $10 for approximately 100 Mason jars that my wife picked up at a garage sale and 2015 is still the smallest year in terms of garden investments. However, the garden has more than paid for itself. I estimate that if we had bought the equivalent in organic produce to what our garden has yielded we’d already have eaten $120 worth of food.
And we haven’t even started on the gazpacho.