Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How does my garden grow?

I'm an excellent gardener. From May all the way through, oh, the first week of June or so. After long, cold winters, I itch to get outside and get things cleaned up. And then I get some bug bites, and I sweat off my sunscreen, and I hit the couch. And then the next year I have to clean up all the things I planted and promptly ignored once I had to try to tell the difference between plant and weed. Sigh. Such good (mediocre) intentions, wasted year after year.

My yard is quite small, and thanks to a previous owner working for the parks department back in the day, we have about....6 fully grown, park sized trees on a lot measured in square feet. This is good for finding a place for a hammock, not great for full sun exposure for any measurable length of time. Several years ago, we did a summer of landscaping where we ripped out most everything we could and are still in the process of replacing it in an intentional way. We mapped out the only patch of ground that got a somewhat decent amount of sunlight, and used landscaping blocks scavenged from other really dumb places in the yard to build a raised garden bed.


So many leaves.....

And after! (this is from 2009 - you can see the level of shade we deal with! That's pretty much what determined the size, shape and location of the bed. That and the amount of stone we had laying around.)

Hey look, I was still enthusiastic about gardening in 2010!

And, well, I've fallen off since then. I've halfheartedly planted something every year, but I think last year I got about 4 carrots and some herbs, and that's about it. I guess that's the nice thing about a vegetable garden - there's always next year. THIS year, I'd planned to make things easy on myself and buy mostly plants rather than trying to do seeds, but....well I did my plant shopping on Memorial Day weekend and got totally overwhelmed. I'm not a type of person who does well in crowds. I ended up grabbing 2 tomatoes, a basil, and a handful of seed packets and walking out in a daze. (The seeds I planted were carrots, peas, beans, spinach, lettuce and green onions. I probably meant to get more or different things...but who can remember?)

Despite my lackluster commitment to the garden, I've been pretty faithful to composting. I started out cheap (like I tend to do) with a rubbermaid bin with holes drilled into it for drainage and air flow. It actually worked out halfway decent. I mean, it made dirt...it's not exactly rocket science. But after several years outside in the winter....because you can NOT move that thing when it's full, the plastic gave out. Last year we got something similar to this compost bin: (I didn't want one of the "tumbling" types, because I've read things about them either falling apart or not turning. Since it has to withstand the elements, I went for the least amount of moving parts)

Even though it's obviously super attractive, we keep it in a planting bed right outside our back door. If it wasn't steps from the kitchen, we would never use it. Or the bin in the house would get disgustingly full and we'd ditch the whole system. We planted some daylilies around it, and due to the compost juices soaking into the ground there, they grow awesome and huge and do provide a bit of camouflage. As for keeping the compost in the house, we've gone through a few systems. I know they have those bins you can leave out on your counter...but they always seemed a little sketchy and gnat attracting to me. First I had a bright idea of putting the scraps that needed to go out in the freezer, because then it definitely wouldn't attract bugs. That part of my theory was totally spot on, by the way. What did NOT work out though was the collection method. I started with a gladware type bin, which worked, but also shattered after several in-and-outs and bangs on the side of the bin to dislodge the frozen bits. Then I moved to a metal bread pan, which did not break, but did not have a lid. In typical man fashion, my husband is of the mind to keep stomping the garbage down in the bin rather than take it out a day earlier. This is not ideal when you have overflowing food scraps and coffee grounds in your freezer. Now we keep scraps in another gladware bin in the fridge, because it's much harder to overflow things that have lids which seal on tightly.

Anyway, because we just have this one bin, we don't have a place to fully age the compost. This, by the way, is the dream for behind the garage:

You know you're old when dreams include ways to organize garbage and dirt.

We use a screen that we build to sit on top of our wheelbarrow so that we can sift out the "done" stuff from the "still resembles food" stuff.

I spent several hot, sweaty hours sifting the compost, and got this:

Impressive, isn't it? It DOES help a little that the part in shadow at the bottom of the picture is also compost. But man, it would be nice to have that 3-bin aging system! Maybe I'll keep that on the list for this summer.....and then in like...3 years, we'll have excellent dirt.

Anyway, so I did plant my meager haul from the garden store.

Despite living in a fairly urban area, we also live near a wooded area, so we get quite an abundance of wildlife. As you can see in the earlier photos, I used metal fencing, which kept out deer, but the squirrels mocked me and used it as a ladder. I cut it on one side on either long edge of the garden so that I could swing it open to get in there and weed (ha) and harvest (double ha), and it had really started to fall apart after several years. This year I'm trying some deer blocking fabric mesh over the whole darn thing. We'll see how this works out. I tacked it into the ground and draped it over the fence post things I already had. It should be fairly easy for me to undo and get in there, and hopefully the squirrels don't just thank me for putting up a hammock for them if they decide to lounge on top, right before breaking through to have a nice lunch.

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