Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Few Lessons from a Rookie

I haven't been very faithful to blog. I meant to, really I did, but my schedule is odd; off.   I have a little time here and there, I think.... I just can't seem to find it when I am looking  for it. 

I did want to get in here and  post a few pictures of our garden. I'm no photographer, that's my husband's gig, but the pictures I got should give an idea, I suppose.   I thought maybe I could tell a little bit of the tale of our journey from the beginning of what looks to be our first successful garden to where we are now, and maybe talk a little about what we plan to do next.

I'm really proud of the way things are going.   We've struggled for years to get anything to thrive in this awful dirt.  We added things to it for years to improve it, manure, compost, bags of store bought soil, until finally we've gotten it into decent enough shape to sustain life.  

I enjoy gardening so much.  It's one of my favorite things to see the tiny new plants break through the ground.  I'll be honest and tell you, though, I really didn't want to start a garden.  I hadn't wanted to for several years because it's been such a source of disappointment to me for many potential growing seasons.  It's one of the worst feelings to tend them only to have them wither away despite all my best desperate efforts.  I wasn't up to trying it again.  

Last year in late summer or early fall I had a few cloves of elephant garlic that I had forgotten about, and they started to sprout.  I decided to stick them in the ground just to see what would happen.  There was nothing to lose in that.  They sprouted a tiny bit, and then sort of 'went away'.  I figured they died. I didn't read up on when to plant garlic, so I figured I did it wrong and chalked it up to experience.  Well, along about February this year, Lo!  They poked their little greens up through the ground again, and it was all I needed to get the fever. I decided to try some early growers; cool weather crops.  I thought maybe I'd have better luck with my garden if I did it before the really hot weather settled in.

Before I knew it I had planted my whole garden area full.  The problem was, I had no room left in my garden spot, and I hadn't planted tomatoes yet, so I started working another area for them. One thing led to another, and soon I had plants of all types in the ground.  Now I am excited about it again, almost as much for some serious on the job training as I am for the harvest.  I've already learned some lessons, and I can see more on the horizon.

Lesson 1: Irrigation

The first thing we had had to contend with was the water situation.  Being smack in the middle of the Mohave Desert means that water doesn't stay put out in the sun for very long.  I was getting out early in the mornings and watering everything heavily, and I thought that was good enough, but  no matter what I did, the plants wilted and looked bedraggled by mid-day. My husband knew it was lack of water,  so I added a nightly watering, but still, they just wouldn't 'perk up'.

He decided we needed to do something, so we went to the hardware store to buy all of the regular drip irrigation stuff everyone uses, but instead we found some really small soaker hoses that attach to a black irrigation hose in the same way standard drip lines do. I'm here to testify that they are well worth the time, effort, and money that they cost us, all of which were minimal.  My husband laid us out a nice irrigation system in just a couple of hours.  We put the soaker lines down each row and covered them with mulch to keep the water from evaporating right off of the hoses, and so far, even on the hottest days we've had, they are doing the trick. I've had to increase the water pressure a bit as the plants have grown, but it's still much more economical, as far as water usage, than the hose ever was.

I wish we had photo/video documented the process. It would have been fun, and maybe there are others out there that are as novice as I am that could  have benefited from it.  If that's you, take my word for it, it's easy and nearly fool proof.  Give it a go!

Lesson 2: Row/Plant Spacing

If the seed package says to plant the seeds 12 inches apart, that's what they mean. Just because they are itty-bitty when you get them out of the envelope doesn't  mean they are going to fit in closer quarters later.  I know that sounds silly,  but I was trying to optimize my limited garden space, so I pushed my luck, and now I'm sorry.  My tomatoes have become sort of a giant mass of green with blooms and tiny tomatoes all over it.   That could be to my advantage in that they could actually protect themselves from the sun a bit as the summer wears on.  On the other hand, I'm already having a hard time working in them and they're only going to get bigger.  It's likely that it's going to be near impossible to get into the middle of them by the time they reach full size.

Lesson 3:  Sunlight

Again with the instructions?  If they say full sun on the package, what do you suppose they mean?  Yeah... full  sun.  I thought to protect them a bit since the lions share of the growing season here is near a hundred degrees, give or take, so I planted some things where they would get some sparse shade.  It's not exactly 'shady' so I thought it made sense.  No.  

All of this instruction reading business leads me to think I might have had better success with some of my other things if I'd started them indoors earlier in the season, like the package says.  

Lesson 4: Protection

Fencing was necessary.  My dogs thought the fresh greens were just for them.   I put some chicken wire around the two garden areas, and that worked for awhile, but it got mashed down and we had to re-enforce it with more posts.  Not a big deal, but it did get me started thinking about what to do when we are in a more rural setting. I don't have much of a pest problem here.   We're in city limits and it's just not an issue, but it will be.  I have applied some of my on-line time to researching lots of different methods to protect our garden from critters.  Only time and testing will tell the story there.  For right now our big problems are sun and wind.

The wind just beats things to pieces.  By the end of the summer all but the heartiest of the plant life out here is wind whipped, torn, and just plain worn out. Support cages and structures may help the plants over all. but the exposed areas take a lot of damage.   Honestly, other than erecting protective walls I'm not sure what can be done to prevent it.  

The sun is plentiful, and obviously necessary, but out here it's also destructive.  The difference in the daytime and night time temperatures is so drastic that lots of things just burst on the vine.  So far we haven't done anything to ward off it's effects, but we're going to have to soon. This is going to be a trial because it will require some kind of sun screen, and the desert sun's partner in crime, the wind,  tends to destroy or shred anything erected to shelter things from the sun.  

I don't plan on erecting anything permanent.   We're planing to move soon, and frankly my heart's just not in it.  I considered using conduit and bending it to sort of arch over at least the tomatoes, and then screw some shade cloth right to it, but I don't want to go to the expense and effort for all of that, especially considering I really only plan on using it for one last season.  The shade cloth will hardly last any longer than one season anyway.  I think what I will try is to just fasten it to fence posts on four corners, and 'stitch'  it to the back fence with wire. It should hold through the hottest months.  I will post as we go.   

Lesson 5: Compost

A.  It's pretty hard to mess up compost.  No meat/meat products in the compost bin, and I've heard no onions. Anything else is a go.  Coffee grounds, egg shells, the bag of almost liquefied vegetables that got shoved to the back of the fridge, last years leaves, tree trimmings, grass clippings, just pile  them up and keep them moist and  voile!  All of it miraculously turns into your best friend: dirt!  I decided to try layering everything into the  pile.  A layer of dry, such as old leaves and sticks, followed by a layer of wet, such as kitchen scraps and plant material, followed by a shovel or two of dirt.  I hose it whenever I'm out there and think of it, and it's coming along very nicely.

B.  Re-think what you are throwing away.  So much  of what we throw away can be added to the compost bin. It gets to be a habit quickly.  I catch myself when I'm shopping looking to see how much of the products I'm buying can be composted and how much is actually going to be wasted as garbage.  No, I'm not an environmental nut, green crazed Birkenstock babe, I just love watching the process, knowing the source, and getting it free and un-taxed. 

Those are the most obvious lessons for this year to date.  It's really more of an information gathering season than anything to us anyway. My husband and I are learning all we can about what has come to be called permaculture, which is just a fancy word for a more natural, self sustaining agricultural, ecological system.  It is really very interesting and the more I learn the more it all seems to be a logical and intuitive way to do things.  Maybe my rural upbringing helps.  I remember a lot more than I realized.  All combined we are getting a picture in our heads; the pieces are coming together.  Even though our little garden patches in the desert are small and flawed, I think we have learned a lot and dialed a little closer in to some more important things that maybe we wouldn't have understood otherwise.  

I'm wanting to cram too much into this blog. I want  to go into detail  about some of  our plans, the property we've found and are considering, our great off-grid ideas, and so many other things that all tie together and make such beautiful dreams,  but I think I'll save that and make it the subject of a different blog.

1 comment:

RL said...

Keep doing what you're doing it looks like you are getting good results! Trial and error are great teachers. My wife and I can attest to that!

Nice blog.