Saturday, June 9, 2012

Days 9 - 13: The Chef's Garden & A Little Lasagna

It's been a few days since I've posted, but have no fear, I'm still TV free! Tomorrow will be 2 weeks. I'm happy to say, I really don't miss it as much as I had feared. The key is staying busy and having some goals. When the Winter comes, it will be much more difficult. There are only so many books one can read. (Did Miss Publisher actually just write that??)

So what have I been up to? Well, my garden is done! Whoopie!

Before I talk about my garden in detail, one notable item this week - I volunteered at the local farmer's market on Wednesday. One of the things I pledged to do more of with my free-time is do some work in our community. The goals being 1) to help support local events that keep our city interesting and 2) to meet some people our age with whom we can socialize. (We've been here 9 years and really only know our immediate neighbors.)

As far as the Farmer's Market goes, I think I'll only meet one goal, which is to support a local community event. And I admit, I won't mind doing this so long as I have cash on hand. There were many Michigan grown goodies at the market and if I'd had any cash with me, I would have bought everything in sight! As it was, I certainly sampled everything in sight. Flavored almonds, kettle corn, flavored and medicinal honey, jerky and hot sausages, and plenty of flowers and veggies. I definitely won't mind spending a few hours a week surrounded by all of that!

Unfortunately, the goal I won't accomplish is meeting people our age. I'm working the volunteer booth with two lovely ladies, who happened to have both turned 80 years old this year. They like to talk about when their husbands died 20 years ago and their various ailments. Very sweet ladies, but I doubt they'll be coming over to play Euchre and drink homebrews with me and the hubs.

So let's get to the gardening!

The Chef's Garden (& Start of the Lasagna Garden)

I don't know why I'm calling it the chef's garden, other than to make it clear that the focus is vegetables rather than flowers and to differentiate it from the lasagna garden, which I address in the second set of bullet points below.

As a quick recap, here were the steps I took to get started (and blogged about previously):
  1. I identified the northeast corner of the yard as the best place for the garden as it has a good 6-8 hours of bright sunlight per day. Hubs and I spent several hours de-weeding this area in preparation.
  2. Using the garden hose as a guide, I created a curving edge for the garden that parallels the flower bed on the other side of the property.
  3. Sadly, I discovered my hand cultivator tool wasn't strong enough to battle the grass that needed to be removed from the area I had mapped out. I used a good old-fashioned shovel to dig up the area. (A rototiller would have been better but about $50 for 3 hours use. I'd rather spend the money on tools I can keep and more seeds.)
  4. I left the grass chunks out in the sun for a day so that the dirt would dry out and crumble from the grass roots more easily.
I believe that's where I left off in my last blog, with a small area left to be shoveled and most of the grass chunks drying.

Since then, I've done a lot more work. (And I can say right now, if TV had been an option, I would have never started or finished this garden. The only thing that kept me going (in 80-90 degree heat the last few days) is knowing that I can't sit on the couch all day and stare at the TV. Whenever I was tired and felt like going in, I would think What else am I going to do? Might as well work until dark.)

Here's what I've accomplished:

  1. Started the Lasagna Garden: Shook the dirt off the grass clumps and piled them on top of the weeds along the back of the property. Once I add a "brown layer" (i.e., newspaper or corrugated cardboard) on top of the grass chunks, I'll have a nice start to my lasagna garden. The goal of the lasagna garden is to layer the browns with greens (such as yard waste and vegetable scraps) throughout the year. Ideally, the brown layers being twice as deep as the green layers. By next spring, it should all be horizontally composted, and I can either transport some of that rich compost to my garden, or I can plant right in it. It will make a nice, fluffy soil.
  2. Once the grass was removed, I had 2 yards of soil delivered. I selected a soil compost mix, because my soil needed some nourishment, and I found out from the ladies at the Farmer's Market that the city supply of compost is depleted. (Next year, I'll start early and take advantage of the free compost!) 2 yards turned out to be just enough - it's just enough to have a 3-4 inch layer over the entire area.
  3. Before spreading the soil, I used my cultivator hand tool to churn the existing dirt. I also tested the pH of my existing dirt - it was a good 7.5 pH. The reason I tested before adding the new dirt was that the new dirt was a compost mix. The results of the pH test can be skewed by debris like twigs. I wanted a clear reading.
  4. I spread the soil out evenly last night. (With some help from my hubs, who's a shoveling machine.)
  5. Next I made a garden map. It wasn't perfectly to scale, but it was important to figure out what would go where. The tallest crops need to be placed so they don't cast a shadow on the shorter crops and there needs to be the correct amount of space between everything. (Map pictured below)
  6. Hubs rescued some bricks from a collapsing hole at the back of our property. Not our fault - the bunnies dug a burrow and created a sink hole. It sucked in my little brick wall and humpty dumpty garden decor. Bastard bunnies. Anyway, hubs transported those to my garden area so I could use those today for my paths.
    My Garden Map - I know it's hard to see, but I did it in pencil. The point is, if you're new to gardening like me, to have a good idea of how many seeds you have and how much room you'll need. I'm so glad I made this map. I would have been out there in the heat much longer today if I had not made a plan.
  8. Today, I planted flowers and veggies, inserted bricks for sectioning and walking, and tapped in stakes to identify everything!
  9. For flowers, I planted within borders along the edges of the garden, mostly in the shaded areas and the corner of the garden. I planted purple and white alyssum, white morning glory, deep purple forget-me-nots, Canterbury Bells, Sweet Pea and a Sweet Pea border mix. Both the morning glory and the sweet pea should climb and fill out on the fence. The Canterbury Bells (beautiful purples, pinks and white) should grow to several feet and fill out the corner nicely.

Starting at the right side of the garden, at the tail, I planted tomatoes (both regular and cherry) and red and green bell pepper. As  you can see, I didn't do much volume. Two tomato plants and one pepper plant. This might be a mistake. Perhaps I'm supposed to plant in threes, like flowers or shrubs. But I wanted to get several things in the space, and I'm still testing it all out. Who knows, this might be a terrible spot for growing things. To the left of the tomatoes, I planted three mounds of cucumbers, the sweet, crunchy variety with small seeds.

Looking to the left, you can see the layout of my chef's garden. After the cucumbers is a big section for green beans. I have great memories of picking green beans (and eating the entire bowl of raw green beans meant for the whole family) at my aunt's house when I was a little girl. Nothing better than fresh-off-the-vine green beans that are sweet and snap up great for dinner - or pre-dinner! ;)

It's hard to tell from this picture, but the entire garden is sloped. The highest point is the pole of the birdhouse (where the yellow square is). Near the pole, I made a trench and two long hills for my carrots. They need lots of deep soil to grow straight. I planted a kaleidoscope mix of carrots - Atomic Red, Bambino, Solar yellow, and Lunar White. In the foreground are the cantaloupes. If you can't tell by the pictures, these are buried 4-6 seeds 3 inches apart in small mounds. The mounds should be 4-5 feet apart, but I was limited on space. They are 3-4 feet. I hope this won't make a difference.

All the way to the left are my watermelons. Again, I buried the seeds in small mounds. These mounds should have been 6 feet apart. I simply didn't have the space. So I did fewer mounds (didn't use all the seeds) and placed them about 4 feet apart in a circle. This area is the first to get shady - as you can see, it was almost fully shaded by about 4pm. But I'm hoping that there's enough sunshine before 4pm to do the job.

That's about it. Now it's just about watering and waiting. As mentioned previously, I have fantasies of walking in my garden, wearing a big brimmed hat, plucking veggies and putting them in a basket....Today, I did none of those things. But I did make rainbows. Lots of rainbows over my garden with the hose. And I watched the butterflies flitting around, checking everything out.

What's left to do? Soon, when my seedlings appear, I'll spread organic mulch along the pathways (so I can weed and harvest without getting muddy). I'll also need to figure out the best way to enclose the garden. We have bunnies and deer in the area. And I'll continue to layer on the lasagna garden. Next year, if I've had some measure of success with my garden, I'll grow onions, lettuce, kale, spinach and probably lots more tomatoes and peppers. My curving garden will probably grow twice as big, turning into a big rectangle, and I'll plant other yummy things where my lasagna used to be....possibly move my herbs from inside the house to that space. So, there are still lots of things to do - but for now - just wait and enjoy the knowledge that I did something productive with my TV-free time.

Garden Project
Cost Estimate: $200
Time Estimate: 25-30 hours

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