Sunday, July 31, 2011

Discouraged gardener

I'm currently reading The Bad Tempered Gardener.  Anne Wareham, who readily admits she doesn't deadhead, sometimes hates gardening, and in other ways does not fit into the "normal" gardening world, is a woman after my own heart.  While I am not inclined to create a garden such as hers - the amount of pruning required would do me in - it is refreshing to read a contrarian viewpoint.

Lately I have been the discouraged gardener, especially when measuring the produce the vegetable garden is producing this year.  Three out of four garlic varieties did fine, but the onion harvest was disappointing, many of the bulbs barely bigger than the sets I planted.  I thought the soil, a heavy clay, would be okay, but I did not count on the relentlessly hot, rainless weather, which has turned that clay to concrete.  I needed a shovel to separate the onions from the soil, and even then, had to jump on the shovel with both feet to gain any purchase.  Bah.

I tried succession planting the beans, and the first 10-foot row is fine, the second not-so-fine, the third barely germinated, and I didn't even bother with the fourth.  Next year I will plant them all at once.  It's not like there is nothing else to eat during that time.

I've already lamented about the tomatoes, although finally, FINALLY I have some red ones off the Early Girl.  It's been too hot for the peppers to set fruit, the zucchini seems determined to produce only male blossoms, and the cucumber plants just sit there looking sad.  Today I plan to dig up the potatoes.  Please, PLEASE, let there be some!

On a bright note, the marigolds, zinnias, and sunflowers look great.

I was seriously contemplating abandoning vegetable gardening when I picked up a copy of Square Foot Gardening from the library.  Not only did this book revive me, it made me want to start the garden all over from scratch.  Friday evening I spent a fun hour or two, plotting out my garden in this square foot arrangement and discovered I could squeeze a lot more out of my 30x40 patch than I was, even sweet corn.  Of course, the soil must be in better shape, which is where Lasagna Gardening fits in, and my new manure-hauling trailer.  Toward that end, Saturday my SO and I purchased enough cedar boards from Menards (they were on sale, I had a gift card, AND they are offering an 11% rebate this week) for six 4x8 beds.  I'm excited again.

Last week I decided to mow the yard.  The grass is dormant, but the weeds needed topping.  While I was trudging across the front lawn, my next door neighbor stopped by to joke with me that Neighborhood Code Enforcement had been by to look at my lawn, but the ground was too hard for him to post a warning sign, so he gave up.  At least, I think my neighbor was joking, but it got me thinking about the meadow.

The backyard is mostly private, with privet along the west side and shrubs on the north and south, in part to spare my neighbors the sight of my backyard experiments.  Technically, the city could tell me to mow the meadow because the "weeds" there are more than 9" tall.  They allow scraggly rain gardens, though, so I probably could get a reprieve.  But along with the vegetable garden, I was wondering whether the effort was worth it.

Another book I picked up at the library was Bringing Nature Home.  If insect pictures make you squirmish, beware, but I found the photography to be absolutely gorgeous.  Insects feed birds, so you want them in your yard.  You also want to not only attract insects like butterflies with food sources, but also provide host plants so there will be more insects like butterflies.  Many of the butterfly-attracting plants featured in garden catalogs do not provide habitat; an example is the butterfly bush.  Better to plant milkweed, Joe Pye, and butterfly weed.  I think one reason my vegetable garden does not have many pests is they prefer the meadow and the weeds.  Without the meadow, I might be battling Mexican bean beetles, Japanese beetles, flea beetles, etc. to a greater degree than I do.  So this book also revived my flagging garden enthusiasm.

Then there is the front lawn, which is an absolute mess from a suburban sward of grass perspective.  On the one hand, I do like the look of a well-tended lawn.  On the other, I lost my previous dog to cancer which I blame on the lawn products I was using at the time, plus every time I contemplate doing a weed 'n feed, I feel guilty about how detrimental lawncare products are to the environment.  But quite frankly, the front yard is doing nothing for the curb appeal of my property.  I plan to replace the driveway this summer, and I think after that I will do something about the lawn, like a fall feeding and a weed 'n feed next spring.  But I will limit it to the front yard, where the dog doesn't go, and let the backyard be what it is, although at the rate I am going, there will be no grass in the backyard after a while.  And that's okay.

It is going to be another hot one today, but I'm going to spend at least part of it out in the yard, hose and garden fork in hand.  I let the weather forecasters scare me inside, which is one reason the weeds are so out of control.  Don't worry, I'll take it easy, and come in during the worst of it.  Thank god for AC!


Toni said...

A fellow knitter's husband has a great website about improving soil. He has told me that my weed problem in the lawn will go away as my soil improves, which can all be done naturally--compost, manure, adding sand to clay soil, etc. His website is here:

We also took a series of water-efficient landscaping/gardening classes through our local library, and they had a guy from our extension system (every state has one) with a PhD in soil management, and he gave us lots of great information on improving our soils. It's really treating the problem not just the symptoms. It's been a BIG help.

beccaWA said...

Wow... you are truly a woman after my own heart! I could have written your lament about the property, and I have the same situ with the neighbors. Mine are out there with the tweezers "touching up" their green, suburban chemical-fest, whilst mine is ... shall we say... natural? organic? ummm, shaggy?

Thanks for cheering me up with your post! I just ran across this blog. How refreshing. Weeds are people too! :-)