Thursday, December 30, 2010

At least I grew a carrot


See? I really did grow a carrot.  Some of them were what I call ‘paradigm specimens’, what a carrot should be.  And for a four-by-eight foot bed, there were a lot of carrots. The same was true for the scallions, and the curly endive, and for… well, that’s just about where paradigm perfection ended this year in my garden.  Everything else was an exercise in rescue and salvage, once I realized that I had made some kind of mistake, or neglected to do something at a particular moment.  Don’t get me wrong; a lot of great produce came out of our beds, but as the season advanced I began to see that it could have been so much better.  Sometimes things go well in your garden and you don’t know why, but not for me, not in this year of no forgiving.  So, in an effort to begin some catalogue of my lessons learned, for future reference, I offer a list of this year’s mistakes.

1.      1.  I didn’t water enough.  Sometimes it rains with some frequency over several days, or even weeks, up here in the summertime, and a garden can be quite content to hold its own with short frequent rains.  But that’s not what this past summer was like, and I was finding other things to do in the garden by day and thinking that ‘if it doesn’t rain today or this evening, I’ll water when we come home tonight after work.’  After all, watering the garden beds at night is really the best for the plants.  But after service at the restaurant, I would either forget or postpone watering in favor of getting horizontal; and that is the reason I offer.  In return, the plants offered me no excuse.  Instead, they punished me.  The lettuces and chicories quickly took on a tougher texture , and—get this—everything stopped growing!   And when I finally got the message and started watering every day, even just a little bit, and sometimes even in the middle of a frightfully sunny and hot day…by golly, the plants got together and decided that was all right with them, and got right back to growing and looking fabulous.  Amazing, isn’t it?

2.     2.   I procrastinated.  On almost every job, I probably procrastinated at least a little bit.  “Oh, I need to do that over there as soon as possible, but I’m doing this now, and I’ll get to that just as soon as I finish this.”  Yeah. Great. Except that I procrastinated before doing the current task, and the fact is that I am already playing catch-up to my plants.  As my Mom used to say, ‘Get on the stick!’ ‘Don’t put it off!’ ‘It needs to be done!’  Well said, Mom.  I’ll try to do better.

3.     3.  I sowed some things too densely and was too wussy about thinning them aggressively.  Even lettuces need personal space.

4.      4.  I didn’t give the plants that want lots of space enough.  Therefore, my plan for 2011 is to move the zucchini, cucumbers, and other squashes ‘offsides’ to the vineyard side of the moat (the ditch that drains the storm runoff from the road and which separates the vineyard from the yard), in other words, into the field proper, like real farmers do it.  This means I can then use their old space for the greens which need more space themselves.

5.      5. Further to nos. 3 and 4: I need to start more things in flats so that I can use my beds and my time more efficiently by spacing the transplants correctly and weeding less.  This will require no procrastinating.

6.      6. I will learn how to properly prune a tomato plant so that I don’t have to hunt for fruit, and so that the plant can devote more energy to the fruit.  It seems that when I ask the plant to grow longer and produce another bunch of fruits, I am really just being greedy, and then end up with less.

7.      7. I need to be more aggressive about succession-planting the wild arugula.  Cutting it back and asking for more than 2 harvests per season from the same bed just seems to require more time picking individual leaves, instead of mowing a bagful with the scissors in 3 minutes.  Therefore, I will stop procrastinating and sow another 2-by-8 foot space at 4-week intervals, and I will sow the designated 4-by-8 foot space in the hoop house in the first half of August, and another in the first half of September.  

8.     8I will try growing some more potatoes.  The few I tried last year were excellent (once I found them under the tendrils of the Delicata squash vines).

9.      9. I think I am beginning to understand basil just a little bit.  Let me correct that to: “I wonder if...”  My basil plants really struggled in their raised bed in the lower garden.  The last-chance salvage basil I planted in a pot took off and flourished in soil of the same quality, but wasn’t shaded by the pole bean trellis, as the bed-basil was.  Therefore, I will try some more basil in pots this year (for the sake of convenience and ornament on the retaining wall), and I will hold my basil starts a little longer in the hoop house before transplanting, and I will transplant half of the bed basil to a bed where they will have full, and half to the shade of the bean trellis, just to see what happens.  May be I will learn something.  Oh, and I will water more.  This means that I will have to ‘get off my duff,’ as my Mom would say.
  
1..  10.   I pray that I am beginning to understand radicchio just a little bit.  This year I will start more Treviso and Chioggia in flats, and I will transplant them on their correct leaf-day (see the Old Farmer’s Almanac or Maria Thun’s Biodynamic calendar), and I will space them correctly. And! Yes, I will water more when needed.
Well, it’s December 30th, and those are my Resolutions for the New Gardening Year.  Tune in next year for a brutal review of my efforts.  Let me apologize in advance to my Mom for my shortcomings in 2011.  Whoops!  Sorry Mom!  See you in the garden! 

--Caleb

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