Woke up this morning, after about 5 hours sleep, feeling surprisingly refreshed. I think it was just the knowledge that I didn’t have anything to do today… except for weed the garden, make guacamole, watch the Superbowl, and check in on work. I won’t talk about the Superbowl, because everyone who care about it has already seen it. It was a very good thing that I checked in on work, but that’s a story for another day. However, at least I got to enjoy the morning out in my veggie patch while the kitties chased each other around the yard, covered in cobwebs and mayhem.
After a slow start, my tomatoes are starting to shoot away nicely and there were five or six fruit worth picking. When you grow tomatoes, you become familiar with the three stages of harvest: 1) Why don’t I have any tomatoes yet? This is taking forever! 2) Okay, a couple tomatoes a day – that’s great. 3) DEAR GOD, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH ALL THESE TOMATOES?!? And then you make a lot of sauce, and give away millions of tomatoes to your friends.
The section with our current house is small, and badly laid out. The vegetable garden was tucked away down a long strip between fruit trees and a very healthy grapevine, so it never got much sun.
I solved that by making the back part into a shade garden, and only planting vegetables at the front (staged lowest to highest). The tomatoes I planted along the edge of the driveway, using the branches I pruned off the overgrown plum tree to form a frame. Hot weather lovers, like onions and lavender, went into the old raspberry patch (after I’d given the raspberries a long overdue haircut). Forget about potatoes – I just don’t have that much real estate right now, so I put them in bags. Our neighbour likes my garden, but I think that’s just because it’s a bit less of the weedy mess that it was when we moved in. That and I gave her garlic and sunflower seeds.
I promise that I’m not going to turn this into a gardening blog (because there are already an infinite number of gardening blogs) but over the years many friends have asked me for advice when they found their gardens were struggling. I’m always happy to help, but my advice for a successful garden is simple enough to boil down to two rules:
- Plant things that like your conditions. You may really want to grow bananas in a snowy climate – and with a great deal of diligence and effort you may even be able to keep one alive – but you will find your job a lot easier if you learn to like cherries instead. Understanding the conditions of your garden (and the conditions of you as a gardener) may mean that you need to shed some illusions, but ultimately it will help you to ensure you plant things that flourish rather than wither. Do you get a dry summer and never have time for watering? Is your topsoil shallow, clayey, or too loose? Do you get shade for more than 4 hours a day? Learn what different parts of your garden are actually like, and research plants that will take to those conditions. Some conditions (like water or soil) can be changed, but this does take a lot of money and time so you need to consider whether it’s worth it. If in doubt, it’s hard to go amiss with things that are native to your area.
- Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. This is actually a lot tougher than it sounds. I’ve heard many people say that they love gardening because it keeps them in touch with the seasons and the great cycles of life. However, with that comes an understanding that there are “right” and “wrong” times to do certain things. Feed plants at times of high growth, and cut back on feeding when they need to slow down or prepare for dormancy (because it will just leave them with a lot of fresh, new growth that dies in a frost and this might harm your plant). Weed when the weeds are very small. Treat pest or fungal infections EARLY, because those things spread fast. In general, prune in winter (but there are lots of exceptions to this). Mulch in the spring before it gets too hot, and then dig your mulch through the soil in autumn to add nitrogen. All of these things make sense when you start to understand how different plants grow, how they flower and fruit, and how they pick up diseases. All experienced gardeners have had tragedies when they procrastinated about something for too long, so don’t get downhearted. Just take the lesson and do better next year.
Presently I’m dying to get my hands on that new section near the beach, and not least because it’s about ten times the size of this one. I can put in trees and give them room to grow. I can go back to the extensive, sprawling veggie garden that I used to have. I can keep us (and all the neighbours) in food for most of the year round.
Whether I have time to do all of this is another matter. It’s back to work tomorrow. That was my one day off, after a 74-hour week, and I still had to check in with work anyway to make sure the venue was ready for tomorrow (it wasn’t!). This crushing weight of summer events needs to ease off if I am to have any hope of living the lifestyle we seek. I need the work in order to pay for the garden, but the work also keeps me away from the garden (and the husband) that I love…
It was a good day today though. Still surprisingly refreshed.