Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Garden wrap-up

I've done a terrible job of keeping you updated abut this garden adventure. It's been a mixed bag. I was confirmed for a spot the day before I had knee surgery, (forgive the quality of that entry, I was detoxing from Hydrocodone), which meant instead of tackling the gnarled tangle of weeds and plants left behind with the full blast of my strength and energy, I could only, when I saw my plot in mid-February for the first time, gulp and grow a bit pale at all the work I had to do. I was alone, I didn't own any garden tools, and wouldn't be able to get down on my knees until June. And I had no idea where to begin.

The garden manager was there when I arrived, working on his immaculate raised beds, tending to seedlings he had started indoors, from (I imagine) seeds he harvested the previous year. He saw me, and said kindly, "looks like you have your work cut out for you, huh?"

I nodded. "I just don't know where to start."

He looked thoughtfully over the jungle. "I'd start with debris removal."

And that's what I did.

the actual garden plot

After that I had to work slowly and conquer different sections at different times. I'd received some spinach starts from a cleaning client, so I cleared a space in the top corner and placed them there. I found out what the blueberries were, so I read up about blueberries and what they need, and made sure to take care of them with a ring of found rocks and bricks, lovely mulch to protect the surface roots, and fastidiously attended to them while I attacked everything else. It helped so much to have something to visit while the rest of the plot looked bleak. To watch little flowers form and then to have fresh blueberries for the oatmeal.

Each session in the garden was intensely satisfying. I would go in dreading it a little, wondering if I'd have the energy or if I'd get anything done, yet I would always leave feeling validated and confident. There's no job so tangible and meaningful as pulling weeds -- you can instantly see the effects of your labor. And in my case every time I went in there I'd clear a new little section, reclaiming a new section of earth from the weeds. There were a few sessions with Anthony manning the big shovel (something I was unable to do for most of the year), but for the most part it was all little steps, experiments, and lovely vegetables that mostly came from donations from generous cleaning clients or through the seed and plant exchange programs the city offers.

Garden plot

Just about everything I planted gave me at least a little something edible, and the plot even gave me lovely gifts like blueberries on my oatmeal for several months and beautiful flowers in the early spring and late summer. It gave considerable relief to the grocery bills and incredible lifts to the spirit.

I cleaned up the garden last week, and I have a house full of dahlias to show for it. It was the first time everything from one end to the other was uniformly weeded, and I was terribly, terribly proud. Registration forms have been emailed to me and I am squirreling away my spartan tips so I can be ready for Spring.


1. I was absolutely blessed to have chard all year, and it was all because of the damnable sunchoke forest -- they created a blanket of shade that protected these cold-weather greens from the brutal sunshine. The happiest of accidents. Next year I would love to try and do this on purpose, but with a crop that I'd actually know how to deal with like pole beans.

2. I will angle everything diagonally, to face the sun.

3. I will think hard about lettuce. I made the mistake of buying something like 6 starts for myself, which is FAR too much, and we had a strange spring which meant almost all of it bolted immediately. Lettuce tastes best straight off the plant (though I found keeping leaves layered with flannel in a Tupperware in the fridge worked pretty well), and so really a single plant probably would have been fine for me. Most of the salads we eat in the summer time are actually grain based or something like it, straight up lettuce salads don't make many appearances because I'm just not used to preparing them. It was wonderful for kissir and other bulgar-type salads, as wrapping that in a butter lettuce leaf is excellent, so probably one plant would be enough. But really when I want to eat that stuff most is when it's far too hot for lettuce to survive. Can I sneak a plant next to my chard-scheme? Perhaps.

4. Weeding is a big problem because it creates a lot of good compost-able stuff that I am unable to personally process. It may be different with a well-kept plot where weeds are kept at bay, but when you spend a year in reclamation as I did the sheer volume of the stuff would quickly overwhelm an on-site compost bin, at least with the little plot I have. Other plots in the garden that have attempted to compost their own weeds seem to quickly abandon the project. At a work party I spent my entire 3 hours with a couple other people dismantling a haystack surrounding one of those plastic composter things. I don't have yard debris removal service, because I live in an apartment building, so I was having to haul away my debris, often in several trips, and throw it in the dumpster. Not ideal.

5. I will grown onions, garlic, and maybe start an asparagus tangle. More carrots, less spinach, less tomatoes.

I am mostly looking forward to next year because I will have access to ALL of my dirt, and I will able to get down in it with both knees. Once things calm down a little here I will do as the Portland Nursery growth charts suggest: pour myself a cup of tea, review my notes, and start planning for next year!