Archive for ‘Garden Planning’

March 8, 2011

Ground Hog’s Day and Seed Catalogues

by Kate

February 2      (Molly’s Birthday)

Help us to be the always hopeful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without the darkness nothing comes to birth, as without light light, nothing flowers – May Sarton

Backyard in February

The days are getting longer, but for the moment all  is snow. Eight inches have come down with perhaps another foot coming by nightfall. I hope so. I went outside early this morning to shovel the walks to the woodpile, the studio and the front door (in case the mail man comes), and discovered coming back in, that I had locked myself out.  Walking to Molly’s to use her phone I note the town is snugged in: no cars on the street, very few driveways and walkways shoveled. The world is muffled. The downtown is a ghost town. One storeowner friend shoveled, salted and swept her sidewalk, but then decided to go home anyway. No one is coming in to shop.

When the boys were little, a snow day was a welcome surprise: an unexpected morning in PJ’s, cocoa, pancakes, books. Invariably the phone would ring and other children would appear since their parents had to go to work. The mudroom floor became a sea of mittens, wet wool hats, snow pants, and dripping boots. After lunch I would kick everyone out to go across the road to the sledding hill or out to build a fort.

Today, boys away in college, a husband traveling, I bank up the woodstove, drink cup after cup of tea, shovel a little, and feast my eyes on Barbara’s seed catalogues before I go work in the studio.

Seed Packets

The choices are dizzying….  Heirloom varieties? New cultivars? Organic? Yes, organic. Shall I build a small hoop bed over one of the raised beds and start things early?  How soon should I start my seeds? As always, it is terribly hard to restrain myself from buying too many seeds. The garden is not large: six raised beds, measuring 7 X 8 feet each. There is a long perennial bed, which stretches 38 feet long, six feet deep, on the north side of the lot.  There are shade beds, and one large patch of earth that gets enough sun where I have finally and systematically begun to plant perennial herbs. Which ones have survived the winter? What will need moving, dividing, replacing?

Shall I start more from seed this year, and buy fewer starts from Judy’s greenhouse? I read in one catalogue that rosemary started from seed has a stronger flavor and aroma. I browse the Basil offerings: Summerlong, Sweet, San Remo, Genovese, Boxwood, Greek, Thai, Lemon.  Each one has a different intensity and aroma. I always grow Genovese Basil for pesto, but last summer, I tried lemon basil which turned out to be a pleasant surprise in salads, but didn’t translate when turned into pesto. My family didn’t like it either,  so I am not ordering it. Thanks to Barbara, I want to learn more about Thai cuisine, so I order Thai Basil as an experiment.

I decide that boxwood basil might do well to edge the herb garden from the lawn. More decisions to come.

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March 8, 2011

Raised Beds

by Kate

A version of this article originally appeared in The Addison Independent on May 20, 2010.

Raised Beds in front of the studio

Every May we stand, looking at six raised beds in a part of the yard that was a driveway when we bought the house. The first thing we did that April, 1996, was move a ten foot high arborvitae hedge that ran between a little garage and the house to the far side of the driveway, to create a sheltered, south-facing spot for a vegetable garden.

To the excitement of two boys, then five and eight, the man who moved the hedge came to Middlebury all the way from Newport, Vermont, hauling a goose-necked trailer on which perched a bobcat with a cone-shaped tree digger on the front. As the driver settled into the cab to drive the rig off the trailer, loud music suddenly erupted from two speakers on the side of the bobcat. “What’s that?” yelled the boys. “I like to work to music,” the driver shouted, as Puccini’s “Tosca” poured forth, each aria soaring above the houses in the neighborhood. The machine twirled back and forth across the driveway, first toward the hedge, digging down four feet, then scooping the tall green columns up, one at a time, each with a cone shaped root ball below, then dancing across the gravel to settle the cones gently into their new site.

Three hours later, suddenly quiet, the hedge was moved and we had a place in which to build our raised beds.

“We’ll have many patches to share — for all of us. Which part do you want to plant?” This was what we had all been waiting for.  Young children love the magic of putting seeds into the ground and waiting to see what comes up; they know it is a miracle without our telling them.  Beans bust out of the soil quickly and twirl up posts. Baby carrots and radishes can be plucked out of the ground, wiped off with fingers and eaten on the spot. Peas pop out of pods.  Zucchini turn into baseball bats. In late August, there’s corn to be husked, picked only just as water comes to a boil.

As a child, I spent hours in a vegetable garden in Connecticut, planting the seeds in late May, weeding beside my mother (or lying on my back, looking up at the clouds), or running down to pick the corn when she put the water on to boil.  We had been loaned a patch of dirt in what had been an estate garden for the grand mansion next door, now occupied by a very old widow.  Ringed with fruit trees, the ghost of a semicircular kitchen garden was fenced with grape vines and long rows of dipping yellow lilies.  The remnants of four huge beds sprawled, separated by wide grass paths with an old well in the middle, now filled with stones. One of the beds was filled with a forest of asparagus fronds, but at age five, when we first went to plant, I didn’t know what asparagus was.

In a yard as small as ours, just three tenths of an acrea, and most of that is covered by the house, raised beds are the way to go. Drainage, vital for healthy plants, is good.  You can plant many more plants in a raised bed than in a flat garden. It is easier to tend because of the height.  And you can organize the soils and the plants by variously amending the soils in the different beds depending on what you plant.

We planned the dimensions and lay out of the beds on graph paper.  I needed to be able to reach the plants easily without walking on the soil so it would not be compacted.  Then, after plotting out the beds with measuring tape and string, we dug down 12 – 15 inches in each rectangle, removing either gravel from the old driveway, or sod from the former lawn. We nailed together rough-cut fir boards for the sides, 2 X 12’s, 7 and 8 feet long, and placed the rectangles on the ground. We shoveled topsoil into the four (now seemingly enormous) holes. Then we top-dressed the beds with composted sheep manure from a friend’s farm in Addison.

We top-dress the beds every year with ground up leaves from our yard, compost from the kitchen along with garden clippings. We also add ashes from the woodstove from time to time, or lime to sweeten the soil. We added sand to a bed designated for herbs, many of which prefer somewhat less rich soil.

That first year garden, fifteen years ago, was miraculous. There were no pests, no rodents, no bugs, no woodchuck  (they all arrived the second year). The garden was new, and the word had not gotten out.  The amount of produce, using a square foot gardening system, was astonishing.

The boys are no longer home, come planting time. But Charles, who is studying ethno-botany, planted seeds this winter inside his college’s greenhouse. He rang up the other day to say he’d just plucked a couple fresh radishes out of the soil on his way to class.O

Raised Beds Basics:

Site:  Try for a spot that gets lots of sun, and where water does NOT collect. My beds face south. They are sheltered (which makes it warmer), and the ground gently slopes to the south, which is ideal. Ask yourself the following questions: how near is a water source? Are there big trees nearby, whose roots will compete for moisture and nutrients? How much sunlight do you have?

Size:  Walking on soil compacts it. So design a bed that you can easily access. Four feet is ideal. Mine are  7feet by 8 feet, and I sometimes lay a board across to walk on.

Paths:  Some people have lawns between their beds – so design a path that is wide enough for your mower. My friend Margy removed the topsoil from the paths, and filled them with wood chips. Barbara’s paths are filled with gravel, and her beds come in a variety of shapes. Last year, my husband and I laid blue stone between our raised beds.

Facts:

The soil in raised beds warms up faster, so your vegetables get a head start.

Raised beds are easier to tend.

Raised beds dry out faster, so monitor them carefully for watering. Ideally, you should mulch, but that is a topic for another day.

Different beds can contain different soils, depending on what you want to plant.

Raised beds can be planted intensively, but watch out: don’t over – plant!

Not all vegetables work well in a raised bed, like corn, squash and pumpkins: they need more space. They go in flat beds, which are in the ground.

If you haven’t gardened before, start small. We started with four smaller beds and now have six large ones.  Some people have both raised beds and flat beds).

March 8, 2011

Building Tunnels for Your Garden Beds

by Barbara
tunnels in the orchard

Garden Tunnels in the Orchard

This article first appeared in The Addison Independent, in the fall of 2010. Here’s my husband’s recipe for inexpensive garden tunnels, inspired by Eliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest.

Ingredients

*10-foot-long, half-inch gray electrical conduit
*10-foot-long, 1-inch gray or white electrical conduit
*Rolls of Garden Fabric 12 feet wide minimum (choose the desired weight/transparency)
*Wide-mouth clamps, sledge hammer, saw

Directions (assuming your garden bed is 8 feet wide)

For hoops that are 3 feet tall at the center (typically all you need for the spring):

Cut the 1-inch conduit into one-foot lengths with one end cut at a diagonal to make it easier to pound into the ground. These will be the sleeves into which you slip the half-inch conduit (my secret).

Pound one-foot long sleeves into the ground every 2 feet along both sides of your garden bed.

Cut off the female end of the half-inch conduit and then slip into sleeves so the hoops run perpendicular to your garden bed.

Pull the fabric paper over the hoops and clamp it to the conduit being careful not to tear.

Pepper transplants in spring tunnels

It’s that easy.

For the fall, when you need more height to cover your mature plants, you’ll have to buy some additional 10-foot, half-inch conduit and cut into 5-foot lengths, leaving the female end on this time. Join the 5-foot length to your existing 10-foot length and when you insert this longer piece into the sleeves, you’ll achieve 5 feet of height (you may need to adjust full length of conduit to make sure the fabric paper can cover the new span). Consider changing to a heavier weight garden cover. The remaining 5-foot lengths of conduit will come in handy as posts for lightweight rabbit fencing next year.

March 8, 2011

The Beginning of Walter Mitty Season

by Kate

Raised beds, January

Even though it is 18 degrees this morning, there is a different quality to the sun-light.  Perhaps it is the angle, though I have no way of measuring. It just feels as if it is a little higher in the sky by 10 am. And it is slightly more yellow.  The picnic table is draped under a foot of snow, blue in the shadows of the yard. The raised beds are indecipherable under their white blanket, interrupted only by the browned tops of un-harvested leeks.

I was smug last fall when I left the leeks in the ground. I had thought to harvest them the morning of Thanksgiving so I could boast to my New York City relatives that they were freshly picked  “this very morning!” before the ritual braising with lemon, home made chicken broth and butter.   But the ground was frozen that morning, cement hard, and so they remained. Then snow fell. And there they have remained.

I am desperate to put my hands in soil. This morning saw the final planting of paper white bulbs. I brought the scented geraniums down to the south facing windows in the breakfast nook, away from the grow lights they’ve been hunkering under all winter  (along with bulb starts, and rosemary in pots from last summer’s garden).  One Amaryllis is finally opening; I have a tiny window garden, green and bright, to sit in at breakfast, while through the window, the snow is drifted high against the house.

Amaryllis

Imagine my surprise when, after noting the change in the light, I find packets of seeds just arrived at the co-op. It is only January! Seed catalogues have already arrived at the homes of my more organized friends.  But I don’t subscribe to a single catalogue; never have. Instead, I wander all the farm centers, gathering seed packets one by one, while reading the instructions and savoring the descriptions of succulent fruits, vegetables, and blossoms to come; or I buy seeds by the teaspoonful at Paris Farmer’s Union.  On three tenths of an acre I do not grow vast quantities of any vegetable, but I grow masses of tomatoes and more salad greens than we can eat, not to mention peas, cukes and beans, garlic, and butternut squash. And part of having a garden is, for me, visual:  I choose some plants and vegetables for how they look… My garden is literally a palette of colors and tastes.

I would like to grow more, but the limitations of a village yard, the shifts of light and shade from neighboring buildings and trees proscribe what I can plant, and how much.

Now is the Walter Mitty time of my garden. I sit back and day-dream about what the garden CAN contain, what it might look like. These plans are elaborate because the conditions are perfect.  From my armchair by the wood stove, there are no pests. And it doesn’t take much work: no sweat, no aching back, no mosquito bites.  My tomatoes are large and sweet. I invent a new kind of potato.  My squash plants become self-pollinating….. I find a way to solve the food issues in this country.

Raised Beds, August

Seeds purchased – all from High Mowing Organic Seeds: Provider Bush Bean,Bouquet Dill,German Chamomile, Sweet Basil, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Summer Thyme, Astro Arugula, Sylvetta Wild Arugula, Samish Spinach, Giant Winter Spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach, Bull’s Blood Beet (for red salad greens), Early Wonder Tall Top Beet, Laxton’s Progress # 9 Shell Pea, Glacier Salad Tomato,San Marzano Paste Tomato