As many of you know, I garden along with being a rather kick-ass novelist. To me, they are a lot alike: much in the same way I cull needless phrases and passive voice in my writing, I do away with weeds and other headaches from interfering with the things that'll go in my belly.
Over the past few years, my garden has grown from a small, plastic bucket oasis into something much larger for two people (my wife and I) to manage on our own. After two years of plastic buckets, we ended up planting in the ground last year, and we managed to have a bumper crop of cucumbers and tomatoes.
This year, we went over and above what we've done in the past. After receiving a Johnny's Seeds catalog for Christmas from my in-laws, we ordered a bunch of seeds: several types of squash, beans, and cucumbers, mainly. We roped off a 39x25 section of the horse paddock, banged posts in the ground after the long-awaited thaw, and then fenced it in. After clearing the area of old hay, my father-in-law rototilled it, and then we began planting the next day. Keep in mind, there is plenty of fertilizer in the way of horse poo there. We really didn't add any to it. For irrigation, I started off the first two weeks or so standing with a hose and spraying the ground until the seeds germinated and sprouted. It's always pretty fun to see everything sprout. Once everything had germinated, I laid down about 225 feet of soaker hose, and connected it to the house spigot with a 100-foot garden hose.
We planted May 18. Looking at the garden from the outside, we planted two rows of beans on the side closest to the lawn. We planted a 33-foot row of Providers and about that similar length of several different varieties of pole beans, with the pole beans growing up the fence. In addition, we planted Carson beans (yellow beans) in the raised bed next to our kitchen. To the right-hand side, we planted numerous tomatoes and peppers, and eventually Jen planted leftover basil from my in-laws.Well after the wedding, Jen planted sunflowers and some gladiolas. But moving on, we also planted delicata squash a few feet to the north of the beans; those plants grow wide. To the immediate left-hand side, two plantings of pattypan squash. Those squash look like UFOs. On the other side of the delicata going toward the opposite fence, we planted zucchini and summer squash. Some time after the wedding, we eventually got our potatoes in grain bags. Jen also planted onions on May 18. We also put the cucumbers in the trench near the kitchen, along with some lettuce, onions, and carrots.
And now, the results...
In a word: wowsa.
Our yield this year was beyond outstanding. I began picking, snapping, blanching, and freezing green beans (the providers) by July 6, the pole beans two weeks later. The providers had exhausted themselves fully by the end of August (so a good seven-week harvesting period), and the pole beans produced until about a week or so ago (again, seven weeks; they would have continued to go well into October if I continued watering the garden after Labor Day). By Labor Day, I had picked, snapped, blanched, and froze 104 two-serving bags of beans (we're figuring that 3-4 scoops of beans is about two servings for us). Over the last few weeks, we've given away several plastic bags worth of beans to Jen's co-workers. The only real expense for beans is plastic bags, so we've spent about $20-$30 on beans. The chest freezer downstairs is jam-packed.
Squash. Holy moly. We drowned in zucchini. We gave zucchini to my father-in-law for our Saturday dinners. We ate squash every day for three weeks, and that was a mix of the three summer squash varieties. In addition, we started putting zucchini in marinara. We sliced up summer squash and had it for a snack. We're down to our last few zucchini and pattypans. Suffice it to say, we probably saved ourselves quite a few bucks this summer growing our own instead of buying it at the supermarket.
The delicata squash, we just harvested it last week, and we have about 20 squash on a shelf in our basement. Delicata keeps rather well, and we'll eat that all winter, along with beans and corn.
Tomatoes, we did rather well with them, too. Cherry tomatoes, we put them in salads or just ate them for a snack. Larger tomatoes went into salsa and gazpacho.
Cucumbers did well. We still have a few out there in the trench, and we've used several jars of pickles already this school year. The hope is to have enough pickles to last us until March 2015, then we'll start buying them again.
Onions and potatoes, I don't believe we did well with those. Some grew and produced. I think the late start on the potatoes didn't help (three weddings in three weeks) and since we didn't have a real way to irrigate the bags, I think that didn't help, either. Another few feet of soaker hose should be a big help next year. I think we're done trying onions. I know we can grow potatoes in the bags: just our timing was off, and we didn't have proper irrigation. Better luck next year.
With a garden that size, weed control was a pain in the rear end. Next year, we're planning on a mix of black plastic, salt marsh hay, and newspaper, which should suppress weeds. Alas for Roxie the Garden Cat, who liked to lay in the weeds near the sunflowers.
The harvest is pretty much done. There are still some peppers out there, one more usable delicata, and sunflowers. Everything else has exhausted itself. Very soon, the sunflowers will get cut, the gladiola bulbs dug up, the soaker hoses pulled in, the fence removed, the stakes pulled up. The horses will tread through there again.
And while the work was hard and the fruits of our labor tremendous, the 2014 Vegetable Garden is done for another year. It will live on in our memories--and in our bellies.