Monday, July 20, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?


One of the major draws of coming back to the DC area was knowing that we could be close to my parents' place aka. that we would have access to their garden to get back into some serious veggie planting. Throughout my childhood, my family has always stuck to the simple herbs, tomatoes, and sweet peppers side of gardening as those are usually fairly low maintenance plants and are pretty fail safe. But this year? Noooo. Andrew and I decided that this year would be our serious gardener year, our first year of really gardening together, and that we would go big or go home... and it's worked out great!

Organic gardening is both a lot of hard work and very little effort all at the same time. It blows my mind how many people (ie. my entire extended family) think that organic gardening comes with all this extra effort, that our garden will be torn apart by bunnies, infested with pests, and grown over by weeds. You know what? When I see 'conventional' gardeners spraying their gardens with all sorts of chemicals and that they are still struggling to keep away the grubs and weeds, I just want to laugh. We've only had to weed our garden about once a week since starting up in mid-April, and bugs and grubs? I think I've picked off about two from our lettuce since we started. We've had to do very little maintenance (except watering of course) on our totally organic garden since we started!

To start, we doubled the plot that my parents originally hadon the side of their house and created 8 planting rows. That was already quite the challenge, really showing us how much grass lawns are the most useless thing ever invented (I unfortunately think we have the French to blame for that). Grass is really a weed that is nearly impossible to pull up. The only power tool we unfortunately had to use to get our garden started was a gas powered tiller. It still took us half the day to get done though (not to mention it was wet and rainy and we live in a very clay dense area). But we (okay, Andrew) go the job done, and from there (note the very shabby 'early stages' picture above) we managed to set up a very pretty veggie garden (thanks to my dad for setting up anti-bunny netting and for watering-also photographed here-our plants so diligently every day when we couldn't make it out there). We even get to have our plot adorned by two very pretty azalea bushes, and some irises in the back corner.

In the spring, 4 of our 8 rows went to various greens (swiss chard, red snails, spinach, and a spring mix), 1 went to carrots and beets, 1 to radishes, and 2 to beans (sweet peas and snap peas). We also planted two rhubarb plants, two brussel sprouts, and left a good sized corner for composting. My parents have been thrilled that they haven't had to buy any kind of salad greens as soon as we started and the harvest lasted 4 months and they now have next to no trash (we also get bring our own veggie and fruit shreds when we visit)! Every once in a while we were able to dress up our salads with our other freshly harvested veggies.

With the spring-early summer harvests now over and having learned a lot in the process (our beans didn't work out so great with our soil and climate, and our spinach did really strange things). Our summer garden has turned into 2 rows of tomatoes, 1 row of my mom's amazing chinese green beans (photographed here), one ginormo chinese eggplant
that's already producing two beautiful eggplants, and our compost pile has been taken over by an unknown melon and/or squash looking plant that probably sprouted from one of the seeds we composted. It's gorgeous, it's sprawling everywhere and it's making lots of little orangey-yellow flowers. I'm excited to find out what it's actually going to be.

Something really interesting I've noticed is that our 1 row of tomato plants furthest away from the old compost pile is doing nicely but has not begun to fruit yet, while the two row that we created out of the old compost space has tomato fruiting like mad. Every plant that is currently growing where our spring compost area used to be is doing brilliantly (the eggplant, 2 tomato plants, my mom's chinese beans, and the crazy mysterious compost plant), while the other rows are doing visibly less well).  This all really shows what a difference soil quality makes and that your really should compost too!

Still to do is turning 3 rows into one giant plot (x2) to start growing spaghetti squash and acorn squash for the fall (they take about 3 months to grow til harvest so now is the perfect time to plant!). All in all, I love to garden! It's so fulfilling and really reduces your environmental footprint. And hey, nothing beats being able to eat salad made out of the food you grew with your own two little hands. I definitely encourage everyone to get their own garden started, whether it's on your balcony, a fire escape (which is what we did in Kingston when we were jonesing for a garden), or even the tiny little plot behind your urban townhouse. Even Michelle Obama's doing it! Get out there and plant! 

Up next: my culinary adventures from my recent trip to France!

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