How/why did you start your garden? When someone asks you why you garden, how do you answer?
My very first garden was a section of my dad’s garden where I grew herbs and sunflowers. Later, I gardened in pots and window boxes at a condo. I pretty much took over the deck in front of our door. I’m not entirely sure why I garden, but I like to look at flowers and the veggies taste better than the ones you get in the store. As a kid although I didn’t like helping in my parents’ garden I think I got used to eating fresh vegetables and fruit. Trust me the strawberries they sell in the supermarket are frequently nothing like what you get out of your garden or a upick operation. My current garden was sort of a continuation of those pots at the condo as I knew I wanted a garden when we bought the house, just a lot bigger. At this point I think I do it mostly because I want the fresher food. I expect there to be some flowers around too. There are certain things that I think a home should just have and a garden is one of them.
Could you tell us some information about your garden? For instance, what zone, what’s your soil like, what type of system, if any, do you use?
- Zone 5/6 depending on whether you read the old maps or the new ones. On the new ones I’m right on the border.
- Soil type: Main garden is a mix of clay like loam, composted cow manure, and compost. Far garden beds pretty much have the composted cow manure I had trucked in or the leaf/clipping compost I made mixed with whatever was there. The far parts of my yard can be said to have sandy soil if you want to be nice, fill is more like it. Theres maybe 1 inch of actual soil there before you get to the sand (which is the good stuff) or the rubble, old bricks, bits of pavement, etc. When I planted my oak tree I had multiple wheelbarrows of building rubble I removed. Oddly that oak tree is very happy.
- My system is raised beds all around. This is dictated by the soil type, or lack thereof in parts of my property. Additionally it drains well which is nice.
What types of plants do you typically grow?
Mostly vegetables and fruit. I have some areas that have perennials although crab grass reclaimed some of them this year. I have a good deal of echinacea which I love and some lily’s which are nice as well as a clematis from the previous owners. I also grow datura and nicotiana, both annuals, every year because they look nice, are hardy once established, and the nicotiana smells very nice.
Are there any crops/plants that are on your “wish list” to grow?
Most of the things I would like grow are not crops/plants so much. I might like to try some more fruit trees, but I think ornamental/shade trees would be what I would like most. Ideally I could get a nice mature tree without the 20+ year wait.
What do you do to enrich your soil?
I enrich with compost and organic fertilizer. I use North Country Organics: Pro Grow, ideally in 20lb bags. I’m probably a bit heavy with the fertilizer, but I don’t think it has caused any problems.
How do you water your garden? How do you decide how much and how often to water?
I water my garden mainly with a drip irrigation system. Its great as I just push a button and it waters itself, saving a lot of time. Unfortunately I just made the garden bigger and gave myself other work to do. Seriously though, if you find watering takes a lot of time get some dripline, its great. It also helps cut down, in some cases, on diseases that are aided by wet leaves by only putting water on the soil, not the leaves. I think this especially helps my tomatoes, which always get some kind of disease. Its always worse when the leaves get wet. I tend to turn on various parts of the system whenever it looks like things need it. I don’t have it on a set schedule.
Do you have any gardening woes?
My current woe is lack of motivation. I think I let my garden get too big, to the point where it became too big a burden. Don’t let this happen to you, expand slowly! Once it gets too overwhelming you tend to ignore it, which makes it worse.
Woes of the more traditional nature include blight on my tomatoes (late blight sometimes!), cucumber beetles, japanese beetles, cats, and skunks. Only the late blight is a real killer, the leaf spot (septoria I think) kills your plant, but it takes its time unless it is really wet and you still get a good crop. You can also slow it down with Serenade, an organic spray made of beneficial bacteria. For the cuke beetles row covers really seem to help. Keeps the plant protected while it grows a bit so when you finally take it off the plant has a lot more mass and has toughened up some before the beetles go a munching.
For the animal pests cats are evil(sorry to all cat lovers), and are a terrible pest in urban places, garden = litter box to them. I hates them. The skunk, I hate him too, mine seems to have a habit of digging up ANY newly planted plant. They can smell exactly where you dig and will remove EVERY plant without fail if it is not protected. Took me a year to figure out exactly what was doing it (I witnessed it doing the deed one night). A simple chicken wire fence on temporary stakes seems to stop the skunk and the cats. The skunk could go under it by digging, but hasn’t yet and the cats don’t bother to leap it just to do their business. Copious sprinkles of ground hot pepper also works reasonably well to protect a new plant without the fence from the skunk, but you need to use a LOT.
Do you have any favorite techniques or garden habits you’d like to share? Favorite resources?
The Vegetable Gardeners Bible by Edward C Smith and The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch come to mind. Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman is also good.
What would you consider your biggest learning experience to date with your garden? Could you tell us about it?
Don’t make it too big to handle. It will suck more and more energy from you and you will get discouraged. Your wife will get a bit sick of the constant picking, canning, etc too! For that one you will need to be sure to grow something she (or he for a husband) likes. It will probably turn out to be something difficult, like black raspberries, which you cannot buy in the store, requires pruning only the spent canes each year, and has thorns like a rosebush which do not merely scratch you but will actually tear the skin from your body if you piss it off. She will not consider the red raspberries which you can just mow down with a hedge trimmer each year an acceptable replacement, but you will keep them because she helps pick most or all of them, and will even pick almost all the red ones too. Second lesson is ALWAYS grow something the significant other likes.
Leading from your biggest learning experience, what do you consider to be your biggest gardening flop? Your biggest success?
Flop this year, was squash. Squash is getting harder and harder for some reason. It doesn’t seem to like the far garden beds built on top of the sand/fill although every thing else is fine there. Pests like cuke beetles seem to build up rapidly too.
Raspberries, black and red are the biggest success. Red especially are EASY. Plant em, water occasionally, prune (easy with red, use hedge trimmer and mow to within 2 inches of the ground each spring), and pick. That’s it (well you’ll want a trellis too perhaps). I’ve gotten 30-40+ pounds of reds and 20 pounds of blacks each year from just 1 20 foot row of each. However, the cherry tree is coming into its own, got 11 pounds this year. I REALLY like a pie made with cherries from our tree. Tip, grow pie cherries (sour) if you don’t mine the sourness. Makes great pies, are less available in the stores which usually carry bing cherries, and the birds don’t seem to like them as much as sweet ones. Also, if you get enough you can make wine. I’m waiting on that still as I want enough for pies, eating, and wine so I’d need like 30 lbs I think.
How do those in your life respond to the garden?
It’s a love/hate relationship. My wife loves the fresh fruit and produce and does help a good deal. However, its a bit trying at times.
What do you do, if anything, to extend your growing season?
I’ve done coldframes and just started trying low tunnels this year. However this winter I may or may not do anything. Might take a break from it.
Do you have any favorite things you like to make with your garden bounty?
Wine. Uses up a ton of fruit and tastes great!
If you’ve ever grown your garden from an apartment or other rented property, what kind of advice or tips, including reading, would you offer to those in the same position?
Use BIG pots, tomatoes like them 🙂 And yes you can grow tomatoes in a pot. Basil, mint, and lettuce are easy too. Even cukes will work tied up.
What is going to bring you back to the dirt in 2011?
Ideally a nice break from it all during the winter. Hopefully I will have less back pain too as that normally makes gardening hard.