Monday, June 25, 2012

Early Summer Project -- My New Garden

I am very excited to share with you all my first summer project of 2012 – a new vegetable garden! My old garden plot, a four-foot by four-foot raised bed in an isolated corner of my two-acre yard, grew plenty of tomatoes for the only mouth I am responsible for feeding – my own. But over the years the trees surrounding that tiny garden spread their branches, launching my vegetable patch into perpetual shade. I love the tree canopy and was loathe to trim the branches. Hence, I harvested exactly one tomato last year. Another location for my garden was definitely in order.
To the side of my old farmhouse lies a kidney bean-shaped area near a giant pine tree which was once home to a gorgeous crabapple and some hollies. Over the years invasive vines strangled the crabapple tree and eventually I had it removed and the vines taken out. For the past two years I have plucked, poisoned and otherwise beaten back the insidious brambles as they re-emerged. I finally declared victory this spring, and considered planting grass seed in the area to have it seamlessly merge with the rest of the lawn.
Then it hit me. Why not make that my new vegetable patch? It’s large size and odd shape was daunting, but I’ve always wanted a "cutting garden" of flowers so I can fill my home with lovely arrangements. And it gets plenty of sunlight with no trees likely to grow directly over it. Why not combine both flowers and vegetables within its curving silhouette?
So I got to work, which for me always involves first making a drawing of what I am envisioning so I can present something concrete to whatever home improvement store employee I consult to make my plan become reality. I took measurements, calculated square footage for topsoil, perimeter edging and pathway gravel, and designed an automatic watering system which would travel underground from the house to the new site.
It’s amazing how much material can fit inside my little Honda Civic with the back seats down and open to the trunk. I enlisted the help of my wonderful neighbors – one to loan me his rototiller, another to actually do the rototilling of my existing soil, and yet another who dug the trench for the irrigation delivery system. And I brought home carload after carload of eight-foot 2" by 2" stakes, deer-proof netting, chicken wire, garden edging and other materials.
I adore the wildlife with whom I share my yard but don’t necessarily wish to host a nightly smorgasbord for them, so I erected a framework of seven-foot tall stakes around the perimeter of my new garden, fastening deer netting to the framework above, and sturdier chicken wire below to keep out the bunnies, groundhogs and other adorable but hungry varmints. I anchored all of it beneath wood-toned bender-board staked firmly to the ground.
When the framework of deer-netting poles stuck out against my green background like  Stonehenge and neighbors started asking me "What is that?", I bought some paint and rendered the whole thing black so it would disappear into the landscape. When I realized that my clayish soil probably wouldn’t produce the heartiest of produce, I had three cubic yards of topsoil dumped onto a tarp on my lawn. It took me and a helper five hours straight to shovel that enormous mountain of earth into wheelbarrows, distribute it throughout my new planting beds, and then rake it level. When I was disappointed in the quality of the newly delivered topsoil, I amended it with another cubic yard of rich, earthy potting soil, this time in 16 fifty-pound bags which I transported in my Honda (took two trips) and carried one by one into my garden for distribution and raking, finishing that little task well after dark.
To further ensure a successful planting season, however short it might be, I amended my new garden soil with compost from one of three collections on my property in various states of decay, then covered the entire surface with fabric weed barrier. Over the course of four weekends, an actual garden plot emerged form a bare patch of red dirt.
Finally, yesterday, I was ready to put plants into the ground. I laid a dozen black-eyed susans, Maryland’s state flower, in a corner of one planting bed, gifts from a prolific gardener who keeps a horse at the stable where I keep mine. At the other end of the planting bed I inserted a half dozen American germander, a native flower whose tall blossoms are quite fetching. In my vegetable bed I tied four different kinds of tomatoes and a squash vine to pretty wooden trellises. I declared my project finished – for the time being.
It’s already the end of June, a wee bit late to just now be putting seedlings into the ground. But I’m determined to get my garden started, no matter how late in the season or how little time I have for planting initially. This story is just beginning. Many more plants will go into the ground in the next few weeks and months. But I wanted to share with you right now some inaugural photos of my early summer planting project rising up out of what used to be no more than a tangle of inhospitable thorns.

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