Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes from the Garden 2011

It’s October, and I just plucked the last remaining apples, tomatoes, and sugar snap peas from our backyard garden. Despite the challenges of gardening with a preschooler and a toddler, I managed to get in a little gardening this year. In fact, it’s because of my kiddos that I ultimately decided to do it: I figured we would be spending lots most of the summer in the backyard anyway, so I might as well find something to do in between pushing the girls on the swings, refilling the kiddie pool, and reuniting bugs and worms with their long-lost families (a favorite pastime for my daughter, and, I’m sure, 4-year-olds everywhere).

So we planted. And I learned. Like parenting, gardening is an ongoing experiment. If we can apply what we’ve learned consistently, season after season, we’ll flourish. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are the tidbits I gleaned from my garden this year:

Good Dirt

My knowledge on the biology of plants is sparse, but I do know that vegetables derive some of their nutrition from the soil in which they’re planted. And our dirt left something to be desired (it came complete with cigarette butts and glass shards courtesy of our home’s previous owners). I'm all about maximizing results and minimizing effort, and I really wanted my dirt to do most of the plant-growing work for me. So we loaded the back of the minivan with Tacoma’s free compost, TAGRO, and worked it into our soil before we got started.

Pack ‘Em In

This year, I kept my gardening goals modest, and I didn’t plant all that much. But next year, I’ll be using every last bit of garden space I’ve got, because I learned that adding more plants doesn’t necessarily add more work. And you have to plan to sacrifice some of your harvest to the bugs, the birds, and the sun—and your kids (see below).

Garden to Table—Yeah, Right

Some of my plants—especially broccoli and peas—were great producers. But hardly anything made it to the table because the kids would snap off the veggies and devour them on the spot. On the plus side, their veggie consumption increased by roughly a zillion percent. But I didn’t get to fill my table or my fridge with homegrown produce, like I’d planned.

Baby Plants, Mini Harvest

Tiny veggies like miniature butter lettuce and baby carrots are cute. And they may be well-suited to small gardens and shallow soil. But for the tiny amount of food they produce, they sure are labor-intensive. Next year, I’ll be planting full-size varieties.

It’s in the Water

In past years my success in the garden has been spotty, at best. I thought I was a bad gardener, but it turns out, I was just a bad waterer, drenching my plants when I remembered and then forgetting about them for a week. This year, I finally invested in a drip irrigation system, and it made a world of difference.

As we say goodbye to this year’s harvest, I’m already planning next year’s garden (which may include—gulp—CHICKENS!). That’s another way that growing a garden is like raising a family: there’s always something to look forward to around the bend.

What a difference a few weeks makes: Bianca picking apples in September.

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