Garden Boot Camp
August 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Fulcrum has published some really great gardening titles over the years, and now it looks like we’ve got a couple of Colorado gardening experts right here in our office. Carolyn and Jack were kind enough to share photos and the lessons they learned from working on their beautiful (and inspiring) garden this summer. Whether you are a veteran gardener or you are contemplating growing your first herbs or vegetables this summer, I know you will enjoy Carolyn and Jack’s experiences below, especially the adorable puppy photo. Happy gardening!
Jack: The last time I had a vested interest in a garden, I was about ten years old. Now that I finally have a space to get back into it, I’m realizing that memories of my mom’s methods are not sufficient to achieve success. Thus far I’ve been going on my gut, and this year has really taught me the value of a good resource.
Carolyn: I begrudgingly agreed to try a few veggies in our garden last year. Our crop of lettuce (so freaking easy to grow, people!) was pretty big, and so my instict this year was to to go big trying lots of different veggies and techinques.
Read about a few of the things we’ve learned…
1. Pups love carrots, and carrots love tomatoes. Our goal this year was to grow carrots. Duncan, our last pup, loved carrots, and we had planned on growing them for him. He passed in February, a couple of weeks after we’d bought seeds.
I was reading online about gardening and heard about this great book on companion planting called Carrots Love Tomatoes. Based on the info in the book, we ended up spending four hours planning the perfect garden layout. We had a really complex scheme of how everything would fit together, so come June we managed to get our seed starts planted out fairly quickly. (We’d also planted a number of cool-season veggies back in April.)
We weren’t really thinking we’d have that much success, so we didn’t expect things to grow in as they did.
We did get carrots, but they’re on the smaller side. We’re wondering if we didn’t thin them out enough or if we need deeper soil—probably a bit of both.
Nonetheless, our new pups seem to be enjoying them, so we’re happy. (One is munching on the White Satin variety here.)
2. Beans climb vertical supports, peas use horizontal. Last year, we made our very first veggie garden together, and we tried a limited number of things: lettuce, tomatoes, and peas. We had a decent crop of peas, but we found the spot to be too sunny for this cooler-weather crop. This year we learned from last year’s mistake and planted those cooler crops in a shadier spot, and we tried beans where the peas had been, intending to use the nice trellis we had going for the peas since they’d worked so great.
Both peas and beans got off to a good start, but we found them all languishing after a few weeks. I consulted our copy of Your Farm in the City, which we’d only recently purchased, to find this exact lesson. Should’ve consulted it earlier! (I highly recommend this book, by the way. The design is fabulous and accessible, and the information is straightforward.) Just remember that they’re called bean tipis, not pea tipis.
Luckily, our bush beans (in a lovely purple variety) were less affected by our blunder.
3. More pollinators, please. We have a sort of inferno strip at the front our house that’s pretty much just looked like crap for the last five years. It’s hot, it’s dry, and the “grass” that used to be there would die by the third week of June. We finally reimagined it this spring, planting the whole area with xeric plants.
I’ve relied on Durable Plants for the Garden for past plant selection—with great success. (My favorite plants recommended there are the fragrant agastaches, or hyssops.) This book features the selections of Plant Select, most of which you can find at local garden centers, making it supersimple to find beautiful, hardy, drought-tolerant plants for your garden. I return to this book again and again.
But this spring I’ve also been editing Organic Gardener’s Companion by Jane Shellenberger (pubbing next spring), and I’ve been horrified at the plight of the pollinators she details there. If you want to grow veggies, you need pollinators, so we wanted to factor in her guidelines for the xeric plot, even though it’s not right next to our veggie beds. She recommends planting a whole section of a single bee-friendly plant to keep the bees’ work efficient (they have to “relearn” how to access pollen for each type of flower, so a single kind of plant means less relearning). We planted a bunch of salvia, and I’m ecstatic about how many bees I see visiting the grouping. Take that, beepocalypse!
4. Save your seeds for hardier plants. I’ve also been reading about saving seeds from your veggies to use in subsequent years. As your plants start to adapt to the specific growing conditions of your area, those adaptations will be passed on to future plants. We plan on saving our seeds from our veggies, especially since we had a lot of success starting nonveggies from saved seed this year. (From a nearby park we purloined a stalk of a lamb’s ear that had gone to seed and grew these fabulous specimens—each one twice the size of my head.)
5. Not everything’s going to work. This lesson is kind of liberating. There is no one way to garden, so it’s okay to learn by trial and error. Last year we overestimated the sun one spot of the yard, and our tomatoes struggled. This year, our Chinese cabbage was off to great start, but it’s looking less than appetizing…next on our list is to find out what little buggers thought otherwise.