Saturday, November 6, 2010

Happy Garden

I have written before about my ambivalent relationship with my gardens. Really, it's all quite positive except for the big stupid rock garden. This time, last year, I decided to add a new garden.

We had a small vegetable garden already, but most of our vegetables came from the community shared agriculture (CSA) farm we had been part of for 10 years. They had decided to take a year off. We had a largeish side yard that seemed to grow mostly weeds, bad violets, and moss, and also seemed to get some amount of sunlight. I layered cardboard and leaves over the ground, and left it to gestate all winter.

We borrowed a light-table from Dave's school (and called it our grow-op). We circled the best varieties of vegetables in a seed catalogue and made our investment of seeds.

The initial plan had been for this to be a money-making project for our kids - they would, theoretically, plant their seeds, transplant the seedlings, weed the garden, harvest the veggies and I would pay them for their produce. By the time the baby plants were an inch tall, I knew this was my project.

As soon as the ground was workable this spring, we rototilled it, and surrounded it with wood from another backyard salvage project. I then dumped in the entire contents of two composters. I planted spinach and peas in early April, and lettuce and beets a few weeks later. In May, I took my chances on warm weather and planted tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, basil, sunflowers, green peppers, hot peppers, sage, sweet peas and giant pumpkins a week or two before the May long weekend. The gamble paid off and we began a summer of great eating. Only the pumpkins and sunflowers failed to grow.

Weirdly enough, I enjoyed weeding this garden. I tend toward being an "outside the box" thinker, but I was charmed by the lovely straight rows of the garden, and I was quite content to putter about it this garden, keeping the rows neat and tidy.

One day while weeding, I named the new vegetable garden my Happy Garden. It was while weeding that I got the pivotal idea for the novel I was about to embark on writing. It was a delight to discover sugar snap peas emerging from the white blossoms of the plant, to find a new green pepper hiding in the foliage. I loved brushing against the basil, the tomato plants and inhaling the fragrance.

By August, it was a hot mess. I had tried not to plant too many tomato plants, but the baby plants looked deceptively small; by August, they had to be tied to the fence, having pulled the cages out of the ground and having punched and wrestled each other for real estate. The cucumber plants snaked everywhere.

I knew you could plant cool weather crops again, once the weather cooled off. The problem was that it didn't cool at all until the first week of September. Again, the gamble. What would grow and what would be a waste of seeds? But, what did I have to lose? I replanted spinach, lettuces, peas and arugula.

This evening - one day after a snowfall - we had another meal featuring arugula and spinach from the garden. It's still going strong. The only plant that didn't work this time was the peas: the plants grew - probably 10 inches high - but never blossomed. It occurred to me today while I was adding mulched leaves to the garden that even these pea plants were good for the garden - pea plants add nitrogen to the soil, good for other crops.

It makes me happy, this happy garden.

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