Saturday, January 31, 2009

The grand experiment begins

Well, it has been a few weeks since the last post. Last week DH and I finished double digging the middle grow box. The roots from the chinese elms that had been in growing happily in the box were a lot of work to dig out but we were successful in pulling everything out that wasn't growing down into the gumbo at the bottom of the box.

I went to Lowe's on Monday, originally to look at kitchen faucets but I decided I could probably use some nylon fencing and a roll of weed blocker, so I detoured through the garden center. They had the stockiest tomato plants I had ever seen - so I bought 5 plants. 2 - Romas, 1 - cherry tomato, 1- Early Girl, and 1 - (?). I bought the weed block and the nylon fencing only to discover when I got home that I already had some in the garage.

Several weeks ago while at the organic gardening store I had picked up two Swiss Chard and a chocolate mint that DH had been keeping alive on the kitchen counter. After bringing the tomatoes home, I gathered everybody up and took them out to the garden. Mint is known for it's spreading habit, so he was put into a pot and joined the rest of the crowd in the container garden. 80% of each tomato plant was buried in the ground - supposedly to promote better growth.

I am a student of square foot or intensive gardening - so the plants are about 1 foot apart. This afternoon I put in 8 Nasturtium seed in two square foot blocks, a small bunch of Lemon Basil
seed in 1 square foot block (I took from the lemon basil plant going to seed in the container garden) and about 12 - clumps of parsley in a 2 ft by 1 ft square.

I think I've missed the window of opportunity for planting peas this year. They were suppose to go in at the beginning of January and here it is the beginning of February.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This week's progress

It has been at least 10 years since I last did any active gardening in my three 16' x 4' gardens. The landscape timbers on some of the boxes are disintegrating. One box has been the repository of soiled hay and rabbit droppings which have been left to decompose on top of the soil. All of the boxes have been infested with Chinese elm saplings which I had managed to kill off to some extent last summer. My husband cut down the trees during the winter and spread out the mounds of old rabbit litter.

In November 2008, while visiting the Farmers Market hosted by Urban Harvest I purchased their gardening book for gardening in the metro Houston area. It is really a gardening Bible for the Houston area and is a wealth of information. The chart of what to plant when indicated that the beginning of January was a great time to plant peas, especially snow peas. With that in mind I visited the Enchanted Forest and purchased some snow pea, lettuce and parsley seeds. That afternoon I began double digging the second bed, as it seemed to have the most potential, beings how this was the bed the rabbit droppings had been dumped in over the years.

Double digging is quite a job, especially when with very other shovelful you hit a root from a now cut down Chinese Elm sapling. I was pleased to discover that when I wasn't hitting roots the soil was still friable and I could see wild life - cutworms, red worms, black cockroaches, small garden snakes to name a few.

I'm about half way through double digging that first box and I hope to finish it up early this week so I can put the seeds in. I was concerned that the roots I wasn't able to get out of the garden might act like hydras and come back with a vengeance, sprouting 3 or more new plants each. I called the Co-operative extension to ask what they thought I should do but they only suggested using "Round-up" on them. When I went to the Farmers Market, yesterday, I asked one of the gardeners for Urban Harvest what they would suggest and they recommended commercial strength vinegar. It would kill the root but not harm the soil. I like these urban harvest people, they speak my language.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Of times past

I grew up in southern New Hampshire watching my father put in 100 by 50 foot gardens. I would ride behind the tractor, adding my weight to whatever implement was attached which would tame the soil and prepare it for planting. Dad did things on a large scale; I remember one year when we maintained five 50 x 100 foot gardens. We canned much of what we grew and it was more common that we went down to the cellar or up to the attic for the vegetables we ate daily, then that we bought them at the store.

As my dad grew older, he still kept a garden but they were closer to the house and not spread all over the fields across the road. He used a rototiller to turn the soil each year instead of a farm tractor and still kept to the concept of long rows of a single vegetable. I remember there was always lots of weeding to be done. It was hot, labor intensive work and if not done consistently the weeds would take over and obscure the vegetable plants.

When I got married I wanted to keep the gardening tradition my father had begun but I didn't have the land or the equipment he used and I certainly didn't have the time to dedicated to weeding that he did. It was about this time, in the early 1980's that I discovered a book by Mel Bartholomew called Square Foot Gardening. It was a remarkable book which promised high yields in small spaces with easy to manage raised beds that practically made weeding a thing of the past.

While living in southern New Jersey, I became a very successful square foot gardener. My gardens were lush, with nary a weed or bug insight. The method was all that it promised to be.

In 1995 we moved to southeast Texas, 22 miles southwest of Houston, into zone 9 A/B. Because we were so far south I soon discovered the summers were brutal. Tomatoes just wilted in the blazing heat and no one really wanted to be outside anyway. I tried for several years to garden as I had always done in the northeast but to no avail everything burnt up and died except the weeds. It seemed like the only way to garden as I was used to was to start in January or even September, certainly not in the summer it was too hot; but who had time to with kids in school and volunteer work and all the other things one is involved with during the school year.

Well life has come full circle. The kids are all in college now, in fact one is getting married this spring. My own educational goals have been scaled back so that I will have time to prepare for the wedding and I am currently unemployed, even on a part-time basis. There is now time to really learn how to garden in southeast Texas. I invite you to join me in my journey of discovery.