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.

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