A mixed bed in all it's late summer glory

A mixed bed in all it's late summer glory

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beginner's Mind forever, and some notes for next year.

My formative years, age 4-17, coincided with the time my poor mother was cooped up in a third story flat without even a tiny balcony to catch some rays. She was a passionate gardener, but did not have the chance in those years. Gardening is therefor not something I grew up doing, or even being exposed to. This does make a difference.

In contrast the family was enriched with twins when I was 8. As the oldest child I was promptly promoted to mother's helper and did a share of diaper changing and bottle feeding. When I had my own children I was pleasantly surprised by a   confidence that seemed body-deep. Yup, I know how to do babies. Not so in the garden.

Mom finally got her yard when the family bought a row house in a  small town North of Amsterdam. Alas, by that time I was preparing for the grueling final exams of the Gymnasium. Mom's garden efforts were of no interest to me. I didn't hear the call of the dirt until we moved to the Kootenays in 1970.


Our children, who grew up with gardens even though they never worked in them, have lately taken to urban food growing like ducks to water. They have both commented that they picked up skills without knowing it.


As for me, more than 40 years and almost as many gardens later I still feel like a beginner. And to my utter disgust I still make dumb mistakes, some of them over and over. Keeping records is a great idea but apart from basic crop rotation I have never done enough of it.


So here is some notes to myself so I will do better next year. 


Big brassicas like Brussels sprouts and kale will take up the entire width of a 3 foot wide bed. They may look tiny when you plant them out, but don't get fooled. Do not try to save space by staggering them in 2 rows. Just plant them single file down the middle and leave lots of room in between. Use the space along the edges for any of the following: pre-started salad greens, a row of carrots or leeks, or  mesa peas as a cover crop. Snap beans that way worked well in terms of space, but the water needs are different. Devote 2 beds to tall brassicas and plant compact cabbages in a square foot bed with miscellaneous.


Likewise with tomatoes. Be realistic about your ability to keep up with pruning. The reality is that you won't. There is lots to do in summer. While you are otherwise occupied  your sweet tomato babies will morph into a tangled jungle that resists any effort to organize it. This happens year after year. So stop setting yourself up for failure and plan accordingly. Give them room and ample support. You should know by know that a cage or a single post is never enough. 


An unexpected success this year was the Stupice tomatoes that ended up outside, on the tipi that was intended for pole beans. Slugs ate all the beans on that tipi, and I had some tomato plants left over, so as an afterthought I stuck them there. They love it! They get to behave like a vine and climb, with a bit of help now and then. They are actually out performing the crowded plants in the greenhouse.


Poles for any purpose is one thing we have in plenty. Collecting them from the bush is a good chore for late fall and early spring. The more we can get done before the May panic hits the better.


There. Now back to some doing.

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