Archive for October, 2018

A Year of Gardening

October 2018: A year goes by
The series starts here

You may notice from the date on this entry that I’ve skipped ahead: I’ve had another full year in the garden.

I made some adjustments, and watched things grow. I moved some plants around (which I’ll keep doing forever. For me it’s like rearranging the furniture). I know what works a little better. I got the spigots fixed and routed municipal water through a 100 foot hose into the farm so I can water properly when the rain barrels are empty. I’m getting a better handle on where the shade is, and I’ve had a second harvest. I planted more bulbs, more shrubs, and more prairie plants. I have a pear tree, an elderberry, and two pawpaws.

You’re never really done with a garden; even rooted, plants can, and need to be, moved, divided, pruned. Kind of like families. I do daily walkabouts all year long, carrying my paper journal and jotting down the little and big things that still need doing—finish the wall, reset the pavers, dig up the dandelions.

My last garden, which was also my first garden, grew over a 25-year span. It grew with my children, who were 3 and 7 when I first started to plant things, and were 27 and 30 the last time I walked through it. It grew, like the new one did, from plain grass to an elaborate mix of beds and paths and plants, much like children grow from a plain baby to an elaborate mix of knowledge, hope, and love.

I started this new garden several steps ahead of the old one. I had a good grounding of knowledge and experience that I didn’t have when I decided it would be fun if the kids could pick their own food from the backyard, and dug prairie plants out of my father’s backyard in a prairie town downstate. I knew how much space I needed for vegetables, and that it’s nice to sit and watch the world go by. I knew I liked berry fruits, and that they’re easy to grow. I knew how to build a retaining wall the right way.

I had a cherished fantasy about the old garden, of watching my grandchildren, still unborn, learn about the space. About where we used to plant so many snow peas that we couldn’t stand them anymore, and the story of the dog that is buried there, and where the secret entrance was that led to Narnia. To watch them nibbling raspberries right off the canes like their parents did, and make more grape jelly than we need from the vines on the porch.


Instead, we’ll make new memories here, in a new garden, where the stories are still to be born, too.

Take a tour around the garden’s second year here: http://bit.ly/2RsKQ5E

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September: Equinox

2. September 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here.

Of the lunar events that mark the calendar, the fall equinox is my favorite.

The garden balances between summer and winter. There is still food to harvest, and a few three-season flowers like cleome, sunflowers, and black-eyed susan that won’t give in to the cool nights. The main color has changed from summer’s neon to fall’s subtler reds and purples. The canterbury bells, whose blue insistence marks the beginning of the July peak, have formed hard seed pods; its leaves are turning yellow. The delphinium and baby’s breath sigh out one more bloom into the chilly morning air. The banes are flowering— bugbane, fleabane, wolfsbane, leopardsbane.

The goddess sends her winter scouts in the guise of spiders the size of a finger joint, and the cicadas scream out a final chorus before the chill takes them underground.

09-Sept (2a)The memory stones–repository for the things I have lost–sit in the heavy rain that impedes the work. The morning dew has that heavy cold sparkle that says “I want to be frost”.

Gardening becomes the mirror of the spring–long days filled with heavy tasks. In the new house I have to switch out eleven screens for the heavy old-fashioned storm windows. I empty the summer’s compost into the beds as I remove the spent plants , replenish the mulch, store outdoor furniture,  and empty and upend the rain barrels. Garlic and bulbs get planted,09-Sept (2c) potted plants are brought inside for the winter. When I was younger I would do it all in late October in a couple of marathon days. Now I spread it out over weeks, and wonder about the time when I won’t be able to do this anymore.

I tend to extremes, so it’s not really in character for the fall Equinox to be my favorite of the earth holidays. I’m not a compromiser. Libra and her scales just annoy me— it’s ONE way or the other,  f*ck compromise, I’m right. My brother, with an autumn birthday, is a classic Libran compromiser. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him growing up in a household with a dour and whiny Capricorn (me), a flighty, intense Gemini (my mother) and a choleric Ares (my father).

My birth family, come to think of it, matched the sun cycle–two Solstice and two Equinox birthdays: winter, spring, summer, fall. There’s a novel in there somewhere, or a mythology. Perhaps the eventual implosion of that family unit is the reason I’m a gardener–a garden matches the eternal with the ephemeral. It is something you can both keep and consume. A family that consumes itself, like mine did, has no replant; you cannot save the seeds and start again.

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September: Harvest

1. September, 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Through all of August 2017 we got less than 3 inches of rain.

The food garden was suffering. I went through all the water in the rain barrels, and had to start dragging the hose around from the other side of the house (there’s no spigot on the farm side, unfortunately). I got plenty of harvest, but not what there would have been in a better rain year.

Many years ago, on this blog and my old family recipe one Mahlzeit, I decided to see if I could grow enough food to preserve for a full cycle, really about 9 months from final harvest to first fruits. This was the main thing that expanded the garden as I learned how much and what to plant to make this happen.

It’s easier now with just me using the produce. When the family was together, I never made it past January, but now I routinely get through the year by preserving produce from 18 tomato plants, 3 eggplants, 100 beans, 10 potato plants, 10-15 corn stalks, plus four square feet each of carrots, onions, and beets. I can or freeze the tomatoes, roast then freeze the eggplants, blanch then freeze the corn and beans. My housemate remarked that everything I eat is “processed” but then, everything I eat is homegrown, so I’m not sure how it’s better to buy tomatoes from Chile in midwinter because they’re “fresh.” Plus, once you cook them into sauce, you’ve processed it anyway. Not sure it counts as processed if it’s not full of salt and preservatives.

In the first year of the new garden I ended up with 20 half pints of tomato sauce; close to my goal of 25 that I know will get me through the year. I lost the pumpkin vines to squash vine borers and inconsistent water. It’s tough to water this many raised beds by hand. You just can’t keep up; they dry out too quickly. Same with the second bean planting, my shelling beans that I dry for soups and chili. The plants died down earlier than in past years so that I didn’t get as much harvest from them as I should. I chose not to plant a third round, because if it doesn’t rain, they just wouldn’t sprout. A lot of the ornamental plants in the Botanic died too, as well as both cherry trees (planted from bare root stock just before the drought hit).

I always tell novice gardeners not to worry about stuff like this; after all, there are grocery stores. You won’t starve if the garden doesn’t produce. And there’s always the gardeners’ (and the Cubs fan) mantra:

Just wait ‘til next year.

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