The Prestons enjoy harvesting the produce from their shared garden.
Photo By Jim Preston
In April 2007, after a lot of house hunting, we moved into a small house on a half-acre lot in Harlingen, not far from the bottom tip of Texas. We like the quiet cul-de-sac in the mature neighborhood. The lot is shaped like a pie slice, which gives us exactly what we were looking for: a really big backyard for gardening, fruit trees, shade trees, an old-fashioned clothesline and a birdbath — just big enough to be comfortable for a couple of “outdoor type” empty nesters.
We soon found out the one big downside to our new place was the alkaline-clay soil, which one local old-timer refers to as a “brickyard.” Not so easily discouraged, as soon as we got the furniture unpacked, we planted a variety of citrus trees, put up the clothesline and started a small garden. The hardest part of getting started was the initial tilling of the soil for the garden. The old term “sodbuster” took on a whole new meaning for us!
The first year’s garden was relatively small. We added a lot of organic materials — mostly manure and compost, but also sulfur to lower the pH and sand to improve the soil texture and drainage. With every spring and fall planting, the garden expanded, and gradually the soil improved as we continually added compost, manure and sand.
In our second gardening year, we started sharing the garden with another family. We have found this “garden sharing” approach works out extremely well for us.
We initially decided we should all equally share the labor responsibilities and cleanup, but after a few months, we realized it wasn’t practical to “keep score” for who was doing how much. Everyone contributes what labor and resources they can, whenever they can, and that seems to work out for us all. Everyone benefits from both the friendship and the healthy, homegrown food.
Jim and Rosita Preston