Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I’ve always been in awe of the wonderful gardening journals I’ve seen in bookstores. Their records span decades of detailed notes on varieties, weather and harvesting. And, they’re frequently illustrated with lovely fine ink sketches or delicate watercolors. Having gardened for a number of decades myself, I could have a similar collection of reportings on the successes and failures in my gardens from Pennsylvania to Washington State. But, in fact, I have never managed to keep a record going for more than the first week of spring planting — until now!
Last weekend, I pulled out the notebook that had a few pathetic garden entries in it from years past and drew out the five raised beds in my backyard. I labeled each bed with the veggies I planted last spring, along with notes about the harvest — or not! I had planted onion sets between the two rows of potatoes. The potatoes grew faster than the onions, and eventually smothered them and cut off all sun to the struggling onions.
Amazingly, I was able to find last year’s seed packets and made a list of the varieties and which if any I wouldn’t plant again. Actually, there were two varieties of vegetables I’ll want to replace this year. The first is the kind of green beans we grew — pole beans; they did too well! How can that be? Well, we put up a nice two-sided chicken-wire fence for them to grow on. The trouble was the fence was only four-feet high and the beans grew about 12 feet tall. The vines reached for the sky, encountered other vines to hug, grew a bit taller and cascaded to the ground. The beans themselves were all tangled up in the cascading mess. This year we’re planting bush beans!
The other less-than-stellar veggie was the arugula. Not paying close attention to the package label, I ended up with "wild arugula" (Diplotaxis muralis), when what I wanted and have successfully planted previously was Eruca vesicaria. The flavors are similar, but Eruca has a more substantial leaf. Interestingly, Eruca is also perennial in some areas of the country.
This year, a group of us here ordered a variety of potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm, in Maine. I have five varieties to plant in my 4-by-8-foot raised bed. They’ll get planted fairly close together, but that’s OK. And here in the office, we have three flats of peppers and tomatoes just sprouting — four kinds of peppers and eight varieties of tomatoes. A few of these will go into another raised bed.
Back to the garden journal: I’ve drawn out the five beds again and soon will figure which will house what plants. We did a great article in the February/March 2010 issue on crop rotation that should help me to know what to plant where. I’m planning to make notes on what we harvest during the growing season. It would be fun to know how much money we saved growing some of our own food. I’ll let you know how the journaling goes!