Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rain Dance

We finally got rain three nights ago. I know this only because when I opened the laundry room door to take the girls for their morning walk on Monday, I was surprised to find the walkway around the porch wet. It took a moment or two for this register in my mind as an indicator of precipitation. It's been so long since we've had any measurable rain that I felt a bit as if I were in a dream. When the reality sank in, I shouted to Turfman as if someone had left us a pile of cash outside our door.  We quickly began investigating other areas of the property to get some idea of just how much it had rained, a little disappointed at having slept so soundly through the night and missing the big event. All indicators suggested that we had gotten a reasonable amount. It wasn't until I returned home from work to find the ground in the vegetable garden still wet that I realized we could consider it a substantial downpour. The rain finally arriving was a surprise at first, but having had some time to consider the situation, I'm pretty sure I know what brought the rain.

I've always held the belief that if I didn't want it to rain, I just have to carry an umbrella with me. If I'm prepared for it, not a drop will fall. Very recently I had come to the conclusion that it may never rain here again. To that end, I spent a day this past weekend installing a drip irrigation system for the vegetable garden. If the rain refused to come, I would bring the water to my garden. I could no longer handle running around, as Alan Titchmarsh once put it in his gardening show, "like a scalded cat," trying to keep everything from withering in the parched soil. I had to make a big purchase of a splitter for the outdoor spigot, a two zone timer, and a 75' garden hose to reach the front edge of the garden. That's where I began hooking up the brilliant system components that DIG Corporation sent me a while ago when I won a contest they sponsored. (The drip irrigation system is something else I packed up and brought with me from the Orlando garden.) I laid the main 1/2" poly tubing around the perimeter of the garden where the "wall" will eventually be (lots to look forward to) and then cut a line across to the first planter bed. As I drop each new planter in, I'll splice into the perimeter water line to install another drip line. In fact, I'll be doing that tomorrow night since I just finished another planter in time for the seedlings I've been growing in modules to be planted out.

The new drip line in place

The first planter now has a twin…whose wood needs to
age a bit.

When I surveyed my work, I felt justifiably smug. "Ha!," I thought. "Who needs you, stinking rain? I can take care of everything myself!"And so the timer opened the valve every six hours to deliver 10 minutes of gently dripping water to my little seedlings. By Sunday night, the ground finally looked like garden soil instead of the hideous dust that I had been handling.

And then it rained. It rained enough so that the garden was still damp on Monday night. I had to turn off the spigot to avoid drowning my seedlings. It rained Tuesday night, but a little lighter. I didn't have to open the water valve again until this evening. 

Just like carrying an umbrella--reverse rain psychology.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Signs of Progress

I have a grand vision for the vegetable garden. I drew it out on graph paper almost two months ago. When it was finally finished, I wondered if I were even capable of bringing it to life. It requires careful measuring and marking, quite a lot of lumber, and a significant amount of physical labor. Normally, I am undaunted by such projects, but there's something that makes this particular project especially difficult--I have a full-time job now.

I am grateful for the job. After all, it gives me the ability to buy the lumber and soil necessary for building the garden, but it slows my progress almost more than I can bear. For the first two weeks after our neighbor had plowed the area for the garden, I really didn't want to see it. It felt too much like an indictment, a testament of my inability to manage my time wisely. I found it difficult to get started with the building, knowing that my incredibly slow pace would keep me from completing the project until next spring. But I reminded myself in a sort of persistent pep talk last week that it has to start at some point. So I picked up the lumber necessary to build one planter bed.

Here she is, Planter Bed #1.

I built it using untreated 2"x 6" lumber for the sides and capping it with 2" x 4" boards. Before anyone raises a big fuss, I do understand that untreated lumber will not last as long as pressure-treated. I'm an organic gardener, and I just don't want the chemicals from pressure-treated lumber in my garden. Instead, I treated it with a homemade olive oil and beeswax wood preservative. It's a bit of an experiment, but it's worth a try.

The bed is pretty large, considering the size of my planters in Orlando. At 4' x 10', it's more than double the size of anything I had previously built, but in the larger space, it looks really small. That just spurs me to build another planter this weekend to give this first one a mate and to balance out what is becoming the garden. 

One lonely planter in a very large field

The other problem that is driving me to build another bed so soon is that I already need more planting space. After we filled the first bed with a good mix of the garden's soil and some manure, bone meal, and kelp meal, I quickly went to work planting seeds for beets, sugar snap peas, radishes, and carrots. Now it's full.

The first radishes are peeking through already

A whole seed module tray is planted up, too, and with those seedlings starting to put on their first full set of leaves, they'll be needing a permanent home soon. That's why the second planter is first on the priority list this weekend. Well, that and the fact that a shipment of seed garlic is due to arrive next week. Things are getting a little urgent around here. 

Young seedlings in the market for a new home

So we may be moving along really slowly, but there are definite signs of progress in the garden. I'm sure that a year from now, I'll look at what we've built and be amazed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Good Tractors Make Good Neighbors

Our new neighbor from the property behind us likes that I like to talk manure. He says it's a rare thing to find someone who knows the true value of horse manure. When I first drove up to bring them homemade bread and introduce myself, he asked me about my plans for a productive garden. Then he looked me square in the face and said, "You're going to mark out where you want this garden. Then I'll come down with my tractor and plow, and I'll plow under the field for you. And then we're going to do what neighbors hardly ever do anymore but should: we're going to garden together." Every good relationship should begin with manure and gardening, I say.

A couple of weeks ago, that's just what he did. We removed all the hunks of grass that had been torn out by the plow. He came back a few days after that with a tiller attached to the tractor, and he tilled the plowed soil.  We removed as many rocks as we could. He tilled again a few days after that.

The garden begins with Zoey inspecting
the work. (Photo courtesy of Turfman.)

As much as we love Cisco, our neighbor horse, we doubted his ability to produce the amount of manure that we need for the new garden. So we drove a little way one Sunday to pick up horse manure from a facility that boards and trains horses. It was absolutely amazing just how quickly our truck bed filled with manure when the owner used his Bobcat to load us up. We covered the pile with our tarp as best as we could, but I was a little worried about the drive home. I fretted the whole way that we were flinging poo on everyone down I-75. Imagine my extreme horror when I looked in my side mirror and saw a State Trooper. "Slow down," I said. "We can't fling poo on an officer." Thankfully, we arrived home with just about every scrap of poo in place.

Tippy and I are now officially knee deep in poo

Now the area is ready for a garden to be built around it. I had carefully drawn out a design for the garden on my graph paper, but something has been nagging at me a bit. I've been questioning whether we all need to spend so much money on building our vegetable gardens. Then I came across this article about our obsession with raised vegetable planters, and I feel a little stuck. I'm not sure how I will proceed with the design now. The original plan calls for a number of raised beds built from 2x8s. I considered dropping down to 2x6s, but I'm not sure that accomplishes much. I've been perusing photos of the walled kitchen garden at Prince Charles's Highgrove Estate for inspiration. I have to make a decision soon since I have a whole bunch of seedlings peeking their heads out of their little greenhouse beds and hoards more seeds arriving in the mail this week. I shudder when I think about the garlic that will arrive a few days later. Something must be done this weekend. It's getting a little urgent here.

Any suggestions?