Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Forgetful Gardener, How To Overcome

For a long time I thought I would never be able to grow a decent garden.  I am at heart that special breed of lazy that allows me to sit right next to a plant that needs water and be too lazy to get up and walk the 10 feet to the hose to water it.  It's a hard thing to cope with, even harder to change.  Many people have similar troubles, the old adage "out of sight, out of mind" often means that a plant kept out of sight is often a dead plant within a week or two.  But I wanted a garden, a really nice garden.  Since changing my own pattern of behavior was proving so challenging I went the other route and changed what the garden required of me.  I find that early in spring I am jazzed up about gardening and excited to get things into the ground, but as summer swings into play the cool of the air conditioner calls to me far more than the heat of the back patio.  These behaviors led me to arrange a few devices to keep me on track.  Firstly, I invested in a small greenhouse.  The greenhouse lets me get things started growing earlier than I would otherwise, while I am still full of energy.  Second, I do all of my cleanup, building new beds, and soil preparation early in the year as well.  Including the initial slug baiting that will keep my tiny starts alive until the Spring rains slow down.  Third, and most important, I bought a drip hose system and an automatic watering timer.  If I sleep in, or forget, or am away from home, or just don't feel like it... every one of my plants still gets watered twice a day, morning and evening, every day.  Even better, the water that it gets is a slow soaking, not the quick spray that most people's hand watering is, which soaks only the top layer of soil and in the heat of summer won't have time to sink to the roots before evaporating off.  Of course this isn't completely foolproof, I still have to watch for areas that are drying out faster than others, or planters getting overwatered compared to the large beds.  Last year I put in my 4'x4' bed for the first time and on the hottest days the pumpkin vines wilted (how did I fit pumpkins in a 4'x4' bed? that's a whole different post) which tipped me off that the 6" deep bed was not holding moisture as well as the other one foot deep beds did.  So I added a small sprinkler to the hose end in that bed to give a better soaking to the shallow soil.  I also tried my hand at a Topsy-Turvy tomato planter with a struggling Golden Boy tomato in it, the poor thing was dead in a week due to overwatering from being on the same system as my whiskey barrels.  This year I will try the Topsy-Turvy again and adjust the flow to that particular spout. 
"Out of sight, out of mind" becomes surprisingly accurate when it comes to gardening.  My parents' garden was at the bottom of the hill behind their house.  Not a long walk at all, but it felt a million miles away on rainy days or when an early frost hit and you had to run down to cover the tomatoes in the middle of the night.  There was no light source in their garden, no table or chair to sit in and enjoy listening to the birds, it was a bare place created solely to grow food.  In my mind, a Spartan garden is a garden not often visited.  If you visit your garden only for brief moments, to plant, water, and harvest; you will miss much.  You may not notice the voles nibbling your turnips, what time the shade hits the bell peppers, the tiny black alligators (ladybug nymphs) in the flowering celery you are about to pull out for composting.  You may not see a leak in your hose, or notice the deer that wanders by in the evening to eyeball your rosebushes.  You may not hear how creaky that apple tree branch is getting on a windy day, or notice the spot of powdery mildew on your squash plants before it spreads.  The more time you spend in your garden the happier it will be, problems will be taken care of before they even have a chance to become problems.  Harvests will be picked at the peak of ripeness and can be planned for so that a perfectly ripe strawberry can go from plant to jam or freezer in an hour or two and be as fresh as possible.  Adjustments to water, shade, nutrients and pest issues can be made quickly to allow your plants the best possible chances.  Why would you want to spend that kind of time in a place that is dull, uncomfortable, far away, or dark?  Take the time to plan your garden structure and location, not just the plants.  Make it approachable, day or night; make it accessible, make it interesting, and make it comfortable.  My garden is nothing fancy, it's small and simple, but it's located just off the back porch where we step out to smoke several times a day; it is in my eyeline several times a day and close enough to step over to see what that little green bug is on my cucumber plant.  At night it is lit with a few solar lights and a lighted table umbrella.  The steps down to the patio were replaced last Spring and now have a handrail, they are safe and easy to go up and down.  The patio has a table and chairs with an umbrella for shade, and my family regularly sits out there to enjoy the garden and the sunny days.  This is the sort of garden that improves a gardener's attentiveness to their plants.  My back garden is far more well-kept than the plantings anywhere else in my yard, I should probably take my own advice and make a point of making other areas in my yard as comfortable and inviting.

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