Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mud Therapy

The school year started out great, but got a bit stressful at the end. Fortunately the corollary to "All good things must come to an end" is "All bad things must also come to an end". So the year ended, and we have been getting back on an even keel.

I am descended from a long line of Eastern European farmers. My ancestors were peasants that farmed the land in Europe, and one set of my Grandparents started out in this country as farmers in the middle of Wisconsin.

So working the earth is in my genes, and you would think it would be second nature to me. Unfortunately I have not had a garden in more than 25 years (probably closer to 30). But Buddy Boy (who wants to be a farmer) had been bugging me this winter to put in a garden this year. My sister (who used to live about a mile from us, but now lives about 350 miles (560 km) from us, had Buddy Boy and Sweet Pea assist her in putting in a garden a couple of years ago before she moved. Buddy Boy loved that, especially when they harvested their crop of corn and beans.

So I relented (I actually wanted to do it myself, but was afraid of disappointing Buddy Boy if we didn't succeed in growing anything). I figured even if our crops failed, it would be good therapy for all of us to put in a garden.

The first thing we needed to do was clear an area. We selected an area at the edge of our property, fenced it in (there are tons of rabbits around here), and began to clear the grass. The first thing we discovered is that although the area where we live was once supposedly an orchard, the land is pretty much an equal mixture of clay and rock. It took us the better part of 3 days just to clear about 100 square feet (9.29 square meters). I may not have gardened much lately, but I knew that this plot of ground was not going to grow much anytime soon (I was even surprised that the grass had grown as well as it did).

So after doing some reading online, talking to my sister, and getting a consult from Daisy at Compost Happens (hey, with a blog name like "Compost Happens" she has to know a lot, right?) I decided to break up the top layer of clay and build up a bed of about 4-5" (about 12 cm) of topsoil before planting anything. I also decided to get some stones from Home Depot and lay a walkway down the middle of the garden, to facilitate access for planting, weeding, and harvesting.

Once we mixed the topsoil in and spread it all out, it was time to get something to plant. I figured we'd have a better chance of getting stuff to grow if it was already a seedling, so off to the gardening center we went. We picked up some seedlings of two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, sweet onions, peas, strawberries, and some type of herb that was supposed to attract butterflies. We also got some seeds for beans, carrots (I picked some stubby ones that were supposed to do better in clay soil), and broccoli.

The beans seemed to sprout up to 4 inches (10 cm) overnight. The carrots and broccoli have also started to grow, and we even harvested our first "crop", which consisted of one small strawberry that I had to divide between the two kids. We topped the garden off with "Mr. Sun", which Buddy Boy insisted we buy when we were at Home Depot. He's always been a sucker for inanimate objects with faces on them.

Although I think a synonym that should be listed for gardening is "weeding", it's been fun thus far, as well as therapeutic in helping us all work off some excess energy. And with the problem with salmonella in tomatoes, we might even have a cash crop on our hands!


kristina said...

Better be careful or you'll be buying a tractor..... I've long wanted to start Charlie on gardening. Being outside, in the dirt, seeing things change and grow----think this would appeal to him. Thanks for some inspiration!

(Farming's somewhere in my genes too, courtesy of my southern Chinese relatives, and I have a side interest in Roman agriculture from translating this:

jypsy said...

hoe, hoe, hoe....
cool fun - plant a sunflower house (plant sunflowers fairly thickly in a circle or square, leaving a space for the "door")

I live in the middle of 40 acres of carrots (this year and every 3rd year) :)

Niksmom said...

Aw, Joe! I'm having total garden envy here! I would dearly love to have a veg. garden but e don't have anywhere for it. So I plant my flowers in the front and my lonely tomato plant in a 5gal. bucket in the backyard! LOL

Mud therapy...sounds divine!

Anonymous said...

Compost Happens is a great website. At one point several years ago, I was determined to open a wholesale nursery and had saved quite a bit of money to purchase an existing nursery. However, compost happens.

Anyway, great pictures of the garden. That's a lot of work when all you have is hand tools. I've been meaning to do something like this for a couple of years. Our neighbors did something similar to this a couple of years ago and now the little patch they have is a cornucopia of vegetables, delphiniums, poppy, squash, tomatos, and beauty.

Pick up a little tiller next year at your local equipment rental place if you feel like making quick work of the soil. Should only cost about $50 for the day but you'll only use it for about 10 minutes and you'll have deeply tilled silky smooth dirt to work with and the plant's roots will thank you. Roots is where its at.

Ange said...

Happy gardening! We just started this summer (we did raised beds, mainly square foot gardening method) and I seriously have so much pride in that darn thing. Bubba likes to monitor "his bean plants." We've harvested nothing but radishes yet, and since we started late, half of my garden will be ready for harvest when we are on vacation...I am contemplating hiring a garden-sitter. Is BuddyBoy willing to travel? I have a sickness....I'm actually losing sleep over the watering schedule while I'm gone.


EJ Willingham said...

What a nice garden you all made. TH has been obsessed with plants since he was very small, and we're always growing something in pots and in the ground around here.

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo! Your two lil farmers did such a great job on that. It all looks delicious. (Pictures Elmer Fudd guarding against those pesky wabbits too.)


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I love it. It is a beautiful garden. I hope you will keep us updated on how it goes. I like Buddy Boy's inventions you post up periodically. I can't remember if I told you that, but they always make me smile. Sometimes I even call my kids in to look.

Bless you! Enjoy the summer weather!

Anonymous said...

This is a great project. I think that working in the yard with kids is a lot of fun. A great learning experience for all of us! Enjoy!

Daisy said...

I just came home from vacation to a garden that desperately needs weeding...and this post! Your garden looks great so far. The soil will be easier to till next year, and even easier the next.

Club 166 said...

Thanks, all, for stopping by.

Buddy Boy did indeed comment (with growing excitement in his voice) that "You know, dad, if we had a tractor we could put a plow on the back of it..." while I was working the soil with a Mattock. I did also pick up a hoe ("You need a hoe with a garden, dad") which we didn't have before, and we used that, too. For whatever reason it seemed like every day we worked on the garden the kids were interested for about 15 minutes. Then they wanted to go off and do other things while dad continued to work. Oh, well. I am seriously considering renting a roto-tiller next year.

I had several extra tomato plants after I had planted (I had overestimated the space I had available when I went to the garden center). I gave most of them to one of our neighbors (who was kind enough to water our garden when we were out of town for a few days), and put two in a pot that's about a 5 gallon size. While potted plants need more frequent watering, those seem to be doing better than the ones in the garden thus far, as I can move them to wherever there is the most sun, while the garden remains partially shaded.

I really appreciated Daisy's help. I think I basically knew what to do, but it's nice to bounce your ideas off of someone who really knows before digging in. She does have a great blog, and I visit it often.

I'll post some pics occasionally over on the side, when the "crops" start coming in (or even as we progress).