Inch by Inch, Row by Row

IMAG0203“Gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe,” and compost and fertilizer, and the perfect balance of rain and sun, and pollinators, and a temperate climate, and time to weed, either ground irrigation or an effective hose, oh, and magic. That’s all it takes!

After the pure luck of last year’s incredible abundance, I had hoped this year’s garden would be even better. However, as many growers know, there are innumerable factors that contribute to the success of your crops, and some of the challenges we have faced this year have been beyond our control.

IMAG0036This is what the garden looked like at the beginning of May. Remember May? It was cold and dry. So was the garden. We transplanted our broccoli, beet, tomato, and cabbage seedlings the last week in April, but look at the intrepid little bean sprouts! We direct-seeded those.

And therein lies the first mistake. We direct-seeded most of our crops this year and they either took too long to germinate and didn’t thrive because it was cold or they are still growing, but at a snail’s pace, and to an unknown extent. Last year we either started more plants inside or got seedlings from Winslow Farm. This year, I wanted to try growing from seed, and several plants just didn’t make it, like the spinach. It started going to seed when it was still only two inches tall! I have never seen anything like it. Other plants, like the golden beets above, are still very small. Although they seem healthy, I don’t think they are really taking root, unlike the bull’s blood beets.IMAG0217 While not as big as the chioggia beets from last year, these guys and their greens are delicious! But, we started them inside in March.

There are two notable direct-seed successes: the radishes and the beans. This is what theIMAG0202 beans looked like in June. This bean trellis is actually three trellises nailed together, by the way. My original plan was to build another bean fort for Alistair, but after last year’s epic bush-bean fort FAIL, I decided on something a little more functional and aesthetically pleasing. I put this together myself, and I am honestly proud of my creativity and my handiwork. There are four different varieties of pole beans planted at the base of the two supporting trellises, one of which is purple! I am big on purple this year: purple haze carrots, purple basil, purple beets, purple beans, and purple radishes.IMAG0102

OK, not really. But aren’t our radishes lovely? They grew so quickly I thought I could do another round and practice the subtle art of succession planting, but alas, the weather shifted, and we got just this one crop.

When the weather changed we got massive amounts of rain. I think it was like every otherIMAG0128 day for a month, but I am prone to exaggeration. I can’t make this stuff up, though: We have apples! Look at these beauties! I was told by people who know fruit that we shouldn’t expect any for the first year. Well, we have two whole apples and a handful of raspberries on the way. Thank you, rain! Then our soil became incredibly compacted. Thank you, rain!

Soil compaction can’t really be called a mistake, but not properly maintaining our soil to avoid compaction definitely can. Soil compaction is usually caused by machinery, but guess what else can do it? Animal feet. OK, I can’t rightfully blame three chickens, either, but I smiled wryly at this fact. Soil compaction can also happen when there is a lack of water in the soil. Because of the frigid and terrible winter we endured (NOT an exaggeration), our compost froze solid instead of staying warm at the core, so we had very little finished compost. We also did not properly aerate the soil. Next year, I am totally using a broad fork, an ancient and simple agricultural tool that the farmers at Winslow swear by. Actually, next year, I think we are going to get rid of the raised beds and finally grow in the earth. Like I said, though, I exaggerate.IMAG0227

But it’s not a total loss. We have these nasties—I mean lovelies—beautiful and edible additions to any salad or Mason jar bouquet.

IMAG0239And these guys, too.

Our tomatoes are still green, but there is a ton of fruit on all six plants. They seem to be getting a little early blight, but nothing like last year. The blight is only on the lower leaves and not on the fruit at all. We have sauce tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. If we really do plant in the ground next year, I will try big beefsteak ones.IMAG0241

Some crops, like the potatoes and squash in the hugelkultur mound, are loving life. Permaculture is working for us here. We have already harvested some potatoes and the summer squash is finally starting to grow. I wake up every morning to the beauty of squash blossoms in our “mystery squash” among the corn rows, the pumpkins, and the zucchini, but with nothing yet to pick.

Unfortunately I think this is a pollination problem, another problem I cannot solve alone. Sometimes in the very early mornings I will see bumble bees and wasps, cabbage looper moths and dragonflies, but none of the traditional pollinators visit our gardens. We have no honeybees or monarchs. We have no hummingbirds. They have all gone from this land. There has been a 30-percent decline in the honeybee population in this country. Whole hives are disappearing or dying. Nearly half of this country’s vegetables rely on these industrious workers, and they are simply not there. This trend is directly related to the neonicotinoids found in common pesticides. These chemicals cause paralysis and death in insects, including many insects crucial to growing and sustaining food production. While these pesticides kill damaging insect populations, they are also creating a bee genocide. We are still in the stage where this can be reversed, and we CAN do something about it. Next year, our project is beekeeping. You can bet I will have much more to say on this particular subject.

IMAG0270In the meantime, I leave you with the current state of our little farm. We have tiny cucumber genitalia. We have herbs galore. We have flowers. We have hope.