Installment number three in this series finds us focusing on the early portion of our vegetable growing season (pre-harvest.) Much was to be learned as well as celebrated in our 2020 garden; join me as I recall the year’s successes and struggles. If you’ve missed the previous installments, start here at part 1 before continuing to part 2 and 3.
In early Spring, we made the decision to expand our garden to a new area. The garden plot we have used in the past is primarily heavy clay soil (like nearly all the soil in this area,) requiring much amending (this is where we planted our brassicas in part 2.) Following the snow melt and spring rains, this garden plot typically takes days and sometimes weeks for the water to soak into the soil or evaporate enough to keep young plants and seeds from drowning or rotting under the surface. A new location on slightly higher ground was chosen, not to be used as a replacement, but in addition to and adjoining the old garden plot. We live in “pancake land” as we call it, so higher ground might be a mere 6″ higher than the previous location. We were hopeful that this area would more easily shed water. As the tractor tiller struck into the earth, we discovered that we’d found a SAND VEIN! Who’d have thought it?! Sandy soil opened up a whole new world of planting possibilities for us, including root crops and potatoes that, if planted in the old garden, wouldn’t produce due to being overburdened and smothered by the dense clay.
A second, and most vital, improvement was made to our garden plot area and rear field: drainage tile. This has drastically improved the standing water issue, broadening our gardening capabilities and transforming our field from a glorified swamp into usable land.
With the drainage issue resolved we continued starting seeds for our heat loving crops. We started 4 varieties of tomatoes, 3 varieties of peppers, and peanuts (a fun experiment for the our kids.) We utilized sunlight from our garage window and heat mats until the seeds sprouted. Just before we transferred our seedlings into the cold frame, we had the latest frost that we have had in recent years, on Mother’s Day weekend. In a rush, I covered the brassicas we’d planted in the old main garden with pillowcases, old sheets, and large fabric scraps. So much for weed, water, amd wait, right? All but the outermost plants survived the hard frost. I’m grateful I didn’t take the chance of putting our tomatoes and peppers outside, even in the cold frame.
Once the threat of frost was firmly passed, we direct sowed our green beans, popcorn, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and sweet corn. The tomatoes, peanuts, and peppers were hardened off and planned outdoors, we also planted a few experimental potatoes from our pantry that kept starting at me with all those eyes. A crop that I’ve never had success with in the past, lettuce, turned out to be one of our most successful in 2020. Perhaps I planted them too late in the season before, or had a variety that didn’t work well in our climate. Each time I’ve tired lettuces before, they bolted very quickly. But this time, my mesclun and Parris Island romaine both produced well without bolting until very late in the season.
The early portion of our growing season was slow overall. Our sweet corn, was planted in our old main garden just before several days of heavy rains, became trapped under a thick crust of clay and only a few seeds managed to germinate and emerge from the soil. We planted it a second time, and had similar results. So we had no sweet corn. Our beans were the same way, except they finally came up, but spotty. The issue here wasn’t clay soil, as they were in the new garden area; it was old seed. I was taking a gamble, I knew it. We reseeded them with better success the second time. We then added some more rows of green beans as well as kidney, pinto, and painted pony beans to the new garden area, and they did much better than the previous batch. The popcorn came up just fine, as it was planted in the sand vein. In addition, the pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers came up fantastically. Along with the flowers. More about them later! My pepper plants all died. Every single one. I guess it was still too cool at night for them perhap? I ended up buying a few from the store. The tomatoes took off amazingly well, though.
Evenings in early Summer were spent watering and weeding, enjoying the simple pleasures of fair skies and warm breezes, and anticipating the coming fruits of our labor. Basking in the growing things around us: both the green ones and the cute bibbed-overall clad ones. Raising a garden is a lot like raising children, I’ve learned. You prepare the soil in the spring, you water and nuture your little sprouts, try to remove all the weeds that come along to cause them harm, and you give them the best possible chance to not just survive, but to thrive. As they grow, summer storms are sure to come, rainy days will hide the sun. These times strengthen the roots and produce marks of character. Someday all too soon, they will reach maturity and you will reap the sweet rewards of a well kept garden; sometimes the long days of sowing and tending bring tears, but they that sow in tears will most assuredly reap in joy.
Check back soon for part 4, a special segment dedicated to our many flowers and the beautiful visitors that they attracted to our garden!