It is that time of year again. The seed catalogs have been coming for about a month. Their vegetables all look big, healthy and beautiful. They make it look and sound so easy. Not only that, but your vegetables will be so much less expensive. For the cost of the vegetable in the store you can buy several packets of seeds which will produce a whole bunch of that same vegetable. Just turn up a small patch of ground and put in the seeds. Easy peasy. So when have catalogs ever told the truth? New clothes won’t make you look thinner – that model actually is thinner. Planting a garden is not as easy as they make it seem. They have professional gardeners who plant and tend their gardens and they have professional photographers who spray the produce with whatever it takes to make them gorgeous.
We have had a garden for over twenty years and do it as easily as we can. Every year is seems as if there is a new problem which turns up. I laughed when I heard them talking on the news last year about how easy it is to grown your own vegetables. I wonder how many people were disappointed in their results. Before you start, you need to remember that your garden will need to be tended. A little bit of work every week and you should be successful. Don’t expect overnight results. It takes months for most things to ripen and grow. Without black plastic, weeding will become a way of life and that ground may be like a rock when you try to turn it over.
I am a lazy gardener. I hate weeding. I hate working in the garden. But I love knowing exactly what is in the food I eat and I love to eat. I have an advantage over many people since I grew up working in the garden. I thought it was punishment. When I was young my mother sent me to weed the onion sets. I pulled them all out, since they looked like weeds to me. It isn’t always easy to tell a weed from a flower. Today I tell my husband that I want to go out and play the game. What game? Well it is a special guessing game that we play – Is it a weed, or is it a flower. The only way I know for sure is that if it comes out easy, we probably spent money on it, but if it comes out hard and leaves some root for later, it is probably a weed.
Through the years we have searched for the easiest ways to grow things in the garden. Here is what we do. Raised beds seem to work best because we can control what kind of soil is in the bed. Gardeners talk about amendments. It has nothing to do with the constitution. It means fertilizer so that your plants will be healthy and strong. We generally put mushroom manure on our garden. It is sterilized and doesn’t have weed seeds in it. We were fortunate to inherit a rototiller from my parents. My husband calls it the kidney jiggler. It is old and tough but we don’t have a large garden. For our raised bed we use 8 foot landscape timber around the outside. One across the top and bottom, and two on the sides. That would be a total of six timbers. Railroad ties have been treated and are not suitable for gardening.
After the garden has been turned up and raked smooth, we bury a soaker hose under the ground. This is a hose that was specially designed to be buried in a raised bed and connected to your regular hose. We have used this method for years and it works well. I spoke with Gardener’s Supply, where we purchased ours, years ago and they no longer carry it, nor does anyone else. I looked. There is some hope that they will revive it, but since it was so durable and so wonderful, it can’t be a big seller. This is not a normal soaker hose. It is brown and hairy, which is probably why the holes don’t get clogged. You do have to have an idea of where you will be planting the plants so that the hose can be placed in those areas. Generally in the summer I turn the hose on in the morning, eat my breakfast and then turn it off. It gives the garden about a half an hour’s watering. While that may not seem to be enough water, since we cover our garden with plastic, it does the trick. It is best to water in the morning or in the evening since the sun will suck up as much moisture as it can.
Plastic can be tricky. You want to be sure that you get plastic that will allow water to pass through it. We tried the red plastic for growing tomatoes and almost lost all our plants, before we realized that rain was not passing through it. After the hose and plastic are installed, we cut a hole in the plastic, shove the plant into the hole add some water with miracle grow mixed in and then pat the soil back in place. We buy our plants at a local greenhouse. We go in the morning and put them in that day if we possibly can. We make an effort to select healthy, disease resistant plants so that we have fewer problems later. While my mother grew her plants from seed, that is a little more work than I want to do. As I said I am a lazy gardener.
For tomatoes we have always used cages which we install way before they are needed. The square ones seem to be more adjustable than the round ones. They make it so that we can get through the garden in July and August. Once a week I have to lift the branches as the tomatoes grow. We usually lay a board down the center between the plants so that we have a place to walk. We are thinking about trying hanging tomato planters this year, but are unsure if the deer will just think that it will be a nice buffet for them. We put an electric fence around the garden about 6 inches off the ground. It is easy to step over, but seems to deter the deer. So Far.
Another thing that we do is we cover our cucumbers and zucchini with a fine mesh fabric that looks like interfacing. There is a bug that lays its eggs in the blossoms. The larvae eat their way up the stem of the plant and you end with nothing. This has worked for us so far, but our neighbors ask us what is that little net house in your garden. I imagine if we wanted to cover our plants in the fall for protection from frost the net would work there too, but by then we are so sick of the work involved that we are ready to pick everything and be done. Last years tomato blight really dampened our enthusiasm for gardening. We are going to plant fewer tomatoes this year. We don’t plant corn because we don’t have enough space to make it worth it. But fresh tomatoes, green peppers without wax and large zucchini slices on the grill are enough to make us realize that we do indeed want a garden. I will probably can spaghetti sauce again on the porch, but not as much. It is April now and I still have two quarts left. Soon the weather will be too hot to eat spaghetti, so a smaller number of plants should be just right.
I hope that this advice from a lazy gardener has offered you some insights into what may greet you if you start to garden. If it saves you some effort and lost plants that is even better. There really is nothing like a fresh tomato and to be able to eat as many as you want.