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Spring Garden Review – 2020 Planning

Garden on May 31, 2020.

We’re taking a break after spring planting.

At the farm the major crops for the CSA vegetable shares are in. We took time off from new seeding and begin fall crops next week. At home initial garden planting finished yesterday and a few sections have been replanted. Every available spot in our seven plots has been planted — the best space utilization since we moved here in 1993.

Time to consider some lessons learned. This post is about planning and I hope there will be others about technology, seed starting and other aspects of gardening in the near future.

With the exception of adding two apple trees near the west entry to the garden the layout remained the same as last year. Seven plots with three in specialty crops (tomatoes, onions and garlic) and four divided into rows with three-foot sections in each to separate varieties.

Since I began starting seedlings at the farm a few years ago I produce more than I need. This results in a tendency to use them, over-planting some leafy green vegetables which produced in abundance yielding restricted space availability for other crops. Family and friends can only eat so many leafy green vegetables.

I put in a lot of broccoli for freezing (33 plants), more kohlrabi than we will use, and varieties I don’t normally grow (mustard greens, two kinds of chard, okra, collards) because I got free seeds at the home, farm and auto supply store. I’m glad for the experience growing these varieties yet intend to harvest everything in one section of greens this week and replace it with more desirable tomatoes, many of which are mystery tomatoes from a wide variety of free packets from work. Even though the plan was to reduce the number of tomato plants because I canned a lot of them in 2019, I’m gravitating back to the number of plants I had because of the abundance of greens and tomato seedlings.

The main tomato patch is planned by variety (slicers and plums) although I got which is which mixed up when preparing the seedlings for transplant. There are also five plantings of cherries in another plot. Tomatoes make a great gift, so if they all produce, there will be no problem finding homes for them if the canning jars and freezer are full.

Each year I get a little smarter about deer deterrence. In addition to fencing everything with four foot chicken wire, I’ve used two tactics. I position plants deer like furthest away from the fence. This year I put the okra in the center of a plot so they can’t reach over the fence and eat the leaves. The high fence (five feet with an exposed section at the bottom) around the tomato patch also serves to keep them away from eating tender shoots and has improved production. I also use what I call gang planting. That is, I plant rows closer together so deer do not have a place to land if they jump the four foot fence. This year I spaced the rows more properly to enhance production. We’ll see how that goes. Since I began working on these issues, deer have been a minor inconvenience rather than a problem. I appreciate their help cleaning up fallen apples when there is fruit.

There are the questions of rabbits and small rodents. The main trouble with rabbits is when the new bunnies are born and they get into everything. Mature rabbits tend not to dig under the fences, partly because I don’t regularly mow the lawn or use any kind of spray or fertilizer. There is plenty for them to eat more readily available. The undisciplined litter of bunnies is unaware of these “rules.” Their reign of terror on the vegetable patch is short because predators reduce the population quickly. Thus far I live and let live with rabbits, although am skeptical that will be a long term condition of gardening. We keep a watchful eye on each other.

Planting potatoes in containers eliminated the problem of burrowing rodents eating into the tubers before I dug them. They continue to nibble at bulbous roots like beets, radishes and carrots in the rows. I’ve come to accept it as resolved through detente and just live with the damage. At such time there is not enough left for our family from their foraging my attitude could change. I rarely see the rodents although I am aware of their presence. They broke into the sealed compost container for kitchen waste.

The last planning issue is bigger, beginning with trees I situated in the garden that got away from me — the locust tree is dying, and the three oak trees planted the year our daughter graduated from high school (one for each of us) need to be thinned to one. The shade they provide has protected crops in the blistering sun of planetary warming and in times of drought. They became part of the overall garden design although that was adaptation rather then planning.

I have big ideas. One fall I’ll clear the plots early and take the locust down and cut two of the three oaks as they are planted too closely together and have grown too tall to transplant them. At the same time I may hire a landscaping firm to create a deer-proof enclosure and re-structure the plot layout to improve space utilization. That would enable me to get rid of a lot of the chicken wire. I’ll also build a shed to store garden tools so I don’t have to continuously wear a path (now visible from space) from the garden to the garage. These things have been delayed because of financial constraints. Soon we may be in a position to act on them.

Thirty seven years of gardening leads me to this formal reflection about what I’m doing. Next up will be technology which is making a big, positive impact in getting the plots planted and will hopefully improve yield.