Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Suburban Gardening: Take Two
Einstein says that insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. That might be a terrible paraphrase, but no matter. You get the point.
So I'm doing it again. But differently. SMARTER.
I started backyard gardening last summer and though it was rewarding, it was also, in my case, equal parts frustrating and challenging. I've been a city dweller for most of my life before I moved to the 'burbs and I had no interest whatsoever in growing food. However, as most people who've had life-changing epiphanies after experiencing REAL food, growing my own food organically in my own backyard was a given.
Read more about my adventures/misadventures here:
Unfortunately, I had more challenges than your typical suburban gardener wannabe:
1. I live in the (high) desert where it's dry. Average annual precipitation (not including snow) is probably a pitiful 2", if that.
2. I could not locate my drip line in the backyard despite a couple of futile attempts at digging in random spots in the backyard.
3. I have a wild rabbit infestation in my backyard.
But the good news is:
1. I have real estate for an ambitious garden.
2. My backyard faces south which is the most ideal orientation for growing vegetables.
3. #2 above was solved with damsel-in-distress whining at work. A co-worker came by and dug up the line and taught me how to extend my drip line.
4. I have a very persistent streak.
And gardened, I did. And made many expensive mistakes, I did. I planted late in the season and hoarded on starts that average $5 a pop. I didn't bother understanding soil make up so I bought bags and bags of expensive organic soil at the nursery without bothering to find out what's in it. They probably thought I was such a sucker. I planted in containers that I set on top of some tables about 3-4' high assuming the bunnies could not possibly jump that high. Apparently, I underestimated them. I would wake up some mornings, tears welling up in my eyes, to find my vulnerable garden, decimated. I did not fertilize enough and watered and watered thinking that was the cause for my garden's poor yield.
I should swear off gardening altogether, but everytime I go to the store to get basil to make pesto, or cilantro for curry, or green onions for garnish, or cherry tomatoes for salad, I get wistful. I wish I had them alive and growing in my garden instead.
Here's the gameplan:
1. I'm abandoning the container idea altogether because I figured that those are difficult to protect from the predator rabbits. Also, since I travel a lot, I drip irrigate and having two drip hoses per container does not seem like an efficient use of water. Instead, I'm going for 4'x4' raised bed gardens from Greenland Gardener this time. I will rabbit-proof the bed underneath and around with some hardware cloth. I believe irrigating a bigger, more concentrated area will be better as opposed to hooking individual pots to 2 drip hoses.
2. I have been reading up a lot on efficient gardening techniques and I came across Square Foot Gardening which sounds like a proven method of growing all kinds of edibles in the most efficient yet productive way possible.
3. I've been studying all weekend about the best soil mixture for productive gardens. It just makes sense that what you plant will only mirror what you're feeding it. Crappy soil, even if you overwater (which is probably what I did last year), will not compensate for the minerals and nutrients lacking in the soil. From what I have been reading, a soil-less mixture of 1/3 organic compost, 1/3 peat moss (coconut coir is the more sustainable resource) for better water retention, and 1/3 vermiculite (I honestly still don't understand this part), with a dusting of magic rock dust will supposedly make the perfect blend for your veggies.
However, the conundrum is that Vermiculite is cost prohibitive. And Home Depot and Walmart had poor selection of compost. And coconut coir is not available locally. Moana Nursery had some good stuff, that with the right arm-twisting, I would probably have caved...
4. Enter Full Circle Compost. Now, THESE guys had me jumping up and down. A Google search on local Nevada compost companies led me to their website and I am not just happy, but PROUD that we have a business in the State who cares enough about accessible organic food growing that they put the effort and research into finding out what works in this region. I picked up a bag of their Soil Essence Elite Garden Boost today at Whole Foods for $9.99 which is sufficient for my 16 sq. ft. raised bed. I can't wait to try it! There's a whole gamut of amazing sounding products on their website that I can't wait to get my hands on (including garden soil and their "worm wine") but my only gripe is that they're almost an hour's drive away and I would need to schedule a Saturday to drive down.
5. I'm starting early and I'm starting from organic seeds (non-GMO when possible). Here's my weekend loot:
I bought them for $1.99/pack on average. I would have ordered them from www.seedsnow.com for $0.99 a pack, but I could not get past the carbon footprint that it would take for those seeds to come to me. I've already started an indoor tray of the tomatoes, peppers and lavender, with the herbs waiting to go in tomorrow.
6. I've started my garden's plan-cum-blueprint-cum-journal - in Excel. I've planned each square foot of my raised bed (I just need the raised bed). I have one tab that contains a calendar of when to plant a whole slew of veggies either indoors or out from the Moana Nursery website (download their Excel file here). I have a separate tab each for my to-do's and a journal for when I started seeds. I even have a tab dedicated to tallying how much money I am spending on this project so far!
In the end, we do what we do because we do what we do. As an homage to my inevitable (!) gardening success this season, I celebrated with this:
And with each delicious bite, I'm fantasizing, anticipating of that sweet day this summer when these will come straight from my garden to my plate.