Monday, August 22, 2011

Garden Woes

Sigh. My first jump into growing food has not gone very well. Here are the major problems in my garden and my goals for amending them next year.

  • Hard clay-filled, non-fertile soil. Next year I am planting lasagna beds. I've been saving newspaper and yard waste, and along with our compost and possibly some purchased straw, should be able to make some good beds this fall that will be ready for spring planting. (If all goes well, I'll add another one or two each fall.)
  • WEEDS! Before my sown seeds even started sprouting, I had weeds in my garden. Since it was a last-minute effort, we'd basically picked a spot, tilled it, and started planting. There were SO many plants that didn't even get killed in the tilling process and started popping back up through the tilled soil right away. And our first problem of hard, clay soil makes weeding a very difficult task. I couldn't keep up with the weeding in the spring, and by the time it was in the 90s this summer, I had pretty much given up on any idea of weeding altogether. With the lasagna beds, I'll essentially be making new, weed-free soil, and because the soil will be loose, pulling new weeds will be much easier. In addition, as my husband often reminds me, I need to get the kids involved with more things around the house. Our life science course for next spring is botany, and little botanists they shall be!
  • Irregular garden layout. As mentioned above, our garden was a last-minute project this spring. We needed a nice, sunny spot that was not too rocky, and unfortunately that ended up being on a hill. The spot that was used by my parents when I was growing up and that I really wanted for our garden now has a lateral line running under it. Fertile as that soil undoubtedly is, it would make a crappy garden. So we picked a spot on a hill and went for it. Because we wanted to get the most space we could, I ignored what I knew about making beds no more than four feet wide so that you can reach to the center to weed and plant without stepping in the garden, and we made it more like a big 12 foot by 10 foot box. It was really hard to get in there to do anything!
  • Plant spacing. I pretty much ignored the instructions on every package of seeds and planted things WAY too close together. I was trying to get the most plants I could in the small place and leave as little room for weeds as possible which really only works in super-fertile soil. I couldn't even step into the center of the bed without stepping on garden plants. Next year I'll make sure to leave adequate space between plants and perhaps use things like mulching to keep weeds at bay.
  • Garden pests. With our setting, I don't think we'll ever escape the occasional deer and bunny that want to share our food, but I do need to explore some organic methods for keeping harmful bugs away from the garden plants. This year, "organic" basically meant "do nothing," but obviously our yield will be higher if I do something to control the pests. 
Our grapes were an epic failure. Several months ago we knew there was a fungus among us, but we opted not to spray them with chemicals. Here was our entire yield:

So, no grape jelly and no sharing grapes with the winemakers in our family this year. Growing grapes organically in Kentucky is difficult with our humidity as it's very expensive and time intensive. Not sure what we'll do with them next year.

I should add that our garden wasn't a complete failure. We have enjoyed an almost non-stop stream of yummy grape tomatoes and quite a bit of squash. We also enjoyed a small but tasty green bean harvest as well as broccoli earlier in the season. And I may yet have sweet potatoes. The vines are doing well, and I hope there are some good tubers growing under the surface, but won't know until I dig them up a little later.

So, there's the lowdown on our garden.  The good news is that there's lots of room for improvement!

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you could try the 3-sisters technique, which is a Native American style of farming in tight areas, by planting corn in the middle, squash around the edge, and green beans crawling up the corn. The beans will give nitrogen to the soil, helping all the plants. It could be not only botany, but social studies too!
    And they could learn about landscape architecture by designing the layout of the garden.
    There are lots of great homemade herbicide remedies online. You could even do a little science project with the kiddos, testing which work best!
    Hope you all have better luck next year!