As any experienced or novice farmer will tell you, growing things is far less science than art. As a matter of fact, horticulture is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants." In my opinion, the word “art” in that definition should be all caps and bold because, from our experiences over the past couple of years, that is indeed the case.
I've posted here before about our urban “farm." It was installed last March and is comprised of four raised beds on the deck off of our living area. It is the verdant view we have from our kitchen and family room so a constant and gentle reminder of where our food really comes from. Since last season was our inaugural one, lots of what we were doing was based on trial and error. We were hoping for not too much in the way of errors, since we were farming under the tutelage of Paige, one of the designers of our “farm." She is a knowledgeable gardener who holds much respect for the Earth and its’ bounty. To our advantage she has been very generous about sharing what she has stored in the gardening section of her brain. I’d say the most valuable lesson she taught us, is that regardless of how much experience you have under your belt or how many gardening blogs and books you read, you always have a thing or two (or a million) to learn about what grows and why. Truer words never spoken, Paige.
Aside from weather patterns, this year was markedly different from last. First, last year’s experience provided us with a better understanding of general horticultural guidelines and philosophies. It was a season’s worth of experience under our belts. Besides that, this year we were more in touch with what we wanted from our garden and what we could realistically expect from it. And of course, there was the fact that we did not have the crutch of daily emails to Paige filled with queries, concerns and requests for feedback. This year, we were on our own. Us and our trowels.
We began the season by discussing our plan, sketching the layout and ordering all sorts of heirloom seeds. We wanted to be sure to include crops that we use lots of, that are hard to find or that are expensive at the farm market. Other factors to consider included confirming that plants that we placed near each other liked cohabiting, that nightshades were planted in a different spot than they were last year, and that we gave ample space to plants that like to sprawl. An awful lot of stuff to incorporate when you don’t actually have a back forty.
Given all of this information we planted what we thought we should, where we thought it would like to be. The result has been many pints of plump, juicy blueberries; a few pints of sugary sweet tricolor raspberries; bushels of bitter mustard greens; a half dozen salad’s worth of peppery arugula; a handful of zebra stripe zucchini; radishes of all shapes and colors; and three types of vitamin rich kale. The list goes on, but overall, despite a few mishaps, we are feeling pretty proud of our gardener selves. And we haven’t even hit tomato and eggplant harvest yet. Overall, the best thing we grew was a whole bunch of new lessons to be stored away for next year’s bounty.
A few highlights:
- Carrots are more difficult to grow than you may think. This year was our second failed attempt.
- You CAN actually have too many mustard greens. Anyone have good recipes to share that incorporate them?
- Pinwheels are a great (and pretty) deterrent for squirrels and birds. Yes, those cheap and colorful mylar things that you get at the town carnival. Petrifying to little critters.
- Freshly picked berries are NOT overrated. Neither are freshly baked muffins made with them
- Extra tarragon and mint (along with a few lemon slices) are perfect for flavoring water. Really fresh and green tasting
- Zucchini does not like roommates. It will take over if you allow it
- Examining our garden’s overnight progress never becomes dull. Each new fruit, bud and leaf are truly nature’s miracles.