Fruits of Our Labor
Each planting season brings a flurry of activity; planting beds are prepared as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring; Late spring planting of seeds and seedlings; Summer harvests in the cool mornings to retain the sugars; Processing the harvest for winter enjoyment; Fall sowing of winter rye grass to hold in the rich, dark soil throughout the rains of winter; spent crops plowed under in late summer to prepare for the fall planting of cole crops, like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Yum! and the annual garlic planting resulting in flavorful garlic bulbs.
The vegetable garden sleeps cozily until spring arrives and begins to warm the soil. At that time, all our winter plans (remember those seed catalogs spread all around us before a roaring fire?) takes form. Catalogs are not only full of photographs of plant selections, but suggestions on planting companions, and even recipes for the resulting crops! Wouldn't you love a striped beet? Or a Golden Beet? It wouldn't bleed onto your salads! How about a white eggplant? Or a striped tomato? Little ones, and large, juicy ones. The tomato varieties are exciting and wonderful to try. We just love the little, yellow, pear tomatoes. Producing all season long, they are very versatile. These look great sliced in half and sprinkled in a green salad along with red tomatoes.
We always get carried away with the pepper selections! We want hot, some mild, some small, some stuffing size! If you have never tried Yukon Gold potatoes, please do. This golden-fleshed potato almost needs no butter! And the little, red, new potatoes, succulent! Other varieties are purple potatoes, large baking potatoes, and little, yellow potatoes. You would be amazed at how easy potatoes are to grow! New and improved plant varieties make vegetable gardening irresistible, with harvest time the beckoning prize, the ultimate reward. The whole process is immensely satisfying. Look at all the madcap gardeners with those big smiles! You also get a great tan while working the soil in the summer sun!
Early in spring, nurseries are visited, seeds are purchased, to be started by March at the latest in the greenhouse. You can even start seeds on window sills. Later in the spring, I purchase vegetable seedlings that I have not started from seed. They hold great promise and most of the hard work has already been done! Be careful here, as you are looking at quite a lot of work getting them into the ground! Each year I want our vegetable garden to be bigger, but then, I don't do the majority of the planting or the weekly watering!
Excitement mounts as the time draws near to plant our vegetable garden! My pen often runs furiously over my garden journal at this time, jotting down notes, making a wish list for next season after spending time in seed catalogs, and creating rough sketches for this year's desired plotting. Last year I planted some vegetables with my flowers and shrubs. I really liked that and some of the vegetables were close enough to the front door for me to run out and pick even as I was cooking; tomatoes, potatoes, okra, onions, and garlic. Dried onion greens retain a smoky flavor that is so delicious; I think I will expand on this concept this year. They are so easy to prepare, just pop them into the microwave while damp from their washing, and after three minutes, let them air cool. That's it!
I had lots of herbs to choose from, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, and sage. They were dried and put up for use during the winter, although they kept growing all winter! Raising your own vegetables is so exciting. To plant, then nurture, and harvest the foods we eat; to be self-sufficient, and know exactly what is in the foods we eat. The flavor can't be beat! And the myriad of choices we have! Astounding!
A grand plan for the vegetable garden is conceived but as the rows are formed, and the beds prepared, it is mercifully downsized. The catalogue pictures look so great, don't they? The plants are full and lush and their fruit tempts us. Tim planted Okra and the flowers on this vegetable plant are gorgeous! Large and white, I would plant them just for the flowers. We may even give that giant pumpkin another try! And this year we vow not to plant more than three tomato plants! And certainly not more than two pepper bushes! And heavens, the squash!! Do not plant the whole seed package! Yikes!!
Compost is added by Mr. Tim in great amounts twice a year, spring and late fall. This is home-made compost and rich with rabbit, chicken or horse manure. Deep trenches surround the garden to keep the gophers at bay while a seven-foot wire fence deters deer, raccoons and the livestock. Hills are created for beans, cucumbers, squashes and melons. Deep little trenches are made for planting potatoes, covered as they grow with the replaced soil until they are deep in dark, snug, little beds. Neat rows mark places for beets, onions, peppers, radishes, carrots and eggplant. Some rows point east, some south, following a design I followed faithfully from 'Martha Stewart'. Don't forget the flowers for a true 'Martha' vegetable garden!
The garden is laid out with precision, care taken to rotate the crops each year. Not planting in the same area twice keeps the nutrients from being depleted as each crop takes a certain type from the soil. Some years sections of the garden are allowed to go 'fallow', not planted at all. Nutrients are replaced in the soil during this time. Fall-planted garlic outlines one of the beds, taking a full nine months until harvest. The very best, intense flavor of home-grown garlic makes great pesto (ever try a tablespoon mixed in with your scrambled eggs? Wonderful!).
I make pesto with either cilantro or basil. Each has a special flavor, both are delicious. Harvesting the garlic cloves, I pack them in olive oil or just hang strings of braided garlic to cure. These can be used right off the garland as needed when I cook. Mostly I just mound some in a bowl for easy access. Fresh garlic sauteed until crisp, then mixed with vegetables, potatoes, rice, or pasta--the flavor is dynamic! I love to share this cooking tip with family and friends.
Tim designs great supports to train the climbing vegetables such as cucumbers, winter squash, cherry tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, and gourds. He experiments each year with the ones I fancy after watching the gardening shows. One year it is string creations, another year, lattice, then another year, twigs and branches. This is a great space-saving technique also, visually raising the eye higher and creating interest. Watering is neater and the plants seem to love the new heights. Then those ugly tomato horn worms are easy to spot! And our chickens love to eat them!
I can envision the great harvest of delicious vegetables throughout summer, eating warm, juicy tomatoes right in the field, popping baby carrots and little radishes. The corn grows tall and sways in the breeze, its dry tassels signaling ripeness, golden kernels bursting with goodness. The sun is hot on our backs, and the sweet exhaustion at the end of a good gardening day is wonderful. We both work full-time so our weekends are full!
Then, it is spinach time, broccoli time and lettuce time again! In spring, it is Asparagus, Sweet peas! Fresh from the garden with melted butter, or mayo! In my whole life, I never thought I would get so excited about vegetables! From the garden to the table! Fresh! Pure! Abundant! Ah, it's so sweet, this good life! And the beat goes on. The vegetable garden is home and haven for small wildlife. Multitudes of little frogs feast on insects, and spiders feast on crawly and flying things caught in their webs. The chickens eat the worms and snails, scratching up the soil surface, aerating it, and the worms work the soil, enriching it. The chicken's eggs are wonderful with a dark golden yolk, full of goodness. The taste is amazing.
Marigolds are sacrificed, enticing bad bugs to taste their blooms while the crops grow in vigor and stature, momentarily forgotten. Other flowers are planted for a visually pleasant vegetable garden, like nasturtiums, poppies, and cosmos. Cosmos look terrific planted with the lovely eggplant. Her flowers are a light lavender and could be grown just for the lovely flowers. All the while the battle between my man and the gopher continues, whole plants sucked into the earth, disappearing in a heartbeat. Melons are a favorite of the gophers, as are tubers and tulips. He dug this deep trench all the way around the garden of raised beds. This worked for a time until the gophers found a way to cross that ravine, probably by digging deeper! And then one day, my green beans were gone! Yep, no roots! Gopher attack! I have actually seen a plant shaking, teetering, then whoosh! gone in a heartbeat. That is too scary!
Compost is made and processed in two bins, Working and Done, kept at the ready throughout the growing season in two wooden bins, with slats for good air circulation. Black Gold Tea is prepared from livestock contributions for fertilizing the plants. Poured directly on vegetables' roots, plants benefit immensely, growing strong and producing abundantly. Compost, the 'gold' soil, is our prize and main nourishment for our plants, shrubs and vegetables.
I did a 'test planting' once; sunflowers planted in regular soil, and others planted deep in rich compost. You should have seen the compost ones!! They were at least three feet taller, more branching with tons of flowers, and green, green, green foliage! The difference was just amazing! We are careful to grow our vegetables organically, resulting in a pesticide-free harvest, thus keeping nature's balance as it should be. Ladybugs, Preying Mantis and Lacewings are garden soldiers aiding in The Battle. Aphids can just be sprayed off with blasts from the hose, or squished off with rubber-gloved fingers. And of course, the deer help to prune our plants set out in unprotected locations! Their reward is the sweet, succulent new growths!
Summer of 1999
This indeed was the greatest harvest yet! We started with only premium seeds, one type we used was Burpee's! Tim started flats of tomato seedlings in the cottage, facing the eastern sun. He was diligent in his organization not only of the seed packets but the labeling and upkeep of these tender plants. That resulted in a great quantity of baby tomato plants ready to be transplanted in spring. We had enough to sell to a local nursery (we got our nursery stock license!) and more than enough left over to plant in our garden.
He began growing our seedlings in our new greenhouse. The little seedlings were strong and healthy, ready to go out into the garden. They already have been hardened off, left out in the natural, away from the greenhouse, for limited periods of time. This allows them to adapt more easily once planted. The second week after transplanting seedlings into the garden, the rows are mulched to conserve moisture and deter weeds, plus providing a mud-free pathway! The seedlings look healthy!
Our vegetable garden, facing northwest, surrounded with deer fencing, with the forest beyond, is quite large. In front are cucumbers and eggplants, in the back are tomatoes, to the right are Roma tomatoes, and melons. This is only the northeast side! The berries were also very plentiful this year, producing from late spring until after frost! We froze many, dried some, and made lovely jam too. Mostly we just ate them hot and juicy straight from the fields! 'Champion' tomatoes produced all season! Just the right size for salads! In 2000, we grew only tomatoes, and let the ground go fallow until this year, 2001. We have a moderate sized garden this year, growing cucumbers, melons, corn, squash, basil, carrots, peas, and pumpkin.
Before the Big day arrived in 1999, he amended the already great, garden soil with huge amounts of compost and chicken manure, using his rototiller to mix everything in well. Then he went about the exacting work of creating the rows, and beds, developing the hills which would hold cucumber plants, squash and melon plants and setting up the 'poles' for the climbing vegetables.
Once that was done, we picked a clear, sunny weekend for planting. The ground had to be warm enough to sit on, so the plants would get a good start on developing their roots for the fruiting process. I had not really considered how many tomato plants we had! We wanted Early Girl, Better Boy, Champion, Brandy wine, Yellow Pear, Ball Striped, Sweet 100's, Zebra's, Roma's and Currant Cherry tomatoes. There were others also, so we went ahead and planted them all! They were an amazing mix of color and taste in our salads!
Tim erected tall, round poles in threes, tied together at the tops, to support the Great Lakes beans we grew. At the ends of the rows, I planted Marigolds, bright orange flowers. These single plants grew into beautiful, bushy plants which always seemed to hold an abundance of blooms. They enticed the bad bugs to eat of their petals, sacrificed for the good of the harvest.
Then we planted cucumbers, melons, peppers (again, lots of varieties!), squash, artichokes, bell peppers, corn, and eggplants. Our friend Alicia Scofield and her young children came over and helped to plant some... boy, were they hard workers, and we all had fun besides! Everything grew abundantly and we harvested tons of vegetables! We dried some, froze some, canned some, and gave lots away! This past 1999 season was a bumper crop harvest season, and our last. It was a bitter sweet time for us.