Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Work Day in the Family Garden

(Meanwhile, in my potager, the smokebush 'Golden Spirit' is growing back from its base. You can see the last year's growth cut back in this picture.)

Yesterday was a work day in the family garden. This family garden plot is at my brother's historic home. It has seven acreages of the original couple hundred which was homesteaded in the 1850s. While I am at his home, people often stop and read signage or take pictures from the road. They must wonder what is actually going on in the field which because of train rails, road, and acreage for the community school (also on the historic register) has been cut into a strange triangle. It in within this strange triangle, we have cut two tangent rectangles which form our family garden.

When I am gardening pesticide and herbicide-free in this plot, I often get a very real sense of the travails of the original sod busters. I am pretty sure they had to contend with the same quackgrass which is the primary and nearly sole weed in our plot.

This year, we did manage to have it plowed and disced, which has greatly increased the soil's tilth. Last year, rainy days prevented us from much more than a once over with a lawn tractor-drawn tiller. In the fall we mulched with a thick layer of straw, primarily in the areas of berry and orchard production. My sister-in-law and brother were dismayed to find even this early the quackgrass growing a foot high in these areas. Something to know about quackgrass, though, is its roots prefer to be running along the surface. When they have to grow through these materials, they tend to grow in them, Making them very easy to remove in their entirety, versus digging out bits and pieces. Sometimes it is not just a battle with weeds, but a multi-year war.

So mulching is good.

One of the biggest improvements this year is the two electric fence posts with triangular metal and a string stretched between them. Mapping out straight lines in the garden is not something at which any of us seem to excel for some reason. This alone has brought the appearance of our garden to a whole new level, to say nothing of ease of cultivation with the tiller.

Straight lines, a good thing.

Yesterday, I did some weeding in the grapes and berries, with my three-year old nephews standing next to me as I filled their waiting arms with sheaves of quackgrass. They would then run off to deposit in the composting areas. They particularly like berries, so they see this as an important and "big" job.

We also planted what they refer to as "tomato berries", but which are really cape gooseberries 'Aunt Molly'. I would dig the hole and they would hand me the unpotted transplant. The cape gooseberries are the most frost-tolerant of this group (other than potatoes). They figured out how to husk these gooseberries even as two-year-olds and could more readily discern the ripe ones when picking than even their poppa, who did not manage to get many of these sweet berries. We planted a whole lot more this year.

More gooseberries is a good thing in a year which with the late, hard frosts affecting cherries, apricots, apples, and strawberries can only be a good thing.

We also planted beans. Working on getting more fiber and veggies into our diets, we also have been working on perfecting a good home-made veggie burger. My sister-in-law has one featuring black beans, but so far the best addition to this is to top it with guacamole. I think we can do better. We're still working through the whole Martha Stewart thing....


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