Thursday, November 09, 2006

State of the Garden

Since I didn't build any cold frames, greenhouses, or similar arrangements this year, the gardening season is just about over until spring. So I thought I'd capture some of my experiences and highlights from the past year.

Newest garden favorite:
Brussels sprouts. Who knew? I grew them on a whim, having never formed a strong impression about brussels sprouts before in my life. I had no idea what the plant would even look like or how big it would get. They grew well (they're still growing, actually) and they were absolutely delicious. Yes, I'm serious.

Returning garden favorite:
Swiss chard. It's a leafy green that doesn't go to seed like lettuce and spinach do when the weather gets warm. In fact, ours didn't quit going until a hard freeze came along. And there's something cool about the colorful veins and stalks in the Bright Lights variety we grew - reds, yellows, oranges, purples, pinks...

Most important lesson learned:
Overgrown grass near the garden is bad. The way I had it set up, the grass was awkward to mow, and I let it go one to many times. Grass became my number one weed in the garden. In fact, I'm thinking of putting some cardboard and wood chips down around the beds rather than letting grass grow there at all.

Favorite small garden method:
Square Foot Gardening. It doesn't necessarily scale up well, but it produces a lot of food in a small amount of space. I went from a 16 square foot test plot to three beds totalling 96 square feet without adding much additional work.

Current favorite gardening author:
Elliot Coleman. I've read Four Season Harvest and The New Organic Grower in the past few months, and was greatly impressed by both. Coleman goes into great detail about exactly what he does and why it works. I'll always be somebody who picks and chooses techniques and ideas from different sources, and combining them to fit my needs, but Coleman's books are very readable, and the information he gives is pretty comprehensive.

Favorite tools:

Garden cart. I kept thinking about getting a decent cart for dragging stuff around the property, but was reluctant to spend the money. Finally, I got a nice cart with fat tires, sides that drop down or even come off quickly, and a comfortable handle (and at 20% off even!). Money well spent - I've found a dozen uses for it already. Since the sides and bottom are mesh, I even used it to sift soil from my big potato pots to find the spuds. Mini hay rides for the kids are an added bonus.

Fence post driver. After struggling to drive T-posts with a sledgehammer and other methods, I found that this hand-held fence post driver is much more effective at getting the downward force where it needs to be.

Broadfork. (AKA - U-bar digger.) I had heard of this tool before, and became aware of it's usefulness after reading a couple Elliot Coleman books. It's a bit of work to use, especially in our clay soil, but not nearly as much as trying to work the soil with a shovel, pick, or other hand tools. And it's much less of a hassle than rototillers or tractor implements when all you want to do is break up the soil a bit. It won't turn turf into fluffy garden soil, but it does a nice job of aerating without totally disturbing the natural soil structure.

Big Plans:
Expand from a starter garden to something much larger. Try some different crops and varieties and abandon a few altogether. Focus on open-pollenated varieties. Try growing and harvesting some grains. All that next year? I doubt it. But we'll see. More on this later...



At 11/10/2006 6:22 AM, Blogger Morgan said...

Wow you go boy!

I love growing cucumbers and tomatos.

At 11/10/2006 11:18 AM, Blogger network weasel said...

The Garden Weasel was my big discover for garden tools this year. I found it useful for preparing the soil, mixing in the compost and helping cut down on the weeding sessions.

I look forward to reading your posts next spring. I only hope I will be as productive in our own garden.

At 11/10/2006 9:46 PM, Blogger Madcap said...

That U-bar looks like it would be a lot easier on my elbows than a shovel. I developed tendonitis in my right elbow last year with all the shovelling I was doing, and it's still bothering me. Thanks for showing it, I'm going to look into getting one.


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