Our yard is an old farmstead, and while the yard had been maintained for the past 20 years or so, there was no garden and the only remnants of flowers were some peonies with root systems that go down a mile! We started our garden project in May by preparing the former pasture for the rototiller. We dug up a few gravel deposits left from another project and filled the holes in the driveway. While poking around in the ground with our shovels, we realized there was more iron in the ground than was beneficial - especially for the rototiller! We went over it with a metal detector, flagged wherever it beeped, and got busy with digging. Oh the stuff we found! Everything from railroad spikes and rolls of wire to tools and 6 foot pieces of grader blade! The tractor and rototiller came the same day and worked up the ground. The clay soil needed some amendment, so my husband hauled a layer of composted manure that we found 'out back' and spread it, filling in a few low spots while he was at it. A few weeks later, just before we wanted to plant, the tractor and rototiller returned for a final prep. The soil looked great, moist and fine.
The garden plot is about 30 feet x 60 feet and we planted the whole thing. Most of the area was covered with potatoes which in our experience were fast growing and would provide good competition for weeds. The rest of the garden we planted into rather easy-to-care-for crops, as we were going to have a busy summer and I didn't want to be fussing with too many time-consuming crops. These included peas, carrots, beans, radishes, onions, a few cucumbers and tomatoes. Lettuce, spinach, and zucchini were planted in a smaller kitchen garden closer to the house. Once the seeds were in the ground, we looked up and waited for the rain. And waited. A few quick showers came and the veggies started to come up, poking brave heads through the lawn of quackgrass and bromegrass that were staking their claim again.
Things were starting to look pretty good by the end of June when our farm name came back to us again. A killing frost the morning of June 27th took out the potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. The zucchini was in a more sheltered area and wasn't even touched. About 6 bean plants survived, a very strange incidence with plants on either side of them withered. The rains came in July, and the carrots finally started coming up. New flushes of peas and beans came up as well, and the potatoes and tomatoes let out again. The weeds noticed that there wasn't much competition from the stunted potatoes and came out in force. Another frost on August 15th knocked back the tomatoes, potatoes, and zucchini again, fortunately the beans were surrounded by some protective weeds and only the tops were touched. There were 45 days between the two frosts, and another 45 days until the next frosts of fall.
Harvest was bleak. The lettuce was full of slugs. The peas were so late that they were being severly affected by powdery mildew by the time they were in full production. The potatoes were very small and covered in scab, some varieties were so covered that I couldn't tell what color the skin was supposed to be. I got a few handfuls of beans for and harvested the mature pods from the plants that had survived the first frost in case there is a frost resistant gene present! I got a few flats of misshapen cracked tomatoes. The one crop that turned out exceptionally well was the Sweet Spanish onions, gorgeous big onions that I dried off and braided. They are keeping very well hanging in our basement.
Lessons we learned in 2009:
- It's much drier here than I'm accustomed to and the garden will have to be watered to establish, not just the transplants.
- Slugs are evil.
- Choose scab resistant potatoes and PM resistant peas.
- Try a climbing bean variety and plant them against the house where they will get lots of heat and protection from frost.
- We need a greenhouse, preferably 30x60? :-)