Can This Garden Be Saved?

East Central Garden Weed-Fest

On Friday, M went back to his dad’s after being here for the last month and a half.  It was sad to have him go, but there is plenty of work to keep me busy, so I don’t pine too much.

After our June monsoon, the gardens got out of control fast.  Everything had been pretty well weeded and hoed and nicely tended before that, but then the weeds and grasses exploded with growth and there was no time to deal with them all–just an hour or two here and there–dribs and drabs.

The blocks of time I had were only on harvest days, and I did what I could then–yanking pigweed and grass clumps while picking peas and pulling carrots.  But there is time now, and on Saturday I spent much of it in heavy work.

The biggest, ugliest project is the east central garden, which we knew could end up being a problem because it has just come into production this year after being a grassy, weedy area for several.  The crops don’t look too bad there despite being inundated by weeds–all except the broccoli.

Not only was the row just barely visible in all the weeds, it has been under attack by all sorts of critters this season, and besides a hoped-for decent crop of side-shoots, I won’t be getting but one or two full-sized heads off these plants–thanks to a rabbit or woodchuck who thought it’d be good sport to eat the centers right out of them when they were just babies.

Since then, the cabbage loopers have done their work–despite many dustings of diatomaceous earth, which ended up getting washed off nearly every night thanks to showers upon showers.  Did I mention I re-planted twice?  Had them under cages?  Broccoli was just not in my stars this year, I guess.

Besides the broccoli, there are three rows of leeks in that garden, a row of potatoes, and an empty bed where there was spring cabbage (and I’m thinking maybe beets next?  have to look at my rotation).  There’s also the trellis with Marvel of Venice beans and the cherry tomatoes, but I managed to weed that pretty well while tying up the tomato vines.

My plan for this garden is not to attempt weeding out the entire thing.  While I could do that, there are some crops here that can come out now–and their absence will make the rest of the clean-up easier.

For instance, the potatoes in this garden are storage potatoes, which I had not meant to plant, but they came as a mistake in an order.  Because it was so late when I got them, I decided just to stick them in rather than attempt an exchange.

Now I guess I will have new potatoes to deliver this year–and while I had not initially planned to dig out the whole row to get them, it now seems like a reasonable idea–especially since I have four more beds of fingerlings in the other gardens that will provide plenty of tubers for fall deliveries.

Removing those big plants in the east central garden will also improve airflow to the broccoli.  And it delights me to have tender young potatoes to put in the CSA shares with the first tasty snap beans–there’s not much better than a simple meal of new potatoes and beans steamed together and served with nothing but butter, salt, and pepper.

There are also three rows of leeks in the east central garden, and they are fairly close together.  They’re all in decent shape even though they’re weed-infested, but there’s not enough room to get the tiller between those rows (and barely enough room to run the mower through).  Bad planning on my part!

The plan is to clean up the two outside rows and harvest the middle for baby bunched leeks for market and deliveries.

One Row Weeded, Aisles Mowed

As you can see, I’ve already managed to get one row cleaned up, and I have started on the second.  Once the middle row is harvested, the newly-expanded aisle between the two outside rows can be tilled, and I can rake the tilled soil up around the remaining plants to blanch their shanks.

Even though the bulk of my work yesterday was in this mess of a garden, the task I’d actually planned was to pull out all the sugar snap pea vines, which have succumbed to powdery mildew.  There were two 45′ trellises of them, and in the wide bed below one of the trellises, I had planted garlic last fall.

Big Pile of Yuck

Pulling pea vines covered with this white powder is probably one of my least favorite tasks of the garden year.  It gets all over my clothes; I worry about breathing it in, and because it’s hot and I’m sweating, it sticks in a gritty film to any exposed flesh.

However, there wasn’t much of that–I had two long sleeve shirts on, a hat and headnet, long pants and clogs to foil the mosquitoes (which weren’t actually that bad in yesterday’s breezy heat).

The top trellis took about two hours to clean up because I was simultaneously digging the garlic and pulling and transporting the weeds and vines to the burn pile.  Now it looks great and I’m wondering what I should plant there next.  Maybe I can sneak in one more planting of pickling cukes for a fall harvest to fill my six-gallon crock?

What Next?

I may just throw in a cover crop there to keep the weeds down, though.  This time of year, there is always the weeding and the tending and the harvesting, but there is also the planting for fall and even starting to think about the next year’s gardens.

I can’t say that next year has fully formed in my mind as yet–there are still too many factors that might play a large part in determining the shape and size of those gardens and what will go in them.

But the digging of the garlic does start to raise those questions: it is a fall-planted crop, and its summer digging and curing starts to raise awareness that autumn will be coming and the cloves will need to be separated and returned to the earth for the winter months.

I dug about half of the garlic that’s left in the gardens and laid it out on the steel mesh wash table for the afternoon to start the curing process.

Then I went home to rest in the cool for a few hours, and make myself some lunch.  The morning’s projects took about six hours, and leaving the garlic out made it necessary to go back–and I did, just as the American Public Media theme on my truck’s radio signaled the start of A Prairie Home Companion.

The first task of the evening was to take a walk through the rabbit barn and cast my eyes about the tools and machines and various parts of every imaginable useful thing to see what I could glean from that bric-a-brac for a drying rack or two for the garlic that is now out of the ground.

At Vermont Valley Community Farm, whence I mark the official start of my journey into the farming life, we hung our garlic in the loft of the barn to cure where it was warm and breezy and dark.

But, I do not trust the leaky roofs of the barns and buildings at our farm, so I brought it home to rack and cure in the basement–not as warm as I would like it (or more importantly, as the garlic would like it), but I have a fan and a dehumidifier, so I think it will work well enough.

Once two makeshift racks were identified and H loaded them into the truck, I returned to the gardens to mow the grass between the rows of tomatoes on landscape fabric in the central garden.

The first mower kept getting clogged by the thick, juicy grass, and not wanting to shake the engine mounts loose trying to unclog it every few feet (which, I think, is what happened with the last mower that retired back to the machine-area of the barn), I switched to the big string-trimmer and made short work of the task.

But then all the grass had to be shaken out of the tomato plants and swept off the fabric back into the aisles, and the grass and bindweed that had come creeping onto the edges, too low for the trimmer to whack, had to be yanked back.

I managed to finish the sweeping bit on all the rows, and cleaning up the edges of one row, plus snipping out any diseased or damaged-looking foliage on the tomatoes themselves before the breeze calmed enough that the mosquitoes renewed their assault, and I decided to call it a day.

Because the lawns at home have gone too long without a trimming, H loaded yet another of the farm’s wide selection of push-mowers into the truck with the drying racks, and I loaded the freshly-dug garlic into a tub and made my way back to town with an 8 1/2 hour work day written on my tired body.

Knowing that we might have a rain that night (and we did–though not heavy), after a half a beer’s worth of refreshment, I lifted the mower out of the truck and figured I’d get at least the front lawn mowed.

But, having forgot to move the garden hose, I had to shut the machine off about halfway through, and when I went to re-start the thing, found the flywheel had no tension in it, and the mower would not run.

So, I left the thing where it sat, and carried the garlic-drying racks down to the basement, made some dinner (local pork sausage browned and simmered with a quart of home-canned ratatouille, plus five crushed cloves of garlic–ladled over brown bread spread with homemade goat cheese), and ended a very long and productive day.

Sunday is often called the day of rest, and I think I will make it one–at least a rest from heavy work in the gardens.  There is much to do at home–laying out the garlic on the racks and setting up the fan, washing a couple of day’s worth of lunch and dinner dishes, and always the laundry that piles up from hot and sweaty work.

Even a light rain, such as we had last night, will make the mosquitoes worse than they were yesterday on the farm–so I’ll leave them to chase the deer and rabbits and woodchucks instead of me.

In forming the plan for the east central garden clean-up, I’ve begun to create the menu for CSA deliveries this week–and the digging of potatoes and leeks can align with the start of the conventional work week–Monday morning.

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