Return to Farming

Before I married Fred, I was an avid gardener. Unfortunately, I was not very good at it. Though I fantasized about pantry shelves lined with bright jars of home-canned produce, and snipping fresh herbs from my deck to toss into various dishes, my gardening efforts over two years yielded about 30 tomatoes, 2 mealy yellow squash, about ten pounds of rosemary, 3 tablespoons of parsley, 4 green beans, and possibly the tiniest piece of okra ever grown.

The problem was that while I liked to dig and put things in the ground, I didn’t like to plan. Thus I’d inevitably find myself in mid-May with a strong desire for home-grown vegetables in the summer, but I’d have no beds prepared and no real sense of where the plants might do well. So beds would hastily be dug in a spot that seemed sunny; a few bags of dirt from the garden store would be added; plants would  thrown in, watered, and randomly fertilized; mulch might be distributed. But I had no understanding of the soil and the nutrients that might be needed, or what plants should go together, or how to prevent disease.

This year, however, I’m turning a corner. My work at the St. John’s community garden has led to a resurgence of my gardening interest, and it has peaked at a time of year when the only thing you can do is plan. Thus I have familiarized myself with measuring tape, stakes, and gardening books to create a map for a converting our weedy yet sunless back yard into a cornucopia of home-grown, organic produce.

Last weekend, I took the first step, measuring out Bed 1, a 10′ x 3′ space right behind the house. The effort renewed long-dormant math skills that revealed that I’d have 30 square feet in which to plant my crops.

The area is typical of our back yard: a swath of unidentified weeds scattered with leaves. Daffodils appear in the spring, but the photo below reflects the state of the area for the remaining 11 months of the year.

I dug here industriously for about three hours, scraping down about 8″ until the crummy clay surface, and my back, could yield no more.

I removed the sod and weeds, added a little store-bought compost, covered everything with a layer of newspaper, then leaves.

I’m afraid that the only difference between the “before” and “after” photos is that the largest weed is gone and the leaves are in a more organized pile. But I am hopeful that the earth will go to work, and that next year, I might get enough tomatoes for at least one batch of salsa.