Kitchen Garden’s In

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Photo credit: dgilder / flickr

Photo credit: dgilder / flickr

When we moved in 1985 from the Massachusetts coast 100 miles west to our home in Tiny Town, it was an article of faith that you didn’t put in any seeds or frost-sensitive plants before Memorial Day Weekend, and you could expect a killing frost by September 15th.

In the past five years or so, it’s been pretty safe to plant from mid-May on, and we haven’t seen a hard frost beforethe middle of October.

This year, it was tempting to start planing in April, but we restrained ourselves.  We needn’t have, but who could have known?  The overnight temp dropped to 32 in the valley on May 11, but up here (heat rises, this time of year — the rest of the year it’s colder than it is down below) we haven’t had a hint of a frost for more than a month. Overnight lows have been in the 40s.

I’ve been itching for weeks to at least start seeds in the (unheated) greenhouse, but I’ve had other things occupying my mind, as you know if you read my most recent post.

Yesterday and today, I’ve got my seeds in the ground. Joyful, joyful.  That’s me — both that I’ve done it, and that I was able.

This year, for the first time, I’m trying no-till (layered, or “lasagna”) gardening.  You can read about it here, here, and here.

Ed, my husband and best friend, read about this method in the July/August 2008 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal, a real treasure for people like us, because it’s written by people like us.

We have separate gardens, because weeding is against his religion and I take pride in a gorgeous, weed-free garden. Or, at least I did.

Last year Ed tried layering and I scoffed at his lazy ways. His yield was so much better than mine that this year my garden is layered, too.

Basically, the idea is to use multiple layers of newspaper, compost, and topsoil. Newsprint has no dioxin, a whitener. Really white paper contains poison.  Newspapers around here — maybe everywhere — are printed with soy-based ink.  You can call your local paper and ask, as I have done.

Last fall, we stated collecting newspapers that people would have normally taken to the recycling center, first to use as kindling for our wood furnace, then to save for our garden. Ed has his garden plots flat on the ground.  I garden in raised beds, made with concrete blocks, 36″ wide (so I can reach the middle) and either 13 or 27 feet long. It takes a lot of paper to cover that much area.

I’ve been working my beds for at least 20 years, so the soil in them is rich and most the rocks that grow like weeds around here are pretty well eliminated. I used only two layers of paper, compost, and topsoil.  Ed works on bare ground, so he make more layers.

Ed’s put in two kinds of squash — crookneck and butternut, for summer and winter, respectively — and potatoes (russets, I think.)

I’m growing a few different kinds of leaf lettuce.  My favorite is Abundant Life Seed Company’s wild lettuce.  I’ve put in baby spinach for salads and large leaf spinach for freezing or canning, broccoli, Italian (flat) green beans, lemon cucumbers (they’re round, have a hint of lemon taste, grow in bushes instead of running all over the place), and more. All of these seeds are heirlooms from Abundant Life; I’ve planted lavishly because I don’t know what the germination rate will be. The seeds are from last year. I’ll be happy with 50%.

The only hybrid seed I’ve planted is Burpee’s Short and Sweet carrots, a Chantenay variety. That’s sort of a habit; the carrots fit their description.  We started planting them back when our best crop was rocks and the long carrots used to get deformed trying to grow around the rocks that we hadn’t found and dug up yet.

We’re big believers in biodiversity and avoid hybrids and major seed companies as much as possible.  I think next year I’ll try a more conventional variety of carrot. Our soil is gorgeous, rock free, black and rich, and the carrots will love living here.

About my mention of Abundant Life seeds: Back before the internet was a commercial enterprise (that is, before AOL let its subscribers loose on the ‘net and changed the world) it was expected that if you mentioned a company or product you declared whether you had a financial interest in it.  I still subscribe to that kind of ethical behavior, so here goes:

I have no financial interest in Abundant Life Seed Company.  They don’t know I exist, except that I order from them once in a while. If you buy from them, I don’t get a commission, a discount, or even a word of thanks.  I want you to know about them because I think heirloom seeds are worth supporting. I also think they tend to be healthier and hardier than hybrids, just as our working farm collie is healthier and hardier than pure-bred show collies.

And if you go to Abundant Life’s information page, you can get planting and cultivating advice on just about any vegetable you can think of. It’s worth the trip.

Back to the planting: You may have noticed that tomatoes are not on my list. Our tomato plants (six heirloom varieties) got hammered last summer by the late blight, an airborne fungus that caused considerable harm and economic damage hereabouts. Although the extension service says the fungus didn’t over-winter, we decided to buy our tomatoes at the farmer’s market this year, so traumatic was it to see one plant after another succumb to the blight, to have to double-bag plants and take them to be incinerated.

You see, I have a personal relationship with the things I grow. I nourish them, and then they nourish me. When I put seeds into the ground I wish them well and mentally send them encouragement. When I cut lettuce, pick beans, pull carrots, I silently thank the plants. This is probably crazy, but I can tell you because you don’t know where I live so you can’t send the men with the white jackets and the butterfly nets.

I think there’s no time in my life that I’m happier than when I’ve just got my garden in. Everything is potential, wonderful things are starting to happen, and I’m just plain in love with life.

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