Crop rotation

The garden beds were a point of contention from the start.

“You’re really going to grow vegetables? Really?” my husband raised a skeptical brow at the line item labeled CONSTRUCTION OF 3 RAISED BEDS, 3X8 as we dissected yet another landscaping estimate. The yard had come last on the priority list during those first months of home ownership, trailing behind more pressing concerns, like having gutters and properly-functioning appliances. Both budget and patience were wearing thin, but something had to be done.

yardbefore

Yard, June 2012.

Attempts at DIY had failed. The weeds were eyeball-height and the mice were outnumbered only by the mosquitos. One contractor described our property as a “hotbed of King snake activity.” King snakes, for the record, are snakes that eat other snakes. We were so flush with snakes that we had attracted a snake that eats snakes.

That jungle shit had to go.

So last fall, it finally did. We accepted a modest bid which allowed for clearing, tilling, laying of sod and planting of indigenous shrubs along the fence.  And one splurge in the form of three elevated garden beds.

“Are you kidding? I will absolutely grow vegetables!” I insisted as we signed the estimate. “And fruit too! Just think, we’ll have fresh strawberries and tomatoes and peppers and….”

I’m not sure what other tempting crops I rattled off, but eventually he gave up and let it go. And in November, sod was laid and raised beds were constructed. I was so excited about my new beds that before a late-autumn breeze could blow the sawdust away, I was at the local nursery, perusing their selection of winter-hardy seedlings.

Now, I might lose some of you super-healthy eaters here, but I’ll say this: I was not excited about the options. Collards? Cabbage? Fucking cauliflower? These are not things that I enjoy eating, generally speaking. I mean, I have come a long way with veggies in the last few years, but cauliflower is not something I will ever be stoked about unless it’s tempura-battered and deep fried.

Nonetheless, I selected a few tiny plants (rainbow chard, purple cabbage, cauliflower), brought them home, and planted them…and then proceeded to completely ignore them.

“So, how is your garden doing?” my husband would ask, a good-natured smirk teasing his lips.

“Great!” I’d answer. “Go look at it!”

And the thing was, it was doing great. Throughout the winter, the cabbages formed layers of pretty purple circles, the cauliflower built hearty white lumps, and the chard grew broad leaves in a dark waxy green atop reddish-purple stalks. All with zero nurturing from me. Occasionally I’d venture out in the morning and walk the frost-tipped grass beside the garden beds. I had to admire these plants: their ability to survive the chilly winter months, and to thrive and grow fat under the tutelage of the world’s least attentive gardner.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had absolutely no interest in eating them.

Winter turned to spring and I continued my neglect. The days grew warmer and the plants grew larger: monster cabbages the size of beach balls, clumps of chard that looked like pink-trunked trees. The cauliflower went to seed, sprouting tall heathery stalks with little yellow flowers that were actually oddly pretty. The idea of harvesting and eating these prehistoric-looking vegetables became laughable: did I even own a pan large enough to sauté a leaf of chard the size of a baby elephant’s ear?

As the plants became ever more comically overgrown, I began to abbreviate small-talk with the neighbors, limiting our driveway chats to a quick hello, fearing that they’d ask what the hell was going on out back. I started to skirt around the garden the way one avoids an email that’s gone too long unanswered: at some point, it’s just an awkward pain in the ass to deal with. My husband, I’m sure, silently assumed he’d been right all along about my fleeting interest in backyard farming.

But last weekend, I decided to finally dig them up and start over.

garden1

This is what happens when you neglect your chard and cauliflower for six months. Country-fair ribbon-winning material right there!

Hours of digging up roots the circumference of my wrist and turning over crusty soil. Another trip to the same local nursery. A chuckling spouse who shook his head at me as I carefully nestled baby strawberry, tomato, and pepper plants into neat rows.

garden2

At least this time, I’ve planted something that I actually want to eat. I think that will make all the difference in the world. I mean, it’s only been a few days and I’ve already watered them several times. I’m setting myself up for success here.

Remind me of that this fall when I’m wrestling with crusty tomato-stalk corpses and a thousand strawberry plants gone to seed.

19 Responses to Crop rotation

  1. Good luck with the garden…I miss having one. My grandma always had a huge garden that we all helped with. I guess I miss the fresh produce more than the actual garden. But I don’t miss it quite enough to get crafty in an apartment…

  2. cauliflower steamed and then blended in food processor with butter and cream is pretty amazing :)

  3. That’s so cool. I hope to have a garden someday, but right now I live in a condo, so I don’t have any land of my own. I also don’t have much of a green thumb, but I’d be willing to learn!!

  4. Jen Childress

    LOL! I love the blue ribbon winners!!! I’m totally in the same phase where I want to plant; and my husband is like, “you don’t even remember to water your house plants!” I think I’ll start with strawberries and tomatoes!

  5. Your beds look really good! I have five raised beds. Right now I have kale kicking ass, my spinach has bolted and needs to be pulled and I will be planting tomatoes this weekend. :) I love fresh veggies from my garden!

  6. We had to dig down through two feet of clay and Indiana limestone and then dump in shitloads of expensive organic (gluten-free) soil in order to grow anything. If I could go back, I definitely would have gone with the raised beds.

    Oh, my husband hates cauliflower because of cauliflower ear. =D

    • I can’t even imagine the weeding that a traditional ground-level bed would require here. SHIT GROWS EVERYWHERE.

      I remember you got some big old hot peppers last year. I’m hoping for some of those!

  7. You & your overgrown veggies is a priceless picture. Love how honest you are about it all. Best of luck! Your new plants look tidy & awesome. I think you made good choices too, as fresh berries and tomatoes are worth growing yourself. Happy farming. :)

  8. King snakes???? OMG, I’d be afraid going from the driveway to the house, or if one of the cats got out!!

    I’m growing tomatoes this year, and I started out watering & checking on them twice a day. Today my husband reminded me that I haven’t been looking after them AT ALL lately (but it’s been raining!!!)

    Good luck with the strawberries and tomatoes!!

  9. I hope yours grows better than mine! I also have tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries (plus squash, beans, snap peas, cucumbers, eggplant, and lettuce), and they all grew like ROCKSTARS for a few weeks, just until they were supposed to start actually producing fruit … and then they stopped growing!! They’re still green and nice, but haven’t gotten any bigger or made anything edible. Bummer. But I guess that’s what I get for thinking I can grow vegetables on a rooftop in Texas :). Keep us posted!

  10. That is some serious chard! I actually like gardening and eating vegetables, but the only things I can grow with or without neglect are jalapeno peppers and basil. Good luck with the new crops!

    • My basil is struggling! I think it might be too hot here, in spite of plentiful watering, it’s turning pale green. :(

      Reading your blog, your garden has always seemed so impressive! And at least you have chickens that don’t mind the heat!

  11. That picture is amazing. I hope you’re planning on framing it and hanging it next to a blue ribbon. I wish I had outdoor space like that – I’d love to at least have the option of being motivated and growing stuff that I could eat. I’m just hoping that I get my butt in gear enough to go buy a planter for some herbs to put on my balcony this year!

  12. We just bought a house and the yard (among many other issues/responsibilities) befuddled us until we finally hired someone to clear it out. I occasionally think about gardening, but I’m quite skeptical about my commitment to the idea.
    And your boxes look pretty legit – way to go!

  13. Ahhh are you in Athens??!