Saturday, October 3, 2009

Working in the Garden

When Yeoldfurt first suggested putting in a vegetable garden earlier this year, my initial reaction was to point out how much work would be involved ...not just in building the raised bed or hauling the dirt to fill it or planting the first seeds, but also in tending the plants, harvesting the produce and preserving the bounty.

I had a good-sized vegetable garden back in the early 90's when I was living in Grand Junction, Colorado. That part of Colorado is high enough in elevation to have plenty of snow and frost in the winter, but close enough to the Utah desert to have some pretty sweltering summers. If you don't water, nothing grows. That garden was roughly 20x25 and was not raised bed, so it was a constant battle to keep the lawn and weeds from trying to encroach on the moist loosened soil of the garden. But my life rhythm and circumstances were much different then. I lived in the city and worked just five miles from home. I also worked an early shift and was home by 2:15 in the afternoons, which left me with lots of daylight time to work a garden. When we moved from Grand Junction to San Antonio a few years later, I had a similar sized raised bed garden built in the backyard there too. I did a raised bed in San Antonio because the topsoil two or three inches deep at most. Then you hit caliche which is as hard as a rock when it's dry and the consistency of nearly set concrete when it's wet ...not a good growing medium for vegetables. The raised bed garden with 8 inches of good topsoil in it did well and I was pleased to discover it was much easier to maintain. I had the same advantages in San Antonio of a job very close to home and an early shift to accommodate afternoons of outside chores. I was also feeding a family of six in those days, so nothing went to waste.

These days though, it's just Yeoldfurt and me unless we have visitors. My day job is over forty miles from home, so almost two hours of my day is spent commuting. That leaves me with very little time and even less energy by the time I get home on the weekdays. We also have livestock now that I didn't have when I was gardening in Grand Junction and San Antonio. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about where we live now and our country lifestyle. The only thing I would change if I could is my long commute. But because of our current lifestyle and circumstances, the first thing that popped into my head when Yeoldfurt suggested we put in a big vegetable garden was ...ugh ...more work!

We had several long discussions before we decided anything and the only caveat I ended up putting on the project was that we eat what we plant. Bartering at the local farmer's market was another discussion we had been having but I was (and still am) of the opinion that you can't count on someone else wanting what you've got or on them having something you want to trade for. Waste is one thing I have a hard time with, so I wanted to make sure the garden's primary function was our own subsistence. Yeoldfurt agreed so we started building the garden with every intention of sowing seed by early April.

We didn't have a crystal ball though and due to some unforeseen and extremely unhappy circumstances, we didn't finally sow any seeds in the garden until the first week in June. It was a late start during a period of record high temperatures and an extended drought ... and all those things had an adverse affect on our first crop. But taking all those things into account, I'm grateful we had a harvest all. We ended up with four very sweet, very juicy cantaloupes, about a dozen 'meals' of Swiss chard (fresh picked for each meal), and six ears of corn. Hardly a bounty worth boasting about, but there's always next time. One of the best things about living in Texas is the long growing season ...practically year 'round.

I spent about an hour in the garden this morning. We still have five bell pepper plants that are producing. Yeoldfurt loves stuffed peppers. There are two are three out there now that should be ready to pluck in a week or so, and eight or nine others coming along behind and still flowers on the plants. So bell peppers may end up being our bumper crop for the spring this year. The Swiss chard would have been still going strong too, but some kind of little worm had gotten to it. I left the pepper plants alone but cleaned out all the other sections. So I pulled it all up and will start over with seed. I pulled whatever weeds and little grasses were sprouting, turned over the dirt and worked in some compost in all the open sections. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will plant some carrots and Swiss chard.

Our raised bed is divided into eight sections which are approximately 3-1/2 feet x 7-1/12 feet with 1x12 boards laid between them as walkways. The pepper plants occupy about half of one of the sections and six buckets. We have six large buckets we'll be using to plant carrots in, but those will be up by the porch and not in the garden. For the winter, I want to plant three sections of Swiss chard (so I'll have enough at one time to can several batches), two sections of white potatoes, one section of sweet potatoes, one section of cabbage. The unoccupied portion of the section where the pepper plants are now will be for onions and garlic. Onions on prolific and a great source of iron. They are very versatile as well. They can be dehydrated or chopped fresh to use in cooking, steamed with butter and salt and pepper to eat by themselves, or vacuum sealed and frozen fresh. Potatoes are also a prolific crop and an excellent food source. Sweet potatoes can be prepared any way you would prepare white potatoes, but also are a cheap substitute for pumpkin in pies and sweet breads.
Yeoldfurt is not much on coleslaw, so I will probably can most of the cabbage ...either by itself or in soups or with meat like corned beef. I want to experiment with vacuum sealing and freezing fresh cabbage leaves (blanched first) to use later for cabbage rolls. I'll let you know how that turns out.

The work in the garden this morning involved a lot of bending and stooping and stretching and lifting which, by most people's way of thinking, would have constituted a lot of work. By my way of thinking earlier this year, it would have sounded like a lot of work. It was labor and it did require effort and energy and perseverance to get the job done. But it was not really work, it was a joy. The only thing on my mind while I was turning over the soil and raking through the beds this morning was what I was going to plant where and how I was going to preserve what we harvested in a few months. Now all that's left to do is plant and look forward to the harvest. What a great way to have spent my morning.


  1. A garden can be labor intensive to be sure. But it is a labor of love. Not to be confused with work 99% of the time!

  2. Housework is a labor of love too, but it doesn't have the benefit of reaping a harvest later on! The only reason my first reaction to Yeoldfurt's suggestion of a garden was to remind him of all the work it would involve is because it had been TOO LONG since I had one for me to remember how fulfilling it can be to work the soil and watch a harvest take shape before your eyes.

    Sure wish we were closer neighbors. If you guys EVER find yourselves in this neck of the woods, you better look us up!

  3. I canned cabbage last year. Don't waste your time. It was almost mush by the time it finished processing.