IT’S NOT THAT COMPLICATED
My love for gardening comes from my dad. As one of six kids, I believed we garden out of necessity, but for me, gardening was fun. At first, all us kids helped, but as time went on, it was just me and my dad, and then eventually, just me.
Looking back, gardening with my dad seemed effortless. Each spring, we started our seeds indoors. I don’t think my dad knew when the “last spring frost” (LSF) date was or about adding or subtracting the number of weeks to find your “indoor sowing date” or your “safe to set out time”. We would use egg cartoons and top soil, not “seed starter mix”. There were no fancy “domes or grow lamps”. We just placed them near a window with good light. As our seeds sprouted and grew, would we would transplant them into anything we could fine, milk cartoons, tin cans, or paper pots we made out of newspaper. It wasn’t until years later when the garden became “mine” that I started to use “seed starter pots”. I remember once, bringing home a bag of sterile potting soil. My dad laughed when I found a piece of ceramic pottery at the bottom. Once our seedlings got big enough and the weather outside warmed up a bit, we would place them out under a tree. My father never used the word “hardening off”. They stayed under the tree for several days to a week, day and night. Our decision to plant them on the garden was strictly dependent on the weather.
I spend all winter planning out the next year’s garden. Which part of the garden has more light, more shade? Is the plant heat loving or shade tolerant? If I grow something that is tall, what affect will it have on the plants growing around it? How do I go about “crop rotation” so I don’t make the mistake of growing the same thing twice, two years in a row, in the same spot? Last year, my cucumbers came down with a case of Bacterial Wilt, so I cannot plant any Cucurbits -- cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins, and watermelons, in that area for the next 3 years? Then I have to think of "companion planting"….onions grow well next to beets, carrots, lettuce and cabbage, but are not compatible with beans and peas? And I have to think about this for everything I plant? I don’t think my dad worried about any of that when he planted his garden!
My father utilized every inch of space without the knowledge of “square foot gardening” techniques. He planted beans and sunflowers among the corn. We used our feet to measure out one foot spacing’s between tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Sandwiched in between were radishes, carrots, beets etc. We would support vining plants with string wrapped around sticks. “Session planting” was filling in any vacant spaces as they appeared. Grass clippings were placed around the plants to help with weeds. We always lined the entire boarder with marigolds, my dad’s form of “pest control”. He would always say, “grow enough for us and them”, referring to the rabbits and groundhogs.
I never learned to “compost” because my dad had his own method to enriching the soil. In the spring he would have a local farmer deliver a load of cow manure that we tilled into the garden. In the fall we would spread all the leaves that we gathered from around the house out over the garden. Our soil was always rich and dark and we didn’t have the problems with disease, like we seem to these days.
My dad must have been doing something right. Each year, we would have so much coming out of the garden, that I kept a small veggie stand out front of the house. I would sell corn, squash, giant pumpkins, guards, tomatoes, peppers, anything we had too much of. I would love to duplicate that same success today and be able to share the fruits of my labor.
After I moved away my dad resumed the gardening for a few more years. As he got older the garden got smaller and smaller until he could no longer maintain it. I remember that towards the end he had started an “asparagus bed”. To me that seemed so crazy, especially because you had to wait a whole year for the first harvest. Where is the instant gratification in that? Since then I’ve learned to be a bit more patient planting garlic in the fall to harvest the following summer.
These days my garden consists of a collection of “raised beds”, each laid out grid style with one foot spacing’s. I have a small compost tumbler, try to keep things organic, and use “cold frames” to extend the garden seasons. Last year I managed to “over winter” spinach, swiss chard, and a few root vegetables. I wonder what my dad would have thought about these "new methods" of gardening.