Back Forty

the background: my garden

2002- The first year we lived in this house, there was a severe drought. We have a small back yard where someone had cultivated a garden space about ten years ago. I started digging and found red clay solid enough to throw a pot from about 4-5 inches down. That was somewhat of a surprise! We put in a few tomatoes and I started a medicinal herb garden, since I was particularly interested in the historical uses of plants at the time. The drought continued, a virus went through the tomatoes, and my next-door neighbor changed the local environment by cutting down three beautiful huge trees that shaded my yard in July. Just looking at my yard depressed the hell out of me. So I gave up that summer. But I was inspired toward the end of the season by an urban garden located very near to me at the home of Charlie Headington and Debbie Seabrooke. It was totally fascinating and introduced me to the concept of no-till gardens and permaculture. I figured that if it worked for them a few blocks away, I could do it too!

2003- The rains came back, and it was a very wet year. Sandy and I began working on making raised beds by laying out sections with landscape ties, covering the grass with thick newspaper, and dumping bagged topsoil on top. This was a lot more work than I thought because I had no idea it would take so much dirt to fill in these squares. So I scaled down my plans to do just a small section each year. Salad greens did well. I raised Brandywine tomato seedlings indoors and they grew pretty well in the new spot I planted them in, along with Romas and an odd ugly heirloom tomato called Purple Calabash. Corn, watermelon, cucumbers, squash, and okra were all miserable failures. The perennials in the “physick” garden took hold and developed very nicely, though. I let a plant grow that I couldn’t identify, and it turned out to be a beautiful, many-branched sunflower. A big yellow and black garden spider made it her home. This part of my garden became a healing place for me.

2004- I planted peas, which were much bigger than I anticipated, and different varieties of lettuce in a pattern. I laid down landscape fabric and overlapping paper grocery bags between the fence and the garden area and mulched it with pine bark mulch. This resulted in an elbow injury that still plagues me almost a year later. I planted Brandywines in a new plot and a Juliet that produced an incredible amount of wonderful grape-like tomatoes. I tried corn and okra in the old tomato plot. I got only one tiny ear of corn, but good God, was it delicious! I really have to figure the corn thing out. Maybe I can get a medium to channel Daddy. And the okra produced very well. Echinacea and other herbs and flowers flourished, but not my basil or marigolds (?). I enjoyed the handful of lima beans I harvested–I planted them mainly as nitrogen fixers. Flea beetles totally decimated the eggplants. I continue to be the only person on earth who can’t grow squash. I grew peppers and ground cherries in pots on the front porch. I became aware of the effects of the medium-sized black walnut tree in the middle of our yard, and by fall I decided to cut it down. That beautiful Maximillian sunflower turned out to be incredibly invasive and I had about fifty of them everywhere, even in the cracks of the old railroad ties that bordered the north side of the garden. I started taking classes from Charlie Headington, and we made a barter where he dug up the sunflowers and a pesky mimosa for me and I made him a web site. All in all, I was pleased with my garden, because I learned a lot despite the failures. I could write about ten pages about this particular year, but I’ll stop here.

2005- I made a cold frame with thick clear plastic over a recycled beach ball metal display rack. Early January was so warm for a couple of weeks I decided what the heck, I’ll try some lettuce, spinach, carrots and beets. Well, it didn’t work. But I reseeded a couple of weeks ago and they’re coming up little by little now. I have a few sad collards I planted in the fall. All my rosemary died. That hurt because I love fresh rosemary. Peas are beginning to sprout – I planted Dwarf Little Marvel this time to save space. And that brings me up to the present, about which I’ll start writing in the next few days.

(photos lost in transition)

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