It's no secret that summer is not my favorite season. Or at least summer in this town that I've lived in for over 30 years. It gets hot. Really hot. TOO hot. So the garden has become a God-send. The anticipation of fresh, homegrown tomatoes and the promise of organic herbs and vegetables bursting from our own backyard are some of the (very few) things that make the heat of summer a little more bearable. (That and the fact that I get summers off. Yeah. That makes summer a bit more bearable, too.)
Yes, I enjoy having a garden. I also enjoy planning the garden. I love reading gardening books and blogs. I love flipping through seed catalogs. I love sketching out the garden area and deciding what to plant where. I love going to the local nursery and choosing our plants. I love digging in the dirt. And I really love seeing those little seeds burst through the soil...a miracle that never ceases to amaze me.
As most gardeners do, we have a few challenges in our garden that make planning a little tricky. And over the years, through trial and error, I've learned a few things...
Work with what we've got: We have a huge pecan tree in the backyard. Huge. And it is a pain. It is dropping something at all times of the year...leaves, pecans, pods, sap, pollen. And honestly, we don't utilize the pecans like we should. It's tempting to just chop it down but it would be expensive. So...for now...the tree stays, and all its "gifts". Since the tree stays, that means that we need to work with more shade than is ideal for a vegetable garden. This can be a challenge when growing vegetables, but not impossible.
Experiment: Each year Chris and I plant something new...a new variety of pepper or tomato, usually. These are easy to experiment with because it's what we plant the most of in the garden so Chris can make his delicious fresh salsa. Mmmm...my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I can't wait!
Plant what we'll eat: This is self-explanatory. I mean, why spend time and energy and money and water tending something that we don't even like to eat? So I only plan to plant what we will eat. Well, with the exception of eggplant. That shot of purple, or lavender, or white eggplant is so darn pretty in the garden! I can't resist planting a plant or two, even though I haven't figured out a way to make it taste good, yet. (Any suggestions?)
Plant Companions: Figuring out which plants benefit others makes planning the layout of the garden a little easier. I love planning a garden, planning anything really. And I have been known to get a bit carried away. I have also been known to get a bit overwhelmed. So companion planting helps me to stay focused, and narrows down my choices of what to plant where. I found a companion planting list at Mother Earth News.
Be realistic: Someday I would love to be disciplined enough to grow everything from seed. But I don't think far enough ahead of time and I also don't have a lot of room for seed starting apparatus. There are a few things that we plant from seed directly into the garden such as cucumbers, beans and lettuce. But then we buy plants from the local nursery such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and herbs. Doing what works best for us, and not trying to keep up with Jones,' makes having a garden more enjoyable.
Try something new: The first year we planted a serious garden I planted Bird House Gourd seeds, just because. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. Let me tell you, that darn plant was so good for my gardening ego! It grew and grew and grew and it was beautiful. The leaves were velvety and the flowers were huge. And the gourds themselves? So cool! While it may not have provided food for us, or shade or anything of much benefit, really, it did provide me with some major confidence in the gardening department. And that in itself was worth it. Something else new I'd like to try is the Intensive Garden method of planting, mostly the high-density mixed planting aspect. I want to squeeze in as much as possible. I am maybe a little too conservative when planning space for each plant. I think I can be a little more creative and squeeze a little more in. We'll see.
Relax and enjoy the process: I think this is the most important part. Tending a garden is pretty cool. Watching food grow right in your own backyard is so satisfying. To know that I can walk out the back door and pick myself an organic salad makes me happy. And how about pouring a cup of coffee early in the morning and taking a walk in the garden before the heat takes over? Ah...yes, one of my favorite things to do.
On that note, I guess I better plan to get my behind out there and rake leaves, pull weeds and get that soil ready...it's about time to get some food in the ground!
How about you? Are you ready? Are you already started? Trying anything new this year?