Roots and Fruits

So, for the past couple of years we've just kind of been growing random things without an overall plan; we've tried out new plants and bought things on a whim and stuck plants in the ground any old place without a whole lot of planning. This is more my fault than David's -- but we've both agreed after this year that this is high on the list of skills we need to work on next growing season.

Part of the reason for this is that we're pushing our luck on the tomatoes and peppers at this point -- we've had them in the same place for a couple of years now, and that's just asking for trouble. Another issue is that we suck at succession planting, so our harvest comes in all at once. Yet another hurdle is that there are some fairly basic things we've just not taken the time to learn how to grow properly -- like spinach and lettuce -- so things that could be an ongoing harvest have been overlooked in favor of things like tomatoes, and tomatoes are so much work that anything else that needs to be processed at the same time stands a chance of going bad while it waits for me to get around to it. And we should eat more spinach anyway, especially since I love it raw. So next year is going to be Back to Basics Year.

This doesn't mean I'm not going to plant anything new. It does mean I'm going to reign in my tendency to purchase fifty tomato plants, though. Next year we're going to focus on growing things we eat and that store well with minimum effort, like potatoes, carrots, and onions. We're also going to work on picking up some of those basics we've not paid enough attention to, like greens. And we're going to try our hand at a few new staples: beans are a given now that we've discovered what a joy it is to harvest them dry instead of trying to consume pounds and pounds of green beans, which we're indifferent to at best; the amaranth did well enough this year that I really want to give quinoa another go next year; and we've discovered that it is possible to successfully grow sweet potatoes in our climate, as the Amish who supply them to our co-op do so. We'll still grow a few tomatoes and a lot of peppers (the bells in particular are very cost-effective!), but since we end up buying most of the tomatoes for our big processing batches anyway, we'll take a year or two off the intensive growing to reduce the risk of disease.

The other thing we're going to do is pay more attention to our fruits. We've planted a frankly astonishing quantity of fruit on our small lot over the past three years, and we're finally starting to get harvests worth mentioning. This year we added a number of things, including two tart cherry trees and three grapevines, so next year should be even better. But at some point we need to take the time to do things like renovate the strawberry bed and learn to prune back our bramble-berries and the plum tree, so it might as well be next year. And I need to take the time to really clear out the persistent weeds sprouting around our fruiting trees and shrubs so they don't have to spend so much energy competing.

There's a laundry list of other things we've been "meaning to get around to" that will make our garden more productive, but which have been procrastinated in favor of shinier, more exciting things like planting my herb garden or getting the chicken coop started: we desperately need to clean up the yard waste "compost pile" (which is really more of a sod graveyard), rake up the mulch around the raised beds and put in thick cardboard to beat back seven or eight trillion of the quackgrass plants, take out hundreds of pounds of extra dirt back by the alley to start new raised beds, and deal with the mess that is our post-giant-stump boulevard, once and for all.

I feel like up until now, what I've been doing is building the bones of a great garden -- pulling out sod, planning a layout, getting a start on where things are going to eventually go, and just trying to keep it from being too hideously ugly. But at some point you have enough bones and you need to work on covering them over, or else all you have is a skeleton, a half-accomplished idea, and it's frustrating to always look out the window and see something that feels more like "incomplete project start" than "well-balanced work-in-progress."

Even so, it's going to be tough to resist the siren call of the Baker Creek Heirlooms catalog!

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