Try a Garden Now!
Gardening has become more popular during the COVID pandemic, according to my local greenhouse informants. This is a wonderful development in otherwise depressing time made more depressing by our deranged Supreme Court. Do start your garden before such an operation is banned by the court on the grounds that it interferes with agribusiness!
We gardened big time not long ago
Residential gardening is not really all that bold or new. During World War II, some 40% of the produce in the USA was grown in home gardens. After the war we became lazy, and sometimes so fussy about appearance that growing a garden in some places was actually banished by property owners in favor of short-sheared lawns! And lawns continue to maintain a rather twisted hold on the USA. Some 40 million acres are estimated to be dedicated to lawns, which is more than 60,000 square miles. That’s the area of a square about 250 miles on each side! Plus, some 15% of water in the USA is dedicated to—lawns. You can drive through many parts of the country and view acres and acres of carefully maintained lawns spreading far from the house and other buildings, and observe big dudes on tractors mowing as if the fate of the universe depended on a tidy lawn. (My own brother, a farmer who became an ardent devotee of the lawn cult, owned a mower that had greater horsepower than the first tractor he used to plow his fields.)
Reduce or eliminate your lawn
The answer to this lunacy is quite simply to dedicate your efforts to something more productive and more efficient than a lawn. Namely, to start a garden. Preferably an organic model.
Start out small
The best advice I can give on such a project is to start out small. I have seen many an ambitious project begin with a person digging up a big patch, and then failing to maintain it. It is far better to start with a few successful square feet, and then initiate your expansion program. Dig deep, down to a few feet or so, and stir up and loosen the soil very thoroughly. Start with easy-to-grow plants like endive or lettuce or India mustard, and graduate to beans, tomatoes, and sweet corn later.
Pick the right time for the right plants
Read carefully the recommendations on the seed packages. You don’t want to plant tomatoes, beans, and corn in the fall, when there will not be enough sun, but in the late spring when there is. Conversely, many greens will do better in the fall and spring, when it is cooler and even in the shade. They are less likely to “bolt,” which means they go to seed from too much heat and sun before they’ve had a chance to really produce. Depending on how cool it gets at night, it is often best to start plants indoors in plastic flats or six-pack containers. If it cools down a lot in the evening, this will speed up germination and growth.
Abandon wide rows
One thing to abandon is rows with excess space between plants. It makes a lot more sense, especially if you have limited space, to grow green vegetables like lettuce close together, in 3-foot-wide patches that you can reach from either side. You will probably not need to do a lot of weeding with this method, as the vegetables will simply crowd out the weeds with their close spacing. Of course, you will still have to space out tomatoes, beans, and sweet corn far enough apart so these summer plants have room to produce.
It really is not that difficult to start small and have some gratifying success. Give it a try!
To access Bob’s columns Hey Mr. Green from his days at Sierra Magazine