Having neglected my website and newsletter for the past 6 months, it seems I “owe” an explanation, yet every attempt at writing one sounds so whiny I can’t bear to publish it. Suffice it to say that a succession of negative events in our lives made gardening itself—let alone writing about it—seem frivolous if not sacrilegious.
As it always does, however, life moves on and time heals. As the days progressively lengthen and the cold fronts retreat, allowing the pleasant Texas winter weather to return, I can’t stem the flood of thoughts about getting back to collaborating with Mother Nature on good physical exercise, visual beauty, nutritious harvests, and spiritual healing.
My substantial neglect of the garden in the last half of 2013—and my subsequent prospects looking ahead to spring—inspires my topic for this blog: How to enjoy regular harvests with minimal effort (aka, The Busy or Lazy Gardener’s Guide to Success).
The secret is contained in two words: plant perennials.
Use the majority of your growing space on crops that will come back to life on their own in the spring—which typically means fruits rather than vegetables. Having done pretty much nothing during the past six months, here is what I still look forward to harvesting over the coming six months: asparagus, blueberries, boysenberries, strawberries, red seedless grapes, and apples. This weekend I will be planting raspberries, honeyberries, Goji berries, and seedless concord grapes—all of them perennials which, in addition to everything mentioned above, I can begin enjoying next spring (and every spring thereafter) for the same minimal effort.
Now I did say pretty much nothing, not absolutely nothing. So let’s recap:
Asparagus: once the stalks went dormant following the first deep freeze, I chopped them off with hedge clippers to about 3” stumps. I have 10 plants, and this task may have taken 15 minutes, including hauling the stalks to the compost pile and pulling some weeds from the bed.
Blueberries: fertilized them with compost, kept them mulched.
Boysenberries: pruned off all the old canes which bore fruit last spring, and tied up the new canes to the trellises.
Strawberries: fertilized with compost.
Grapes: fertilized with compost.
Apple trees: fertilized with chicken manure and pruned to encourage more fruit production. Pruning took about 30 minutes per tree, which is probably excessive; I blame this on not feeling confident about what I was doing.
For all of the above: regularly ensuring that each was adequately watered was obviously required regardless of my personal circumstances—but with an automatic sprinkler system this can be virtually no thought or effort at all.
None of the above tasks (other than watering) demanded that I act according to a specific, unforgiving schedule; there was weeks’ worth of leeway.
Under certain circumstances (and in certain frames of mind), going out and gardening seemed like an inappropriate activity, but as other aspects of life returned to normal, I found it to be extremely therapeutic. I happen to share Native Americans’ belief that plants, as living entities, have spirits. I believe the earth itself has a spirit, and I therefore find working with soil and plants and animals to be a spiritual experience; it is enormously healing.
So even though my Fall garden didn’t happen, I managed to get two things done which will pay huge dividends this June: In mid-September I planted garlic and sweet Vidalia onions. According to the classes I’ve taken, onions should be planted in late December or early January, but last June I was disappointed by the small bulb onions I harvested, so this year I gave them a head start—and so far have no reason to believe this was a bad idea. Both onions and garlic are extremely cold-hardy, so they weathered those 11° mornings just fine (the spinach also weathered the frigid temps, and has been producing continuously since Christmas). I started the onions from seed; the garlic was an investment from last year’s harvest. I actually still have several garlic bulbs left from last June, despite eating many and using some to plant this coming season’s crop. The garlic that remains makes my bedroom smell great and—much to my teenage daughter’s chagrin—have kept all those broody, angsty vampires at bay.
I started germinating tomato seeds right at the first of February. It’s been satisfying to fire up the grow light and warming mat again in anticipation of a good, robust spring garden. I’ll be scaling back the veggie garden this year (or at least that’s my present plan), shifting my focus toward the permanent perennials.
Regardless, it’s time to return to gardening full tilt boogie; time to climb back up on the horse of life.