Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Learning from our mistakes

Lunch with some of our best friends from Virginia!
It's visiting time here in Pittsboro which has kept me from updating the blog recently.  We have no less than six different sets of guests scheduled for the months of July and August and so when we're not entertaining these guests, I'll be frantically cleaning the house trying to get ready for the next set.  Please don't get me wrong - I am NOT complaining about this.  I am over the moon that our friends and family are willing to make the trek to see us and would love to see even more of you, so please come anytime!!  The more, the merrier - seriously.

Aside from our visitors, things are pretty quiet on the farm right now.  Our poor garden has suffered tremendously from the drought we're experiencing.  It hasn't rained at our house in over two weeks and there's not a good chance of rain any time soon.  In addition, we have received a massive attack of squash bugs which took out our pumpkin plant and some of our squash.  The surviving squash are hanging on and I think (knock on wood) recovering a tiny bit.  The bug invasion has really frustrated me.  Clearly, the fault is ours due to our inexperience and lack of knowledge.  We are dedicated to using organic and sustainable practices on the farm, which means no pesticides or herbicides but that's not the problem.  This first year, we've been very laissez faire about the garden and have just sort of been watching and hoping that it would grow well with little interference from us.

This has led to tedious fights with weeds which entrench themselves everywhere and do not seem to need water to survive.  It's led to the devastation of our squash and pumpkins.  And, not knowing enough about soil has led to blossom end rot on some of our tomatoes (a calcium deficiency).  A lack of suitable fencing has allowed rabbits and our chickens to enter the garden and feast.  We've learned that you shouldn't plant corn and tomatoes immediately next to each other - which, of course, we did.  Despite all this, however, the garden has limped along and provided us with enough produce for our family and then some.  This is pretty typical of what we can harvest on any given day:

Brendan has even been able to sell a couple of hundred dollars worth of produce to his restaurant.  These few sales have almost completely covered the expenses of our garden for this year, and that doesn't count the money we've saved by not having to buy as much produce at the grocery for our own consumption.

I mentioned once before that we are planning to abandon row gardening this fall and convert the existing vegetable garden to raised beds.  I wish I had done more research into this before we moved.  In my defense, there wasn't exactly any spare time in which to do that before the move or during the first three months here when I was doing the single parent thing in a new town!  But, I digress.  We are converting to raised beds and so I've been doing lots of research on intensive planting methods, companion and succession planting, and how to attract beneficial insects to the garden (to eat those hated squash bugs).

I've settled on creating a potager - a french kitchen garden.  The potager combines vegetables, herbs and flowers which creates not just a beautiful garden but an efficient one as well.  The potager is traditionally laid out in a highly geometric and symmetrical fashion, like the one below.

This is not the plan I've chosen - I've actually drawn one up on graph paper that we will now have to somehow turn into reality.  We do not plan to use curved beds, simply because we'll be constructing our beds from timber and it's just too difficult to do curves.  I just think this diagram is particularly pretty.

Within each of the individual beds, we'll plant several different kinds of vegetables, herbs, and flowers that act as good companions, meaning that they benefit each other in some way.  The flowers provide color and texture to the bed but they also attract pollinators and beneficial insects that will protect our vegetables.  Herbs, when paired properly, can enhance the flavors of certain vegetables and are useful in their own right.  We'll be constructing a proper fence that will keep out all the critters with whom we do not wish to share the harvest.  Our curent fence is a 4 ft tall picket fence but it only extends around two sides of the garden.  The other sides are exposed.  The new fence will completely enclose the garden and be tall enough to fence out the deer.  It's likely look much like this example:

All of this will likely begin in early October - pictures will be posted of our progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment