Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Recap of 2013 in my Gardens (Part 2)

In my last post, I wrote about finally getting the gazebo I had been dreaming about for the past five years, but there were two other major garden improvements that I made progress toward in 2013, one of which was:

The Kitchen Garden

We (mostly my husband) had attempted to plant a large garden at the top of our field area since 2009, but each year it had been less than successful. The area (fairly large, about 30' by 60') tends to be soggy after rain, since water from about a quarter of our property pools there. My husband had planted a typical midwestern vegetable garden, planting in rows, which he would till between and hoe among to remove weeds. But because of the dampness, he often would not be able to use the tiller or hoe during the often-wet month of June, so by July the whole garden would be waist-high in weeds. Two years in a row we actually just mowed down the whole thing in August, it was that bad. 

The vegetable garden back in 2011.
This is after hours of pulling out grass, which you can still
see surrounding the sweet corn, at far left.
So I decided we needed to change things. The vegetable garden is mostly my husband's domain, and he was quite dubious about my idea to plant in slightly-raised beds outlined by lumber and surrounded by mulched paths, but he agreed that we needed to try something different.

In Fall 2012, my husband tilled the entire area and leveled it with his tractor. Then our very kind neighbor dug post holes (our handyman had tried to do this, but the drought that year had rendered the ground impregnable, so our neighbor kindly brought over his tractor and attached post-hole digger), so that we could erect the six posts to make our chicken enclosure to protect them from marauding foxes. On the north side of the chicken enclosure, I laid out 4"x4" lumber that our handyman had cut into a large number of 4-foot, 6-foot and other lengths, to form a series of about 30 beds of various sizes and shapes. My husband and I then used bolts to attach the lumber. That was all we managed to do before the ground froze in 2012.

The new layout, before paths mulched, beds filled or
drainage trench dug along left and front sides.
In May of this year, after the stress fracture in my right leg healed and I was able to work in the garden again, I mulched the paths between the beds (it took about four pickup truck loads of free mulch from the local landfill) and filled the beds with a little dirt and mostly with compost (also from the landfill, three truck loads). 

Also, after consulting with a field tiling expert about the waterlogging, who would have charged me at least a $1,000 to dig a swale or a tiled trench, I decided to dig a shallow trench myself and put plastic tile tubing and gravel in there. I dug a 90-foot long trench along the west and north sides of the garden, about one foot deep and one foot wide, putting the dirt in some of the garden beds. Then I laid tile (perforated drainage tubing) from the home improvement store (only about $25 for a 100-foot long tube) and bagged gravel (about 100 bags at a total cost of about $200). This was a lot of work, but it seems to be working fairly well, essentially raising the entire level of the garden by a foot so that the water no longer pools there.

It was June by the time the garden was completely ready to be planted, but even though we didn't get most of the vegetables planted until mid-June, we still had a very nice harvest. Below is a closeup detail of the layout of the garden:

Just above (north of) the chicken enclosure is a wood bench with climbing roses 'New Dawn' planted on either side (along with some self-seeded sunflowers this year). The six large beds had large-area vegetables such as corn, potatoes, squash and watermelons, as well as perennial asparagus and a gooseberry bush in the lower left bed. The annual vegetables will be rotated among the beds each year.

The next tier up of eight smaller rectangles will be used for strawberries, and our two children each had a bed for flowers or whatever they wanted to grow. And a few beds were used for zucchini, okra, Brussels sprouts, cabbages (which did especially well) and leeks.

The third tier, which consists of two ornamental-shaped bed layouts, were used for tomatoes and peppers on the right, and carrots, celery, spinach, kale and eggplants on the left.

And the highest tier of eight rectangular beds, at the entrance to the garden, were reserved for my cutting flowers. I can never make myself cut flowers for inside the house if I have to cut them from a bed near the house, so I planted these beds with annuals and perennials for cutting. I grew iris, tulips, zinnia, bachelor buttons, cosmos, love-in-a-mist, dahlias, phlox, mums, ox-eye and shasta daisies, wallflowers, carnations, delphiniums, larkspur, snapdragons, achillea, painted daisies, gaillardia, coreopsis and brown-eyed susans. I'll decide which flowers I like cutting the most and plant more of them next year, and may move some of the perennials that don't cut as well.
Cutting flower beds.

Late summer, taken from the garden entrance.

We need to put more mulch on the paths and perhaps a bit more compost in the beds next year, but all in all, I think the garden turned out quite successfully in its first year, despite the 2013 drought. Even my husband admitted that the new garden was much easier to maintain than the old row-planted garden: the mulched paths allow access even after heavy rain, the 4"x4" lumber is comfortable to kneel upon while planting and weeding, and the outlined beds reduce the area that weeds can take over. This was perhaps our best improvement of 2013.

My next post will cover the final main garden improvement of 2013, the North Border.

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