Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weeds, Bugs, Snot... and a little bit of spinach.

I did a lot of daydreaming about our garden here when we first moved in. It involved lush, gorgeous plants, rich, nearly-black soil, and no weeds or bugs to speak of.

I'm not sure what I was thinking.

A little bit of mountain-gardening reality: we grow everything bigger up here. Except plants that produce vegetables.

The weeds are amazing. Their roots run a foot or more deep into the ground, they grow at a rate of six inches per day, and they spread like wild fire. And they're not just normal weeds, either - each one is dangerous in it's own way. There are goat-heads, which produce nasty thorns with spikes sharp enough to pop a tire, there are thistles that manage to prick me even through leather gloves, and there is something out there - I've yet to identify it - that causes an itchy red rash if it touches skin.

And then there are all the bugs! I always sort of thought the first year or two gardening in a new place, you got a 'bye' from the bugs. You know, because they hadn't found all your delectable goodies yet. But no, apparently that's just a rule in the city. These bugs know what they're looking for. Cabbage worms, flea beetles, japanese beetles, cutworms, ants so adept at climbing that they can make it inside of muck boots in no time at all. You name it, we seem to have it. And in addition to the bugs that are enjoying the feast I have planted for them, there are the flying, stinging variety too. I've never seen wasps as big as the ones we have up here. As big as the one that stung me in the armpit last week. (Yes, the armpit. It takes a certain amount of talent to get stung in the armpit. Clearly, I'm one talented lady.)

I'm not sure why I thought it would be, but the soil here is no different from our soil in The Big City - thick clay that turns to snot every time you water, then turns to cement when it dries out. Neither snot nor cement are considered ideal planting mediums for seeds, and sprouting is random and sparse. This also means tilling is a heckuva job for The Man of My Dreams, because sadly, using a jackhammer isn't an option when trying to turn over dirt for a vegetable garden. He's managed to get three beds worked up, and I'm afraid that might be it this year. So I've got something like 750 square feet of garden beds to work with right now. Early in the season I was disappointed at this.

In fact, The Man of My Dreams (who is the most logical, realistic man I've ever met) told me, "I think you need to start small." Hmph, I thought, start small? Phooey. I want all 10,000 square feet tilled this year, and I'm gonna plant every last inch of it, darnit! But once again, he's been proven right. Spending an hour out in the garden every evening, I'm barely keeping up with the bindweed that's climbing my onions, the alfalfa that refuses to grow in our pasture but is quite prolific in the garden, and all the dangerous plants threatening to fill my garden soil with pokey, prickly bits if I don't get them pulled right now.

At some point, I was starting to feel a little down about all of this. Okay, no, that's an understatement. I declared, "I am a gardening failure. We will never again eat fresh vegetables. Gardening in the mountains is impossible, and I am giving up."

But them I remembered: even in my little 300 square foot garden in The Big City, it took three or four years for the soil and I to get to know each other and build a real relationship and be able to work together. And the soil in The Tiny Little Town doesn't care how well I knew the soil back in the city, it expects me to start from scratch, introduce myself, and we will slowly get to know each other. That's how soil is. It likes to take things slow.

So I'm letting it go. I'll plant things. Some will come up, some won't. I'll give the soil as much enrichment as I can (which is easy to do with farm animals that produce inordinate amounts of poo.) We'll eat some fresh veggies, and what I can't grow, I can buy. (I like to pretend there is no grocery store to run to when we are hungry. It makes me feel more like a pioneer. But there is, and this year I'm grateful for it.) We may not have freezers full of blanched and frozen garden veggies to feast on all winter, but that's just gonna have to be okay.

I'll learn a lot this year. I'll make notes on how to do things differently next year. I'll fight the weeds and maybe have fewer to contend with in the future. We'll harvest what we can. And I won't stress, because this garden is simply not going to be as lush and beautiful as my garden in the city... at least, not yet.

 And if nothing else, at least we will have spinach.

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