The Garden

Posted on: March 28, 2010

by Deborah in the UP

The garden was approximately 50’ from the barn, and was cleared to a 150’ x 150’ area, the actual working garden was 100’x100’. We cut posts from logs to outline the garden and sunk them deep, leaving the posts approximately 4 feet high. Then we strung several rows of wire that would be electrified by a garden solar charger. The charge sent out a pulse, and for the most part it worked, but not as well as I had hoped. The ground was also very uneven around the edges along the fence line, and I found that those pesky raccoons could get under at certain spots. The wire also was prone to ’shorting out’ when grass too close, touching it, or a branch fell on it. I walked the perimeter every two days, clearing debris. But all this didn’t happen until the second summer. There was way too much to do first that was more important than gardening, but the garden was never far from my thoughts.

Before we had left downstate, we both took Master Gardening classes knowing our own production would eventually be our main food source, at least that was the idea. I had high hopes of fertile ground, but still did the recommended soil sampling in the spring. Of course our Spring still meant feet of snow on the ground! The attached picture is me taking that first soil sample, which turned out to be that we had very poor soil for growing vegetables. Lots of fertilizer and even more lime was added every year, just to grow a few crops. Watering was the major issue.

Cistern Watering
When I planted that first garden, I was hauling buckets of water from the house with the garden tractor and cart. A very slow process. One evening over cocktails, we hit upon a solution: the barn. We built an 8×8 platform, 10 feet high behind the barn, out of all natural materials: cut trees. We purchased a 300 gallon cattle watering tank and set it on the platform. Pete then ran gutters along one side of the barn roof and down-spouted into the tank. I almost never ran out of water for the garden after that. I had wanted to attach PVC pipe to the new cistern to get the water flow to the edge of the garden high up, at which point a hose could be attached. Since the garden was up hill from the cistern it made sense to me to keep the water line high for the sake of gravity… however.. Pete disagreed and I was limited to the hose attached directly to the cistern spigot. The gravity feed was barely acceptable, but better than hauling water from the house. Over the course of the first two years, I saved enough empty plastic bottles to begin my ‘draught watering’ system. Cutting the bottom out of the 2 liter bottles, I then buried the bottle, neck down about 1/3 deep, right next to a new plant, or in the center of a hill of seeds. By filling the bottle, the water went right to the roots where needed, and wasn’t lost on the surface. Much less water was required to keep everything flourishing. I planted plenty of tomatoes, peppers, beets, carrots, cucumbers, squash, both summer and winter, rows and rows of potatoes, and corn. That garden did remarkably well. Then we added strawberries and asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and horseradish…. Stuff that would grow on its own.

I was really delighted with my first crop! I had three bushels of potatoes when I was done drying them on the front porch. They kept remarkably well in wicker baskets, on the bottom shelf in the basement pantry. What wasn’t eaten by the next summer, was replanted. I dried the hominy corn, then hulled it into a wide basket and tossed, letting the wind winnow it, just like days of old. It never ceases to amaze me how good corn bread tastes from home grown, fresh ground corn.

Next to the potatoes, were the winter squash baskets, filled with acorn, pumpkin, butternut and spaghetti squashes. Summer squash had long since been canned and the jars lined up like ready soldiers, next to the countless jars of tomatoes, beans, greens, carrots, spiced beets and pickles. I was in heaven.. This was my destiny.

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