Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Gardener's Pledge

Some of my earliest memories are of the gardens of my family.  I can remember traipsing through my grandfather's garden on the heels of my mother and sister with corn grown up so high I would get lost just a foot or two behind them.  I remember all of us eating baby ears of corn just picked, fresh and raw, and what a sweet taste that was.

I remember my great grandfather's garden in east Texas and how proud my great grandmother was when she showed us the towering metal cages they used to support his green pepper plants.  Plants that I now realize were amazingly tall and robust, the likes of which I have not seen since.  I remember that same trip playing in the sand near the rows of vegetables and somewhat vexing my great grandfather with my antics.  As I recall, the smoothness of the sand inspired me to pretend I was a mermaid and thus I was 'swimming' on my belly and basically getting in his way as he was tending to his garden.

My parents also garden.  Not the big vegetable gardens of my grandparents and great grandparents, but blooming plants and fruit trees and fragrant bushes and also the occasional small vegetable garden.  Many of these family gardens have been successful and many have also yielded disappointment, much like my own gardening endeavors.

What I wish is that I had been the kind of child that would have been absorbed in my great grandfather's incredible garden and have more than just minor glimpses into how he was so successful.  I wish that when I had the opportunity to observe my step-grandfather's incredible garden I had been more questioning about the why and how of it all.  I wish for more of their knowledge to bolster my own gardening progress.  I especially wish that I had found out how my great grandfather grew those enormous bell pepper plants, so robust, dark green and tall (mind you, four year old children generally don't question their elders about compost, caging and care of vegetable plants.  Not when there is such excellent sand to swim in...).

So here I am with some memories and a few insights gleaned from my family history of gardening, mostly learning from my own 25 years of mistakes and successes in organic gardening while I plan and implement this years grand organic vegetable heaven. Last year was a good year and many, if not most of the things I attempted to do in the spring garden worked well.

For example, last year with just six tomato plants I harvested 50 pounds of tomatoes in one month. That was just one months worth. The total amount of tomatoes harvested was... (looking back at last years calendar.... adding totals....) a whopping 90 pounds from just the spring/summer garden. I didn't even record the tomatoes I harvested from the fall garden.

And tomatoes were only a small part of the yield. There were cucumbers ( 65 pounds ) peppers ( 7.5 pounds from just 2 plants ) green beans ( 13 pounds ) squash ( 12 pounds ) okra ( 10 pounds ) figs ( 29 pounds ) and sweet potatoes (63 pounds). There were also lesser amounts of things like onions, cabbage, turnips, basil and lettuce.

Most of the harvest was done throughout April, May and June and then a smaller amount of things in the fall October and November. So basically I am saying that last years garden was a success in many things and could have been better in other things. I am planning for this years garden to be even better.
There is just one small troubling thing.  My current activities are forecasting my future activities. For this to all work out I have to make a commitment to the garden. A pledge if you would that will guide me and possibly others into the potential success of organic gardening.

The Organic Gardener's Pledge

1. I solemnly swear that I will plant only the things I will eat. 
(Unless of course it is something my dogs will eat, then I can also plant that. Or maybe something I think I will eat because it sounds like it would be good. Or maybe I have eaten something like it or it sounds like something I should eat.)

2. I pledge to not over-plant my garden with too many plants in too small of an area. 
(Unless of course it looks like it will fit right now when all the plants are so small and the garden area looks so empty. And of course since the plants came with three or four to a cell and what am I expected to do with the extras? Just kill them? Those poor baby plants who didn't do a thing wrong in this world except sprout? And do the instructions really mean that you have to have 36 inches between the rows? I mean, that is three whole feet and my garden beds are just seven feet long. Do they really expect me to only put in two of these in a seven foot bed? And after all there is this thing called square foot gardening which if I recall slightly, was about putting a whole bunch of plants together in a square foot area and they all do just fine and even the weeds can't grow because they are so densely packed. And after all, I don't want to limit the harvest just because I haven't planted enough. And wasn't I just skimming the Rodale's Organic Gardening book for the seven thousandth's time and dimly recalling how many plants it takes to feed a family.)

3. I pledge to water and weed my garden daily. 
(Unless of course I don't have time this morning and then I will do it this afternoon. Unless this afternoon it is too hot or I am too tired and then for sure I will water it first thing in the morning. And after all the weeds are really not a problem when they are small and I can do a whole lot in a little time, so why fuss so much every day.)

 4. I pledge to amend the soil and fertilize with fish emulsion as well as bone meal and compost as often as the garden needs it.
(Unless of course I forget to amend the soil prior to planting. And you don't actually have to amend the entire bed. Planting the plants in a deep hole in the bed you have filled with pure compost works fine. Bone meal can be sprinkled around each plant. And fish emulsion has to be made up in two or three gallon batches which then have to be portioned out to each plant - times all the plants - and maybe some of them don't actually need as much. And maybe this fish meal I just got this year will work as well or better than the fish emulsion as long as the opossums don't dig up the plants trying to get to the tasty, tasty fish emulsion.)

5. I pledge to trellis and tie back all the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to keep them from blocking pathways or shading other plants. 
(Unless I don't have time for that. And really I can just prop them up a bit for now and tie them up when I find wherever it is I hid the string. And tomatoes really are a vine that can grow along the ground and they produce fruit just fine as long as you don't mind the occasional slug bite. And once they have overgrown you practically have to perform some sort of martial arts round house kick to get them to let go of what they are currently adhered to in order to tie them to what you want them to ride up (I am talking to you cucumbers!).)

6. I pledge to harvest the produce at the peak of ripeness.
(Unless we are talking tomatoes which get pecked by birds once they turn even slightly red. And you can't always find those darn cucumbers and end up with the classic cucumber baseball bat - how did something that big hide there? And what with all the watering and weeding and tying up of things just how am I supposed to find time to harvest the beans? And if we are talking figs, between the five to 9 trees that will produce figs this year who require me to get up at the crack of dawn to beat the birds into the trees - and suffer near heart spasms from the leaping grass hoppers that station themselves in the trees - and practically hurtle myself off the ladder I need to reach the tallest branches - and the fact that figs are fragile and don't pack well so just how are you supposed to process 10 pounds of figs every single day?!!)

7. I pledge to remove spent plants and maintain the beds so that each season's crops are planted and ready to go.
(Unless I just give up around late July through September because honestly, nothing is producing. The plants are just barely hanging on with wilted sun scorched leaves and saying 'Kill me...', but I am too heat sodden to even lift a shovel their direction. Wake me when it is less than 100 degrees in the shade, you know, around November...)

And so I have taken the pledge.  I will once again hurtle headlong into the spring with garden gloves on and an optimistic outlook.  Life is good.

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