"What vegetable garden?" might be a more accurate title to this posting.
My vegetable garden this year has been very odd. Now that I have a backyard, I can have vegetables growing in it, and so I laid down two long beds in the places where they would get the most sun. Unfrotunately, I have a tall stand of trees along the west side of my backyard, most of them not on my property, so I don't get full sun aall day. But I monitored all last winter where the sun would fall optimally and laid the beds there.
Well, so much for that. In the spring, my friend Alicia and I laid down cardboard where we wanted the beds. The cardboard, you see, kills the grass and weeds underneath and eventualty breaks down when you cover it with compost, which is what we did. Rather than building raised beds with wooden frames, we chose to lay beds (mostly) flush with the ground. It is far, far easier to mow around them, and they are not likely to dry out so quickly. This made sense to me.
Then we planted: leeks, tomatoes, salad greens, peas, basil, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, and carrots. We planted pretty randomly this year, treating it as an experimental year to see what would do well. Here's the report:
1) Leeks: they are growing, but not very fast. I'm not too concerned about this because I intend to over-winter them. I will eat leeks for Christmas dinner. However, they should be further along than they are.
2) Tomatoes: I am getting some now, along with everybody else around me, but the six plants aren't producing as they might. I had grandiose visions of having enough tomatoes to can and dry and freeze, but those plans have been waylaid. The ones that I am getting are pretty fabulous.
3) Greens: pretty much a bust. They came up happy and on time in June and then decided to quit growing. Despite my best efforts to jump-start them with fish emulsion (smelly but excellent fertilizer), the salad greens have just sat there, refusing to grow.
4) Peas: I got a few. The peas did grow, and the regular soaking rains all summer seemed to help. June was perfect pea weather. The odd thing is that they came very, very late. I started harvesting in late July, a full month after people normally pick their peas. Like the greens, there seems to have been a delayed reaction.
5) Basil; holding its own. The plants I planted did relatively OK. The seeds are just now beginning to grow. What it up with that?
4) Peppers: bust. They grew a bit, but only the hot peppers ever produced a pepper. The rest of them look happy but simply have no interest in delivering a pepper.
5) Broccoli: total bust. The less said, the better.
6) Cucumbers: not a lot to say here. The plants are producing the odd cucumber here and there, but not a lot of them. The grand plans to learn how to make pickles will have to wait till next year.
7) Carrots: well, they're growing now. Fortunately, carrots are cheap, so I won't have to do without them.
Alicia has various theories as to why the garden didn't take off this year. First, the beds are slightly raised, and they may well be drying out too fast. I've been watering them very regularly, and the rain has been plentiful (though not too plentiful, like the endless deluge we had last year). We also laid straw down on everything to help hold the water, and it's helped, but obviously not enough.
The second theory is that the compost just wasn't very good quality. Soil is everything in a garden, and the soil may not be doing its job. I was pleased to see the cardboard decomposing on schedule and earthworms taking up residence, but that doesn't mean squat in and of itself. Giving all my veggies regular doses of fish emulsion helped a bit, but not enough. So the fall plan is to work a lot of manure into the soil, and I fortunately know people who have it. My acquiantance Marge runs a goat farm, and goats produce manure on a regular basis, and then one has to deal with it. I am happy to take it off Marge's hands. Well, not literally, of course, but you know what I mean. I also know friends with horses, and that means more access to manure. I hope that this will help.
The other plan is to take out a huge, overgrown lilac bush that is blocking sunlight in the backyard. Though I will miss the lilacs -- the smell is so heavenly -- there is no question that this lilac is waaaaaay too big and overgrown. MId-October, friends will come over with shovels and a chainsaw for some serious groundskeeping. (The lilac in the fornt yard also has to go, the burning bush -- an invasive species -- is saying goodbye, the honeysuckle is being moved, the rhododendron is being planted in a better place, the peonies are being dug up and divided and replanted . . . )
The odd thing is that the garden finally did decide to take off, sort of, in late July, long after all of my friends' gardens had taken off. I harvested peas in late July, my carrots are only now growing, the salad greens (what few I got) came into their own in mid-August, the basil from seed is only now starting to do anything. I don't quite understand this delayed reaction, though I'm not complaining because it means that something is going right. I just don't know what it is, quite.
Despite all this, I have high hopes and plans for next year. I really have a kind of five-year plan for the backyard, which seems to me reasonable. It does mean that the garden is not all that beautiful this year, which is fine with me, though I exepct not with everybody else. I know people, for example, who would immediately see my flowerbeds and head out to Lowe's for masses of annuals so that the garden would look nice right now. I work on the "it looks lousy now, but come back in three years" mentality. And that is the pleasure of gardening: it's not simply an issue of what's going on in the garden right now, but how what it going on now will affect what will be going on next year. I am already planning a couple more small beds so I can plant pole beans, train the peas up the poles as well, as see how I do with pumpkins. The compost pile is now officially in place and compost is going in regularly. I want more tomatoes and more varieties of them. The small patch by the house will become the official herb garden. Now all I need is the new Fedco catalog, and I can start planning next year, which of course will be better. Hope spring eternal, as do the seeds.