Monday, February 10, 2014

Catching up with Granddad

When I was a little girl, I remember visiting my grandfather's farm. He had several acres of land in Muncie, Indiana. In my fondest memories he was in his late eighties. In my mind's eye, it had to have been at least three productive acres. He had fields of flowers, rows upon rows of vegetables, and five beehives. We played under a weeping willow and ate fruit from the apple, pawpaw and pear trees. He had an irrigation pond, a greenhouse and a windmill that powered the well pump. We drank water at the well pump tank from a dried gourd. Going to granddad's in the summer meant playing outside, catching tadpoles, picking berries and rhubarb, and eating fresh honey. I don't know how he did it all, especially in his later years, but he did. Granddad lived there until he was 93.

Fast forward thirty years, and I have five children; four still at home. I worked two jobs and took online college classes. Dreams of a home garden were distant sweet memories. In the spring of 2009 I decided to start a garden anyway. It was a small one, but it was something. I had just finished reading a book called Square Foot Gardening, and it inspired me. I could have something with just a small space. There were several suggestions that made sense to me, especially with such a hectic schedule. The following were the first recommendations I implemented in my garden:

  1. Plant close to the house for easier access. The farther away the garden is from the house, the easier it is to ignore.
  2. Plant in containers or raised beds. Raised beds do not get compacted because you do not walk on the soil. Containers can be moved. Both are more easily kept weed free.
  3. Start with a good soil mix. Spend a little extra to make a really good mix. You will definitely get a better harvest.

There were a lot more recommendations, but these were the steps I knew I could easily implement in my first year. I started with three 4' x 4' raised beds. Without knowing much else about gardening, I was able to harvest a good number of tomatoes, many zucchini, and even some ears of corn. I was so excited about the results from my meager efforts, I added four more raised beds the next spring. I planted the vegetables I knew we would consume the most. I added lettuce, carrots and potatoes.

In my third year, I tried composting. Replenishing the soil is the most important step after harvest. I tried to maintain a compost pile, but found myself ignoring it more often than not. I still have the bins and put the dried leaves and grass clippings in them. I will need a little more discipline adding kitchen scraps and turning the piles on those 100 degree days before I master the process. In the meantime, I have ventured into finding out more about other gardening methods: aquaponics, native landscaping, edible landscaping and something called “Mittleider Gardening.” It reminds me of aquaponics but uses soil instead of water minus the fish tank.


I find that my garden plans are evolving. Eventually I would like to have the whole of my yard converted to edible plants using native landscaping with a permaculture design as the foundation. I have a long way to go before I figure out exactly what that means. I do know that I cannot do it all at once. I do know that whatever I do must be accomplished one step at a time. A growing success here, a loss there, and learning a little more each time. I will eventually find a successful combination to create a small area of success. I will then move on to another area, and then another. My expectation is that my quarter acre lot will be filled with more success stories than failures. I don't have five acres, but one day I may have something similar to what Granddad had, and my grandchildren can play and eat in the garden all day, too.

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

Good ideas about how my wife and I might proceed, seed by seed, with experimenting with our plots in the Pacific Community Garden. And such good memories shared. Thanks much, Alice.