Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stone Soup

So in my free time this year, I've taken on a new hobby--gardening. I admit, part of my motivation for creating a garden is the dumbfounded looks I get from shareholders and friends when I say that when not farming, I garden. But really, my gardening project was mainly a Southerner's rebellion against the constraints of a Northern CSA farm. In April, I was appalled to discover that we don't grow eggplants, watermelons, cauliflower, or sweet potatoes, all of which I consider practically food groups in their own right. Because I have a strange farmer complex, in which I can't fathom purchasing produce which I might instead be able to grow myself, I immediately began adopting a bad British accent and querrrying Don, "might I have a bit of earth?" I think he missed my Secret Garden reference, but he did spade up a patch of sod down near the cabins and he invited me to do with it as I saw fit.

All eagerness and anticipation, I raced down to view my domain. There I encounteredmy first challenge: rocks. New England is notoriously rocky (Andrew informs me that the early settlers honestly feared that the land was cursed, as every winter's frost heave brought new stones to the surface), but my plot was almost absurd in its stoniness. As I hunkered down and began pulling rocks, I began to fear that there might be nothing left once I had cleared my field. What little soil thinly coated the rocks was mostly the sandy runoff from the nearby stream. I knew that my land would drain well, but I feared that my crops would be starved for nutrients in such poor conditions. While my seeds grew into transplants in the greenhouse, I passed my weekends carrying bucket after bucket of rocks to the growing pile at one corner of my garden. Once the ratio of soil to stones had shifted in my favor, Don brought down a huge load of compost and spaded it into my field. My soil was still a far cry from the nearby beds in which I spend most of my time, but I finally felt like a plant might not die immediately if subjected to life in my garden. Besides, I was beginning to find earthworms, which I took to be a hopeful sign.

The second major challenge of my garden is the quantity of sun it receives. This summer has been unusually wet and overcast (undeserving of the name "summer," if you ask me) and to make matters worse, my garden only receives direct sunlight for part of the day. I ordered eggplant and watermelon varieties which claimed to be suited for Northern growing, but decided not to take any chances. After measuring out beds, digging pathways, and raking everything flat, I laid black plastic for my eggplants and watermelon to heat the soil. I also opted to cover all of my transplants with row cover, both to deter pests and to hold in extra heat at night. Finally, after what seemed like endless preparations, I put my plants into the ground. (Sadly, the sweet potatoes were not to be, as I was never able to find affordable slips--a.k.a. baby sweet potato plants--anywhere nearby)

As my transplanting drew to a close, I discovered an unanticipated problem; I had more land than I had plants to fill it. Well, I might have been able to fill it with eggplants, but even I wouldn't know what to do if all 22 of my plants started bearing fruit. I decided to give away my surplus eggplants and fill my extra space with extra flower transplants that had been languishing outside the greenhouse. I filled the end of my garden with flowers: gazanias, black eyed susans, statice, and several husk cherry plants. I mowed the clearing to remove slug habitat (all of the rain in June and now July has turned Caretaker into escargot heaven), and then stopped to marvel at how rocky, sandy soil in the midst of a grassy meadow had become my tiny garden.

1 comment:

jess on the farm said...

Wow! How do you find time to garden -- isn't the internship at Caretaker a 70 hour/week gig?

I have been following your blog (I'm working on a farm off the opposite coast on San Juan Island) and have been considering an apprenticeship either at Caretaker or another of the NE Craft farms like Brookfield. Any insights about the pro/cons of different farms in the area would be appreciated. I'm looking for a diversified farm of at least 100 acres, preferably with a large-ish CSA (more than 100) and some kind of value-added production (bakery, cheese, canning, etc)