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Community Garden Update: 27 February 2024

I really fucked up by giving a grand total of two updates last season but let me at least try to redeem myself.

Day Zero Chores

The only reason we went to the garden at all is that both of our compost buckets had been full for a while and unloading those was a must. We obviously had to stop adding our finished compost to our parcel when the ground was frozen, and I’m a bit surprised that we were able to hold out until now. For context one of the buckets included scraps from Thanksgiving (including a turkey carcass).

Our composting method of choice is bokashi. We added probably ~4-5 buckets of finished compost while we worked the parcel last year, and we’ll continue to amend the soil this season. BUT two things I noticed while I was double digging the parcel this morning were that 1) the only fermented food scraps from last season that I could actually see were a few bones, so I’m convinced of the efficacy of this composting method wrt the speed at which the organic matter is broken down into plant-available nutrients, and 2) the soil was so soft! Last year double digging was difficult work but today running the shovel through the parcel was incredibly easy (except in a couple extra compacted areas).

This might be the last season that I double dig the entire parcel. I haven’t reached the “chocolate cake” described in Evans’ Soil, but I’m close and I feel like I’ll be there soon if I start going hands-off and stick to, at most, a little bit of lifting with a broadfork. My wife was also impressed by the number of earthworms we came across. I didn’t go counting but I think we would be close to the 10-worms-in-a-square-foot rule of thumb.

So today’s work was:

The Plan

Last year’s experiment in square foot gardening was low key disappointing. With a few crops, especially root vegetables, I did a lot better in very old fashioned rows during our first year. Adopting the square foot mindset also led to me giving up some opportunities in inter-plant. Picture basil plants with a solid half foot radius of empty space around them, or vertical climbing squash surrounded by grass. What brought us a lot more joy was embracing the chaos; making room for dill and tomato spontaneously springing up, allowing two maple trees to take root, and keeping the entire front “row” of our parcel as an area where flowers were allowed to grow from more or less randomly sown seeds. So this year expect a less thoroughly planned planting in favor of thoughtful inter-planting that just kind of goes with the flow over time.

A mistake that I made in last year’s plan was getting the way that sunlight moves across the parcel.

Satellite image highlighting the placement (southeast) and orientation (southeast to northwest) of our community garden parcel.

I ended up letting corn and sunflower shade out much shorter plants and gave entirely too much sunlight to the cucumbers, which we placed along the northern most edge of our parcel. I wasn’t too disappointed about the cucumbers because they grew well, we got a lot of them, and I love pickles. Still might not have been the best use of space. The other massive failure was my continued inability to properly support my tomato plants, leading them to topple over and produce fuck all.

So a rough outline of the plan this year is corn along the north edge where it can get plenty of sun without shading anything else out, and a row or two of tomatoes trellised with a Florida weave. Everything else at this point is very much up for debate. In addition to tomatoes, I’ve started seeds for bell peppers and will have to slot those in somewhere. Because my main goal growing vegetables is fresh and delicious salsa I’ll need to plant onions. My wife will surely demand that we again grow cucumber and squash. But this season I won’t been doing an Excel sheet garden plan, but rather starting from these few decisions about large/tall plants figure a way to find a home for other plantings that takes the peculiarities of our parcel into account, and leaves room for the kind of weird little garden accidents that made last season interesting.