My garden plans changed a little over the course of the last week.
I was making slow but steady progress, using the longer days to work outside after coming home from my job. I’d greet the dogs, deposit the mail, my purse and lunchbox on the counter, grab my tote and head for the backyard. First, an all-over spray with good, “deep woods” style mosquito repellent. Then more of the same ingredients, but in an oil, rubbed onto face, ears and scalp. Then, to work! One shovelful at a time, I’d turn over the soil, then drop to my knees. I’d pull the grass and rake out the long roots with my fingers, tossing them into the five-gallon bucket that followed along with me.
When the bucket was full, I’d dump it into the wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow was full – after two or three bucket-loads – I’d wheel it to the front of the property, where I am slowly building a woodland garden among the trees near the road. At this time, it looks like mounds of windfall branches, grass-clippings, leaves and weeds, plus the rotting boards from my old shed hidden in the low areas…but eventually, it will be lovely: finally smoothed out, covered with wood chips, and planted with spring flowering bulbs. Then, I’ll have to find another place to dump my yard waste!
On the way back down the driveway, I stop near the garden shed and dismantle a bail of straw. I found I cannot lift a whole, wet bail, and the tires of the wheelbarrow won’t support that weight, either. So, one half bail at a time, I bring straw to the garden, to mulch around the plants and the paths between the rows.
Some evenings, I’d get enough digging done to go over it with the rake, and plant seeds. I am alternating, this year: thirty-six-inch wide beds for mass plantings; 18-inch beds for plants in rows. Every bed is twelve foot long, and divided from the next by a twelve inch pathway. I’ve had wider paths…and there are advantages…but this year I am trying to eliminate weeding by leaving few open areas.
At the front, there is a narrow bed planted with butternut squash. A narrow pathway separates it from the next, wide bed, which is planted all over with peas, four inches apart in every direction. I accomplished that by laying my muffin tin into the freshly raked soil, and pressing it down to leave an impression. I repeated that all the way through the 36-inch by 12 foot bed. I then dropped a pea seed into every other depression, all the way across the surface.
I did the same thing near the back of the garden, in the bed for beans. Bush beans – planted in muffin-tin spacing – take up the first third of the bed; pole beans, planted against the back to grow up the fence, and around a tepee there, take up the back third. Radishes are scattered in the sheltered space inside the tepee; cucumbers and marigolds take up the rest of the bed.
A narrow bed – against what will be the back wall of the garden – has zucchini and two other types of summer squash. Two other narrow beds were planted with tomatoes: one row of a beefsteak type; one row of Italian plum tomatoes. One old automobile tire sits at the back of the walkway, filled with dirt and one pumpkin plant.
That’s where I was at last week. I had two wide beds yet to dig, rake and plant: one with lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard; one with kale and Chinese cabbage. One narrow row was left, for carrots and turnips. More than half of my pile of straw still had to be moved, and arranged around the garden to keep the weeds out. A dozen marigold plants still waited, under the shade of the cherry tree, to be tucked in around the garden to fill in and brighten it up.
Then…because things rarely go according to plan in my world…things started going awry. First, my back went out. Work continued, but slower, and with a lot more groaning. Then one night, exhausted from digging and raking and hauling, and distracted by ripe strawberries on my vines, I left my garden tote outside. That night, it rained. Hard. On my pruning snips, measuring tape, scissors, twine, muffin tin…and all of my seeds. Good, for the plants and seeds already in the ground; ruination for the rest.
Having come this far, I was not about to quit. It was getting almost too far into the season for salad greens, anyway; they should have been planted weeks ago. It was getting too late for most seeds, in fact, with our short growing season up here in northern Michigan. The few remaining annual and vegetable plants in the garden section of the hardware were put on sale, 40% off. I’d improvise! I bought twelve more tomato plants, six “Early Girl” and six yellow ($1.97 for six!). I picked up three acorn squash plants, and one more pumpkin. One narrow bed for tomatoes, one wide bed for tomatoes sharing space with a pumpkin vine, and one wide bed for acorn squash. I tucked the marigolds in where they’d look pretty, and called it done.
Except for the straw. And the fencing. And the cleanup. And then, of course, if all goes well, I’ll be complaining in the fall about the work involved in preserving the harvest from twenty-four tomato plants. For the moment, though, I just want to bask in the success of finally having the garden planted!