Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hanging Out with the Old Guys

Insanely early on Wednesday morning, I was at the dermatology office to have a thingy removed (a hazard of a life lived largely out-of-doors). The other people waiting outside for the office to open were older guys, who all turned out to be in their early eighties. We spent time visiting while we waited.

One of my new dermatology friends had grown up in north Georgia but had lived on Lacy Street in Marietta for a little more than fifty years. All that time, he'd had a garden in the backyard. He and his wife now live in a smaller townhouse, but he still gardens. He just asks people he knows, who have sunny spaces in their yards, if he can grow a few (fill in the blank) at their homes. So far, he hasn't been turned down.

He told about a friend who had moved here from Louisiana (this was one of those "way back when" stories), who had always gardened in the black dirt there but who was skeptical about the ability of the red dirt here to support crops. My new dermatology friend went over to his yard one spring, dug out three spaces, mixed in rotted leaves, a little lime and fertilizer, and planted three tomato plants. By the end of the summer, his friend was totally surprised at how well this worked out in terms of total harvest -- "he'd never got so many tomatoes before in his life!"

This year, my dermatology friend and a grand-son-in-law, a young man who has never gardened before, are going to start a veggie garden in the young man's backyard. It sounded as though they are both really looking forward to working together on the project. The older man plans to set up raised beds using old railroad ties to contain the amended soil, because that's what he's always done. He likes for his beds to be three feet wide.

As the conversation continued, he offered some advice. He said that he waits until the end of April to plant his summer garden, claiming that plants set out earlier are slowed down by the cold soil. He thinks his late-planted garden does better than if he had planted on the last frost date, when many people plant. As another gardener who waits an extra week or so, this was very satisfying confirmation of what I've thought/experienced about planting on that last-frost date!

Later in the morning, I was at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, where we planted onions and potatoes. We are going to plant more next week, when we also plan to make seed-tapes for carrots and plant those, and probably also put in some broccoli transplants. One of our gardeners, Lee, has been growing a lot of her food for a very Long Time, and she said something that I tend to forget, but that's important.

The conversation was about which pole beans to grow. We had looked for mountain half-runner beans at Ladd's Farm Supply, but they weren't in yet when we went. Lee also grows mountain half-runners, but only from the company she called Morse (now it's Ferry Morse). She's grown the same variety from other companies, but she has found that they just aren't as good.

After years and years of seed production by one grower, a variety can develop slight genetic differences that affect its growing and food qualities. Lee thinks the beans from Morse both taste and perform better. Another gardener in another place might prefer beans from a different source, but when ordering/buying seeds, keeping track of where a favorite comes from can really help the success of a garden.

Update on my own planting: onions, potatoes, and peas are in the ground. The potatoes are Red Pontiac; the peas are both Wando (a dwarf English-type pea) and Sugar Snap (an edible-pod pea).

I've also finally started seeds indoors: Tomatoes (Rutgers, Wuhib, Cherokee Purple, Olivette Jaune), peppers (Jimmy Nardello, Czeck black, Ancho, Feherezon, Spanish Spice, Golden Greek, Sweet Chocolate), eggplants (Casper White, Black King), curly parsley, spinach (Bloomsdale), chard (Perpetual Spinach), Collards (Georgia), lettuces (Marvel of Four Seasons, Capitan, Bronze Arrow), chicory (Pan di Zucchero), and some Golden Beets. Some of these are "old reliables" and some are new this year.

Based on the number of varieties, it seems like there wouldn't be enough room in my little garden for everything, but I tend to plant just a few of each kind. This is a way to hedge my bets in the gambling world of gardening. If one crop doesn't pay off, another one surely will.

4 comments:

  1. I've been wondering about what the best row width is. I have a tendency to want to make the rows wider, so less of the garden is lost to paths, but then its harder to get into the middles. What width do you use?

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  2. Those are interesting tips. I think I planted my eggplants too early last year and it definitely stunted it's growth. I think I'll wait til it's warmer to put it in the ground. Great advice.

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  3. Owlfan,

    I mostly plant in a grid pattern without thinking of rows. Some of my raised beds are narrow enough, a little less than four feet, that I don't need paths. I can reach all the way to the middle on each side for weeding, planting, harvesting, or any other work that might need doing.

    In the beds that are odd shapes, I lay out planting areas as though there were separate beds within each and run a path of stepping stones between the planting areas. The path width depends on what I've planted.

    For example, I would leave more walking space near the tomatoes because they hang out at least a couple of feet on each side. For the onions and garlic, I didn't leave any walking space in the middle. I can reach in there pretty well with my favorite hoe, and that area pretty much gets harvested all at once. I don't really need to do much to it once it's planted.

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  4. meemsnyc,

    Getting good gardening tips is one of the many perks of starting up conversations with people older than myself.

    Finding the local folks who have gardened here for decades has been very helpful for my own gardening in Georgia. It is so very different from the Eastern Shore of Va. where I gardened before!

    That dirt pretty much pelted us with food. Here, we have to coax our crops out of the ground.

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