A new vegetable garden is a great responsibility. Novices think, “It would be fun to grow our own food,” the same way they think of getting a puppy. A friend of mine, a grad student, adopted a Doberman pup last year. Her partner spends weeks at a time away working on Great Lakes freighters. Maybe a dog seemed like an answer to loneliness. Be forewarned: when you have to spend long hours at the lab, at least a garden will not piddle and wail until the neighbours complain. A few weeks after the adoption, my friend’s landlord told her to find new digs.
Parenting is no easier. However, every new parent has some experience at least from a child’s point of view: what to do, what not to do. We probably have some instinctive skills, too. Most people realize if you leave children alone locked in a cage for hours, they will languish.
Many adults, otherwise conscientious, fail to translate this intelligence to animals or plants. I admit negligence with respect to houseplants. Fortunately, A well-designed garden requires minimal attention. Xeriscaping is one example of landscaping that requires few inputs.
Likewise, permaculture seeks a sustainable habitat in which food grows. It cycles renewable resources within the system, exhausting none and requiring none from outside. The hard work involves managing them. This is where the responsibility comes in. Especially while seedlings are becoming established, I must coddle the garden like a baby.
I have employed a lazy man’s version of permaculture. This spring is my first in this backyard. I’ve imported quantities of sheep and chicken manure, straw, and cardboard. The spring has been so dry, I have had to use city water practically every day to get seeds started. We recently purchased a rain barrel, but still need an adapter to hook it up. A more authentic approach would have relied entirely on fertilizer from the worm chalet and raised chickens; only rainwater would be applied.
So maybe I cheated, but once the garden is established it will require low maitenance. Most importantly, I have concentrated on developing the soil. It is an organism, a miniature cosmos, not an inert substrate that consumes nutrients and spits out produce.
Almost everything planted so far this spring is thriving. The herbs and tomatoes seeded indoors on April 7 are sprouting enthusiastically. Only the lovage and Purple Beauty peppers have unaccountably failed to appear. The cold weather crops sown outdoors five weeks ago were delayed by the return of winter. However, most have finally made a good showing. Seedlings have appeared from the peas and spinach sown on March 27. So have lettuce, arugula, bunching onions, borage and dill sown April 7 and 8. Only the radishes and chard have germinated poorly. There is no sign of parsley yet, but that is expected to be slow (same with the seed potatoes). On April 29 I sowed more Bloomsdale spinach and Mammoth Melting snow peas.
However, I have one grave misgiving. A groundhog is living under the shed. It has already grazed the primroses I planted. So far the seedlings are not large enough to attract any attention, but I am afraid they will soon come to grief. I have not had time or funds to build a proper fence. I will try sprinkling epsom salts or placing ammonia-drenched rags around the tender morsels. In the worst case scenario, I will be limited to growing peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and bitter herbs. I have always hated groundhogs, but this is where I must consider whether to fight the circumstance or work within its limitations.