Every spring I have a fling with my organic vegetable garden, after a winter that lasted too long, I put on my boots and head for my raised beds. I can’t wait to bite into my first tomato sandwich, or pick some sweet raspberries from my berry patch, but more importantly it is the gardening process that I have looked forward to every year, that process where creativity and passion meet toil and sweat. With the motivation of a basement pantry full of canned, homemade goodness that saves us an exponential amount on our groceries bills, I bravely enter my garden fully excited at the prospect of the unique, educational experience I will have this year.
Gardening has been the most rewarding, adventurous hobbies I have ever experienced and each year I have a love affair with it just when I am truly sick of being stuck indoors. In my garden I have a place to truly create a masterpiece, to plan a garden and then work your plan, seeing it come to fruition is to have a special walk with the Creator. When you think of gardening you probably just think, “Oh that seems like it will be a lot of work.” Well yes, there is work involved, but it is like a love affair, a meaningful relationship, you have to work on that love affair to gain the fruit of happiness out of it, don’t you? So it is with gardening, it is on your mind night and day until you have done the work you had in mind to do with it. The garden needs tender loving care daily to give you the rewards that are worth receiving.
I believe gardening is essential to good health, those who have not experienced gardening have a part of themselves waiting to be unearthed. So don’t be afraid, find your block of soil and grow some of your own food, gain that experience that only gardening can give! My garden changes every year as I rotate my crops every season, it has been so long now a part of my year that now it is essentially an extension of who I am. A part of me that has been lost since last fall, a part of me that is bursting to come forth just like all the new life I see around me, I must become one with the earth again!
For the past six years I have been homesteading in rural southern Virginia. The experience has been brought out the best and the worst in me. I always begin with dreams of grandeur and then I settle for what I have the time to do. The planning and work that go into having a sustainable organic garden are both mentally enriching and character building, I would not trade them for the world!
I begin the process by taking a stroll in the garden, sizing it up for all the work that needs to be done to get it ready for planting. At this point my garden beds seem to me like a blank canvas waiting for me to plan and layout my masterpiece. By now I am tired of visiting my seed and garden tool catalogs and I can hardly wait to begin digging in the soil. I make a mad dash around the yard to scrounge up all the aged compost, aged leaf mold, worm castings, goat manure and any other organic materials I can find. My mission is to get the soil at its peak before sowing my precious seeds. The beds need about a week or two to settle after you add all this organic material in them, add them, mulch well to cover that precious soil and wait to punch holes through the mulch where your little babies will live. This ensures a weed free experience, well almost weed free, you have to be always keeping those weeds in check because they have a way of getting through organic mulch in areas that are not mulched thickly enough.
It is about this time of year that gardeners feel totally in control of the gardening experience as the garden beds have been easily weeded and the garden is very manageable. Just wait until mid-June, if you haven’t had a great strategy to get rid of the weeds, then the weeds have probably won the battle at this point. This year I am very excited at the prospect of the fruits and vegetables that live side by side in my edible paradise. Broccoli, kale, lettuce and collard greens look like they should be ready to harvest anytime soon, the garlic are looking healthy in a bed their own, got to wait until late June till July to harvest garlic though. I have been harvesting asparagus for two weeks now, the strawberry plants are mulched with black plastic and have an effective irrigation system which allows them to get watered right where they need to at the roots, because of this need strategy we have never seen such beautiful plants and they are loaded with flowers. Blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry plants look like they are very promising also, so looks like I will be canning some great jellies come June, can’t wait!
Gardening in southern Virginia has been full of both its challenges, and pleasant surprises from the very first year I begun in the summer of 2006. Utilizing raised beds is a must when you have to work with red clay, I must say thanks to my husband, all that double digging has built his stamina and created a permanent area, my wonderful raised beds which I tenderly call “Don’t you dare, step in here!” areas of the garden. Stepping in the garden soil compacts it and disrupts the soil ability to breathe, so create clear paths that a wheel barrow can pass through on either sides of your beds.
Some years have been very wet while others were very dry, so you have to learn how to deal with all the issues that may develop with these climate changes. You have to become an expert on every vegetable you plant, because they all have different soil and water needs to grow them with their peak nutritional value in mind. Plants are like people, they are each unique! So check to make sure that you plant vegetables, fruits and herbs with companions which have the same nutritional needs.
In an organic garden companion planting is the most effective technique for raising diverse and healthy vegetables. I have found that growing a diverse array of vegetables, herbs and flowers, always makes me come out a winner. We must learn from the woods and forests around us, such a variety of plants coexist here side by side, and the mulch of leaves and twigs are always protecting that precious top soil! I also mulch heavily around each plant with shredded leaves and grass clippings on a layer of newspaper about four pages thick. Never leave your soil exposed is a very important rule, I don’t know about you, but where I live weeds sprout on a daily basis.
Every year I can the extra vegetables from my garden. Canning is most definitely the best use of your time as a gardener, because after all the hard work you have done, you will actually put money in your bank account with every jar of gourmet tomato sauce or dilled green beans. I always tell my friends you will never want stored bought apple sauce again after you taste a can of home-made canned apple sauce. The flavor possibilities are endless, two-years ago I composed a recipe for curried salsa which is absolutely delightful and a can of it comes in handy when I am looking for a delicious snack. You will be delighted at what a great winter kitchen pantry you can create out of some industry through your summer canning experience.
Today I planted my potatoes, it was a fun family excursion to the garden, everyone works together for a great family time of exercise and fun. I want to encourage you to take up that garden hoe and shovel and begin a garden bed that will grow you some nutritious, delicious food this year. I think this year may prove to be my most exciting year yet, so much work to do and so little time! Happy gardening!