Friday, May 15, 2009

The Garden

Since moving here to Virginia, aside from my family, I have missed my boysenberry pie the most. It has always been my favorite pie in the whole wide world and instead of birthday cake, I would have birthday boysenberry pie. Now, when we go to California during the summer, their are three things we must have; boysenberry pie, authentic Chinese food, and Jamba Juice! We ask for nothing more.

Over the last five years, I have been on the hunt for boysenberry in any form- pies, jam, and plants all to no avail. I got weird looks and big "huh's?" I would run across a jar of jam here and there, but never anything in large quantities. Every once in a while I would run into another Californian and they were the only ones that understood my plight.

Well, a couple of years ago I decided that I would grow my own boysenberries and so last year, I was able to negotiate some land out of my husband (he is very sensitive about his landscaping) and so we ordered about eight bare root plants. I gave two to my friend, Betsy.
One died when she went away for a weekend and the other was "murderized" by her goat, Lucy (she ate it). I was left with four that I "nursed " in clay pots for most of the summer.

One day last spring 2008, I was sitting on the deck reading my bible. After some reading in Deuteronomy, the Lord impressed upon me that we were to grow a full garden. My immediate reaction was, "Lord, whatever for? I think these boysenberries will be enough work, plus I homeschool, Lord..need I remind you" Well, the Lord gave me a scripture as a reply to my "protest." And so, I had to go back to my darling husband and "break the news to him." He looked at me like I had lost my mind, but I assured him, it was not me asking it was the Lord. I showed him the scripture.
"Okaaaay, and just where are we going to put this?" He asked.

"Right in the same space as the boysenberries." I replied.

"And just when are we supposed to do this?"

"This we start right now." I said kind of meekly.

Mark had no response other than a big sigh and a low "okay." Mark was busy with the side business and had no extra spare time to give to a new project so this was not exactly welcomed news. But he is an awesome man of God and always wants to walk in obedience with the Lord when He lays something on our hearts.

Our journey with this garden has been a very spiritual one. It has been very comical and fun but at times very frustrating too. I won't go into that detail unless asked specifically because I really want to impart our pearls of "do's and dont's" so that you don't have your "Aha!" moments after the fact like we did.

First, the best book you can get and the only one worth buying is "The All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew (top picture). After you get the book, read it before you begin OR trust me when I confirm the following.
  1. Do not go wider than 4 feet. If you want a bigger box, go LONG i.e. 4X8, 4X10, 4X12 (if you have the space. We didn't read the book first and although our boxes came out awesome, it really is not that easy to reach into the box to tend to the plants. This is especially important if you like vegetables that climb...and yes, vertical is better.

  2. Because we did not read the book first, three of our "trellises" are going to have to have a ten foot piece of conduit across the top. :oP (Mark said two 5' pieces would be best to eliminate sagging).
  3. Plant your vining/climbing vegetables in the 4' row rather than the longer column because you will end up with the problem in #2 above.
  4. Start collecting the "silica" packets from your new shoe boxes, vitamin bottles, etc. to put them in your jar of seeds that you plan to keep. These will keep your seeds dry while they are in storage in your refrigerator. You can also ask your florist for some "flower desiccant" or maybe your pharmacist will sell you some. You can buy it and here
    is the site I found that sells it in smaller quantities than most.

  5. Do start small if you are unsure. We built our boxes with the "go big or go home" thinking, and we got a little overwhelmed during the process. However, that said, we felt compelled to do this out of obedience.

  6. Bugs will have a feast in your garden, but they can be eliminated or majorly reduced
    by planting in random squares plants with a strong scent such as marigolds, spearmint, peppermint, onions, garlic, etc. I have even planted a couple of citronella plants. I planted them in the squares that are difficult to reach. These plants will just grow and will not need to be harvested. If you do this, you won't need pesticides. Also, take a 4" clay pot and bury it half way down in the corner of your box to attract toads - they will help with your bug problem. I learned this a few many other things from my friend Betsy who is a master gardener and has been doing this for years.

  7. Betsy also told me that if you plant strawberries (and I did) the first year you want to pinch of the flowers and not grow strawberries. If you are willing to do this, the following year you will have the yummiest and hardiest strawberries.

  8. I have read (and Betsy confirmed) that horse manure (aged compost) is really the best. I have also heard from several other sources that if you go on craigslist you will find farmers that will let you take it/buy it. I have not tried this because I get mine from Betsy.
  9. Do try and use the Mel's Mix for your boxes. We did not because we were in a hurry to
    get the boxes filled (my seeds were at their limit in the vermiculite) AND we could not
    find coarse grade vermiculite in large quantities.

  10. We used mason line (as thick as clothes line) and eye hooks to construct our square foot grids and you can see them in our slide show.
  11. As far as seeds are concerned, I would venture out of the familiar (hybrids) and try some heirloom seeds. I have a few links for those, but please know that I have not yet bought from any of these companies, and I am in no way shape or form endorsing them, nor am I discounting them either. As any wise person would say shop online with "caveat emptor" in mind. Here they are:

There is an article about heirloom seeds that may be of interest to you about the "why" of
heirloom seeds.

Okay, so I think I am done with my "pearls of wisdom." Keep checking back though because I might have forgotten something in which case I will add it later.

I hope you have as much fun with your boxes as I am having with mine. Mark is enjoying watching it grow. He and Matthew did the most labor intensive part and that was building the boxes and filling them. And yes, we did use scrap lumber. We found a place in Ashland (Betsy recommended to us) and the lumber was dirt cheap. We got unfinished, untreated, hardwood. But because we went "BIG" we had to get four pieces from Home Depot, which wasn't as cheap as Falling Creek lumber.

And finally, take a look at Mel's website. You will get a lot of great ideas from different
gardeners who have not gone the traditional route in constructing their boxes and they came out great.

We are now going to make our trellises and our cage tops and we will make a "Part II" slide show when things really get growing.

Have an awesome time building and growing. You can do it! If you want to ask some questions, just email me. I am no expert, but I can tell you what I learned.

May your land be blessed by the Lord with the precious gift of dew from the heaven and water from beneath the earth; with the rich fruit that grows in the sun, and the rich harvest produced each month; with the finest crops of the ancient mountains, and the abundance from the everlasting hills; Deut. 33:13-15

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