Experiments in photography, jewelry making, mosaics, and other artistic obsessions
15 May 2011
I Heart Macro: Morning in the Garden
Rainbow chard, Magdalena, NM, May 2011
Today's I Heart Macro post is brought to you by a perfect spring morning: sunny, warm enough to sit outside to drink my coffee and watch the cats patrol the yard, and not windy for a change. Despite our typically feisty spring winds I've been gardening like a madwoman (hence the recent lack of posts!)... I did resist the urge to put plants out last weekend because a frost was forecast (and did in fact materialize), so this weekend is planting weekend. Today is our last frost date, which means it's safe for everything to go out and for the glass covers (old windows) to come off the coldframe at night. The chard above and kale at right have been growing in the coldframe since March, and I've enjoyed several cuttings including a delicious greens-and-garlic stirfry last night. Also in the coldframe, conveniently located outside the dining room glass doors, are spinach and mixed lettuces along with basil, parsley, and fennel seedlings.
The main vegetable garden lies beyond and, with this spring's expansion, takes up almost one-third of our fairly generous backyard. This is the fourth spring I've worked on it, expanding it from one small 10-by-6-foot section to... lots more than that. In 2008, a deep spring rain brought up some old asparagus that has gradually recovered as I've tended it, and this year I was finally able to section off the half-dozen standing plants and add another two dozen that will bear tasty shoots next spring. I had also hoped to put in a strawberry garden but didn't get to the bare-root bundles in time, so that goes on next year's list. I might be able to plant those in the fall, with lots of aged manure and a thick bed of straw to help them grow roots over the winter.
One thing about gardening here is that I can't just clear some ground, put in plants, and let nature do the rest; I have to dig into and below the fine silty crust to break up the hardpan beneath (which accumulates as our heavily mineralized water settles and forms a hard sub-crust a foot or so below the surface), mix in lots of aged manure and straw (easily available here thanks to many neighbors who have horses) to create soil that doesn't turn to muck when wet, and create a series of raised beds so the first hard rain doesn't wash all this hard work into one big mess. The photo below shows an overview facing southwest, from the new summer squash bed back towards the long winter squash bed along the south fence and the woodpile along the west fence. Behind me towards the left is a bed for broccoli, onions, cucumbers, peas, and bush beans; the long beds extending from the left of the photo will be planted with tomatoes today or tomorrow, and lead towards the asparagus and tomatillo/eggplant beds (the latter one has the green Walls-o-Water, which seem to be working well).
Looking southwest across the veggie garden
Because rain is so variable (and non-existent so far this spring), I have to put everything on a drip irrigation system, which is labor-intensive up front but thanks to a timer provides automatic, measured watering. I've expanded the drip system along with the garden, adding a new section for each new bed (below is the new Pattypan squash bed, looking northeast), and along the way I've learned that drip emitters can go for a year or more before I have to clean them (individually, by hand) with vinegar whereas sprinklers and misters only work for a month or two before our hard water clogs them up. And then, to keep the soil from drying out and caking up, everything gets a thick bed of straw which, thankfully, is also easily available.
Looking northeast towards the house
I've learned these past few years that our short season (5 months at best) and cool nights do not favor tomatoes or peppers; rather than causing me to give up on these garden delights, these constraints have spurred me to figure out how to coddle these plants enough to actually harvest something before first frost. This year the peppers get a black plastic mulch and dark rocks around each plant to absorb sunlight and release the heat overnight, and the tomatoes get the black plastic along with Walls-o-Water to keep both heat and moisture around the plants. I am nothing if not determined....