May and June in northern Vermont are still pretty cold. The temperatures were in the mid-fifties today, and while we’ve had a few stretches of days in the high 70’s and even a day or two in the 80’s, it’s not exactly summer yet.
It’s my third summer living here, but I still think of myself as a new gardener. I look up each vegetable on YouTube before I plant, researching the correct spacing for the rows and wishing I could have a private gardening tutor come and show me the right way to do everything. I can only call my mom so many times. I have a special app on my phone that tells me what I’m supposed to do with each vegetable that’s planted in my garden and sends me littler reminders, and I keep a special gardening notebook, where I map everything out and keep my to do lists, and jot down the dates of when things sprout, bloom, and are ready for picking.
Last year, my garden was out of control. I had heard about “square foot gardening” and I took it literally. I planted something in every single square foot of my garden: zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, strawberries, green beans, peas, asparagus carrots, spinach, cucumbers… The pumpkins and squash vines were so big and unwieldy by mid-July, I had to go out every day with clippers and prune them back. The paths between the raised beds were invisible, grown over with an indeterminate variety of tomato that just kept growing and growing. The squash was producing so much fruit I couldn’t keep up with them — eventually I yanked out them all out. Nobody in my family eats zucchini but me, and they sell perfectly delicious zucc’s at our farmers market every Thursday.
Last year, I attended a workshop and learned how to bury soaker hoses under the soil, and cover the beds with newspaper and a layer of compost to keep out the weeds. I dutifully did everything the presenter said to do, and by mid-summer a strange fugus was growing all over my garden. I couldn’t tell if the soaker hoses were working or not–and I couldn’t move them anyway if they weren’t.
This year, I’ve scaled back. I have tomatoes, green beans, sugar snap peas, and cucumbers, plus the strawberries and asparagus patches that come back every year. Also, my daughter has a fairy garden with patches of flower seeds planted in the corners around one of the sugar snap pea trellises, in a raised bed of its own. But that’s it! No out of control pumpkins, tomatoes, or squash this year. Plus, I put the soaker hoses on top.
Planting my garden each year is a lot like setting up a classroom. Seriously! I spend a lot of time thinking ahead — how will these two get along? Will this one shade out the other? What if I rearrange–switch these trellises around? How will I manage this? What will my routine be this year? How will I organize all my materials and supplies? Who can I call for help? What can I read? Is there an app for that? How will this year be better than last? What else can I learn?