Reclaiming the vegetable garden

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For much of my life, there’s been some sort of vegetable garden in the back yard. This goes back to my mother growing tomatoes and some pumpkins when I was a teenager, to the time I planted 36 tomato plants when we were first married and lived in Connecticut, to the more varied garden in the back of the first house we owned in Pennsylvania, to a few configurations in the places we’ve lived in our current town.

My ideal garden is one where everything is laid out perfectly, totally organic, with a beautiful white picket fence around it, and no weeds. And no deer, except at a respectful distance to add to that woodlands feel.

Like other cultivated land, gardens want to revert to the wild, and in this case in upstate New York it means forest. The growing season is short here for vegetables, from late May to late September, if you are lucky. Once the summer gets going it’s pretty nice though. We have a few days over 90F and some quite humid ones, but it is far more pleasant weather-wise, in my opinion, than eastern US locations farther south.

We’ve lived in this house for nine years and once before I tried to put in a serious vegetable garden on the side of the property. This was the site of a former grape arbor, as you can see in this photo from sometime before 1983. It’s a scan of a photocopy of a photo, but you can get an idea of the size of the area.

The vegetable garden

The actual arbor is long gone, though I keep finding grape vines in various parts of the yard, some quite a distance from the original location. These were probably carried there by birds and other animals, though I wouldn’t put it past the grapes to have roots hundreds of feet long, reaching under the lawn.

The garden area itself is arranged in four long rectangular quadrants with a slightly overgrown but still nice brick path down the center. In the back is a gazebo, now desperately in need of a new roof, and the two quadrants closest to it over overgrown with blackberries and volunteer trees. There’s also a nasty bushy plant that has roots that go down to Hades that seems just about impossible to dig out completely.

In addition to the brick path, the quadrants themselves are surrounded by brick edging, though the bricks are nearly completely buried. Rather than try to redo them, I’m systematically removing these outer bricks and will use them for garden edging and pathways elsewhere. They would just in the way of that future lovely white picket fence, anyway.

Here’s a shot of the garden taken a month ago in mid-March. To the right are the two quadrants closest to the house.

The vegetable garden

Here’s another shot of the area taken yesterday (and through a screen). I’m on vacation this week, so I’ve started reclaiming this area for a new vegetable garden. You can see some of the bricks I’ve pulled up. I trimmed down and dug up many of the small trees and woody foliage that had started growing in the area closest to the camera. It was a lot of work, but this was the space I used for a vegetable garden five or six years ago, so it wasn’t too terrible. (Tell that to my back and achy joints this morning.)

The vegetable garden

Here’s the same area later in the day. All the outer bricks on the left were removed and stacked on the path in the back. I’ve given the left front area a first tilling and plan to till two more times before planting the area. In between will be raking and incorporation of organic materials and supplements.

The vegetable garden

You can see the brick path in the center and it will need some weeding and cleanup. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to pulling it up brick by brick, clearing out the weeds, and replacing the bricks, but it may. That is, however, a low priority item. Keeping it mowed low will suffice for now.

I hope to get the quadrant to the right cleared out in a similar way by the end of the week, weather permitting. In addition to the usual overgrowth, there are hundreds of orange daylilies that will need to be moved or otherwise removed. I have a few spots planned for these, but I don’t plan to spend the next three days transplanting all of them. Some may  succumb to the tiller over the weekend.


One Comment

  1. Bob

    (I now have my details on auto setup on your blog, maybe not a good thing)

    Have you ever read the Roman author Pliny writing about Roman gardens?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Elder

    This post reminds me very much of that, you should check him out briefly, you would see what I mean.

    John

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