I think about you.
You who have never gardened.
You who have tried and failed.
You who have gone big and really need to see the beauty in small.
I think about the Indiana farm boy I recently met who said the only thing that grows in Homer are potatoes. Good grief.
I have been attempting to inspire you since 1990. Now, people, now is the year that you garden. That you successfully raise a vegetable garden that contains enough salad to see you through the season. Enough broccoli, greens, onions, and yes, potatoes, to fill out your dinner. Not enough for a third world country. Enough for dinner through the growing season, let’s say the end of June to the end of September. You can do this.
To quote Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:“The world is on fire,” and we here in Homer are at the end of the road — where we have chosen to be. There are so many “what ifs” that accompany our location — natural and manmade disasters. That slim ribbon of road that so wants to join the Inlet. Think about this. You are here because you want to be. Now make the most of it.
At your first free moment you will go outside and really look at your property no matter the size. Look at it. Note where the snow has drifted or blown away entirely. As the days get longer note the area with the most sun. Be looking for where you will locate your vegetable patch. As close to the kitchen as you can get. Close to a water source. Close to the compost pile that you WILL have.
Leave greenhouses to fanatics. The Homer Farmers Market is where you will support locally grown produce that is out of your ken. Tomatoes? Celery? Cantaloupe? Farmers Market. You will be growing what wants to grow here with ease. The list is impressive, keep yours short.
We have absolutely gorgeous plant nurseries here in Homer and the surrounding area. The owners have their ear to the ground and really and truly know what grows here with the least amount of hassle. Listen to them. Buy your strong, healthy, flourishing seedlings from them. Leave seed starting to those of us who need to.
In the meantime, make a list of what you want to eat. Really. This will save you time and energy when the actual planting happens which is usually around Memorial Day. You have plenty of time. Look at what you are purchasing at our local grocery stores, keep a log.
What I eat can be quite different from you. I can give you ideas but you will need to fine tune to your needs. For instance, I think I am the only gardener in the world who does not plant arugula. John does not like it, so I just skip it. Nor will he eat beets, but I do and plant just enough to see me through the winter. Beets are more important to me than arugula. Get the idea?
Forever people the world over have gardened. It isn’t a mystery, it’s a fact of life. Here in the Far North it takes a bit more gumption. If you keep it small you can find success. I see huge garden layouts and pity the gardener. Why are you doing this to yourself? Reel in the dream, make a fenced in area that is reasonable.
I understand that with our fire danger increasing each year we need to maintain a defensible space but that isn’t what needs to be fenced. Keep your food and lovelies within the confines of a simple fence, secure from marauding moose. Once you get the hang of it you can expand your ambitions. But get the hang of it first.
Start gathering materials for a raised bed. We use rough cut lumber that has lasted 15 years and more. They are only three feet wide because I’m not very tall and the suggested four foot width is too much for me. Three feet suits me just fine. The beds are 12 feet long. You can model after this or make them any size that suits you. Mine are structured because I need order in my life. I like straight lines. I like to be able to run the trimmer along the edges and not take out the produce. I like to be able to kneel and weed. There are those of you who have beds that are waist high — whatever it takes to get you to garden.
My beds are open on the bottom, no landscape fabric. Yes there are weeds and yes I bend over and pull them out. That’s where 20+ years of yoga has gotten me, I can still bend. Be thinking about how much time you have for chores like weeding and watering. These are necessary exercises but really, only take a matter of minutes a day sometimes not even every day.
If you are a busy parent and think this is an excuse to not garden, think again. It is all the more reason to garden. To feed those growing bodies truly fresh food that you know where it’s coming from. No trucks. No airplanes. No container ships. Your garden that is right outside your door. Or on your deck in containers. See where this is going? There are more reasons to do this than not.
Think about mixing your plantings. A friend wants to build hardscaping in her front yard. It is not all that ideal of a location, being on the north side of the house but there are plants that will thrive. Not only does she want the area to be lovely but she would also like to harvest a salad, vegetables for dinner, flowers for the table — all in one area. What a great idea. We can even sneak in a container with strawberries (containerized so they won’t take over). The raspberries will form a hedge between her and the neighbors and both parties can make a communal harvest — how nice is that? Artichokes among the delphiniums? Why not?
You don’t need a rototiller. Salvage cardboard from the recycling center, lay it over the grass, water thoroughly, shovel dirt over it and get planting.
I want you to garden. I want you to be able to address this one important issue in your life where you can have a semblance of control. Where you can listen to your children natter; where you can hear the sandhill cranes coming and going; where you can find peace in a “world on fire.”
Rosemary Fitzpatrick has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.