Want to be a happy gardener? Think small

Just when I think the entire world is going to hell I make an excellent discovery: a neighbor with a vegetable garden that is exactly four feet square. Think about that for a moment, go ahead, take two.

Here is a semi-retired couple who have never gardened and buy the book on square foot gardening and actually do it. They are growing exactly what they want to eat. All will be consumed fresh. They have given this thought and are having excellent results.

How many times have you read in this column to start (and possibly stay) small? Countless. If you can’t garden by yourself or with a spouse or another member of the household then you have too much garden. It becomes a chore; a ball and chain; a conundrum; a cross to bear. You need WOOFERS; you need paid teenagers who probably don’t want to be there, but their mother told them to get a summer job and you are the hapless recipient of their intentions. Good luck.

Please, keep your garden small. You will be so happy. You will drive up to your home and be greeted by a clutch of lilies in full bloom that all but say “welcome.” What more could anyone need? Well, maybe tuber begonias. Life is to be savored.

There are those of us who love to garden so very much that we want to fill in every single square inch with plants. So be it. But for those who are new to the game or have failed at some point and are restarting, keep it small.

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The birds that we have willingly encouraged to share our garden are eating the peas as fast as possible. Golden crowned sparrows i.e. the “O, Dear Me” bird. There are eight very young birds that are so used to me in the garden that they hardly flinch when I’m out there among them. I have thrown a stiff plastic net over the peas. We don’t even remember why we have this material or where we got it but the birds are not getting tangled in it so I feel a little better about thwarting them. There really is plenty for them to eat in the natural habitat. They simply do not need my peas. Which, by the way, are supposed to be two and a half feet tall and they are at least four and a half. Go figure. Our endless daylight and unusual warmth is doing wonders for some plants.

The vegetable harvesting has begun. The Packman broccoli is rolling in, Arcadia not far behind. Here comes the Romanesco cauliflower in hot pursuit. These all freeze well and that is their destiny. There is only enough white and purple cauliflower planted to eat fresh. It gets too mushy (to my taste) after it has been frozen. Some things are just best eaten fresh.

I pulled all the garlic and have an appalling amount. Goodness. What was I thinking? There certainly will be some for next year’s seed. In the meantime, it is drying on newspapers in the basement.

The bulk of the strawberries are in the freezer. There were plenty of strawberry shortcakes when they first ripened and that coincided nicely when our daughter and her family came for two weeks. Perfect.

The raspberries are gorgeous again this year. Huge. They are moving toward the freezer and also jam jars. We use berries as our fruit all winter. Depending on the year in the rest of the world, there really isn’t much in the way of fruit during the winter. The citrus can be good looking but lack flavor. Everything else is underripe and never really becomes palatable.

Our fruit plight is answered by berries. If you don’t have any in your landscape consider planting some. They are easy but can be overbearing, that is they can take over a plot if you don’t watch them and maintain some semblance of control.

Chard, lettuce, orsach or French red spinach that I got off a seed rack two years ago is going great guns. I’m pulling potatoes and beets, just enough for a meal. Excellent.

The green cabbage is so slugged that gave up on it. The red cabbage is doing just fine, which is why I plant more of it than the green. Actually I don’t why I bother to plant green at all, the slugs love it so very much, far more than I do.

The greenhouse is a joy. We had our first BLT two days ago. What a delight. The Sungold tomato is producing enough to keep the “grands” happy and the yellow pear is adding interest to salads although I must admit it isn’t my favorite flavor-wise. The Black Japanese Trefele is glorious and, it really goes with saying, the Brandywine is luscious and the BLT go-to.

The “grands” have been devouring the Sweet Success cucumbers as fast as they come on. They are now setting a second round and I’m thankful I have a couple in the refrigerator or else we would all be having cucumber withdrawals.

The two pots of basil that got a late start have been turned into pesto and two more pots are started to accompany the tomato harvest. Joy.

With the fireweed in perfect bloom I keep thinking this is August. Not so. John and I took a fireweed tour. Yes, we have a lovely meadow right in front of us replete with fireweed but to see fast swaths of magenta is worth the time to take a drive.

I hope you do the same. Stay in touch with the life around you.

Note: The Homer Garden Club’s Gardeners Weekend is coming up this weekend. There will be garden tours and lectures by world famous garden designer Tracey DiSabato-Aust whose speciality is perennials. For a complete schedule, see last week’s Homer News or homernews.com. Have fun!

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.