A Labor of Love

A backyard garden is, indeed, a labor of love. At this time of year the emphasis is on labor but the love is essential because there is no way that the value of the produce from a small garden will ever exceed what money you put into it. Still, there is something special about eating food you grow yourself, however little it may be.

Last summer I decided that even though there is no area in my back yard that gets more than four or five hours of full sun a day I would give a garden a try. I began by building a four foot by twelve foot frame using pressure-treated deck boards. (Yes, I know that some people say you should not use pressure treated lumber for a raised bed but my research on the Web yielded no credible reason why I shouldn’t.) I staked the frame to the ground with rebar and lined the bottom with a couple layers of newspaper then filled it with topsoil. Into the garden I transplanted some scallions, chilies, and tomatoes I had started indoors. The results: lots of scallions, a few chilies, and lots of tomato blight. And that was before Tropical Storm Lee turned the yard around the garden into a squishy mess. That was the end of the growing season for me.

This year I have been procrastinating. But today was the first outdoor Otsiningo Farmers’ Market of the year and the organizers were handing out free seeds! So, I figured it was time to get off my duff and get to work. After pulling the weeds, I spread an inch or so of compost—complete with brown and blue egg shells—over the soil and turned it in with a spading fork. That’s when I discovered why my yard is often soggy. Beneath the top soil I filled the bed with last year I turned up thick gray alluvial clay—not so surprising since I live a third of a mile from and fifty-four feet above the Susquehanna River. Although the clay resembled partially set concrete I was encouraged to find it teeming with earthworms. After turning the soil a second time I now have a rather nice bed. It’s still a couple of weeks until the last frost so I plan to start with only a few hardy seeds. 

One lesson I learned last year is to avoid trying to squeeze too many tomatoes into a small space. Last year I started a dozen or so tomato plants of several varieties. So far this year I only have one plucky little plant that showed up on its own in a pot containing a chili plant I brought in from the garden last fall. I have no idea what variety it is but I’ll give it a chance. It is probably a bit late to start any more indoors so I’ll have to break down a buy a couple seedlings. And I’ll try to use one or two of the tomato cages I bought for peas and other beans.

So that is the story of this year’s garden so far. I’ll write more as time passes and perhaps post a photo or two. Now I need to get back out there and rake.

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