In September of 2013, I walked away from the treadmill at my local YMCA where I had been a faithful member for decades. An 18 mile round trip Camden and back to walk indoors on a mechanical device with all these TV screens on the wall in front of me blaring trivia and shock news seemed wrong. Instead, I now walk or ride one of my bikes for 75 minutes almost every day. I also tend my vegetable gardens.
The best souvenir that I‘ve brought back from the Portuguese Camino is not my small wheel of aged Galatian cheese, my tiny espresso cup/saucer, my scallop shell/cross tattoo, or my wool cap. It’s this picture.
It was taken along the coast of Portugal on my first day on my month long hike. It’s one of many hundreds of small summer family vegetable gardens that are the norm in this part of the world. All the basics are covered: lettuce, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and the almighty collard green- looking like a morphed cabbage plant that also serves double duty as a parasol. These gardens sometimes are paired with a few chickens, in one of the planet’s mutually beneficent relationships. The chickens eat the weeds, garden trimmings, and consume bugs, with the garden receiving nutrition from chicken manure.
That picture has framed my activity here at my home for the past week. I have a renewed interest in elevating my vegetable gardening skills to a higher level. I don’t just want to plant a garden, I now look forward to tending it lovingly as well.
Last year was the first time I used an electric fence to keep the voracious deers from eating my food. It worked, and now that fence is serving its second season of duty.
I have purchased a new hose to water my garden, as well as successfully employing a drip irrigation line to carry us through the dry days. We are limited to how much water I can draw from my dug well, so this week, I am setting up a system to collect rainwater off my roof where it can be stored in a large plastic tank and then gravity fed into the two plots below.
I am a bit behind in the planting schedule. I was able to plant leeks, onions, tomatoes, kale, and some lettuce before I went a way to hike in Portugal and Spain for the month of June. It was unseasonably cold here when we were away, so both the vegetables and the weeds held back a bit until I returned. I had plenty of compost to apply, under the plants, that had aged nicely over the last year from inside my two plastic bins.
Deer love lettuce, so I made a wire cage overlay to protect a small area of various leaf styles.
In the space of a week, seeded plantings of beans, beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, bok choi, and salad mix are out of the ground and greening up under the sun. My neighbor Bill had overflow plants from his own greenhouse that he shared with me: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, summer squash, and zucchini. I bought a few more plants to round out the garden choices: eggplants, broccoli, peppers, basil, parsley.
I have a new experiment going with my brassicas. I have been planting on this land for close to 40 years and in that time I have developed a serious problem with clubroot on my broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts plants. Clubroot is a soil born disease which causes grossly enlarged and malformed roots and stunted, sickly plants. The normal solution is to use a 4 year rotation for those vegetables along with treatment of the soil with lime, but it’s easier to read about this practice than carry it out. I am trying out a new idea.
Home Depot had 40 pound bags of topsoil on sale for $1.58. I bought twenty bags. I planted a broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower seedling in each bag, which I perforated with 12 holes on the bottom. My reasoning is that the plastic bag will keep the disease away from the fresh soil in the bag and I should be growing and harvesting some serious greenage this season.
An unexpected benefit from my work in the garden is the surprising degree of exercise that I have been able to derive from all the digging, tilling, planting, wheelbarrowing, hoeing, watering, pulling weeds, and removing rocks that are part of home agriculture. Here’s a screenshot from Saturday’s Fitbit results from my iPhone 6, that sat in my pocket in a plastic bag while I worked :
8 miles of movement, and it’s not just walking! I can attest from the aches and pains in my muscles that I am getting a practical “crossfit” experience in dealing with these two plots that are less than 100 feet away from my door.
Now that the chickens have moved out , I also have a greenhouse on the south side of my garage that can carry another whole bevy of fall and early winter vegetables that I can establish. And there is that pine tree that I have to cut down that’s shading the greenhouse too much. And the grass needs cutting, and there is firewood to cut up from the six trees that Gary and I felled in May before I left to hike.
There’s also the satisfaction and nutritional benefit of eating real food. I give way a bit of extras.
And finally, I am most interested in planting Padron pepper seedlings in the greenhouse and enjoying the experience of roasting, salting and eating those delicious appetizers in a couple of months.
Who would have predicted that this “back to the lander” from the 1970’s would be leaning on the most simple of actions to improve his quality of life ?
Maine is the real deal.