Friday, June 25, 2010

How The Garden Grows

Buck in our new berry patch. We only have to dig once!

Our second year garden at the Homestead

It's been a long cold lonely Winter and not much better of a Spring in Western Oregon. Summer? What's that?

As a gardener, it's been a great lettuce and peas kind of summer. Only because I do raised bed gardening. Otherwise I'd be waiting with all the other gardeners 'till the end of June to rototill a mucky wet plot. There's no standing water on a raised bed.

If you see this book at a thrift store GRAB IT! It is out of print and is selling for $35 at Powell's. If you have to pay that for the book- it's worth every cent! But check your library first.

I have my Mom and Peter Chan to thank for starting me on the ancient technique of Mound Gardening. Peter Chan's book "Better Vegetable Gardens the Chinese Way" ( Garden Way Publishing) has been at the core of our gardening since Mom read it in 1977.

Mr. Chan, who worked at Portland State University at the time his book came out, taught Plant Pathology at an Agricultural College near Canton. He also worked in research on methods of adapting plants to various terrains, improving soil conditions and increasing plant yields., before he came to Portland Oregon with his family in 1967.

My Mom knew a good thing when she saw it. She was a brave woman. It's no small thing to throw all the trappings and dogma of generations of row croppers out and embrace this foreign way of doing things. While others looked on with scorn and criticism, I might add.

For her and then me, Mr. Chan's book has been a godsend on these years of the never ending wetness. No digging necessary! Just throw more mulch onto the beds in the fall to keep the spring weeds from forming. Then in the early spring ( we're talkin' March 1 or earlier) just make little holes and plant the peas and lettuce. Then when the lettuce begins to bolt and the peas have almost peaked, put in the rest of the garden just the same way.

Look at this yummy soil! Well, if you're a plant of course.

Poke a hole in the mulch and put your seed or plant in and cover it over. Water it in, think happy thoughts, done.

Some people are resistant to this approach. I can't figure it out. I suspect they think I'm lying! Or that I have a secret ingredient in the mix. But I swear it's that easy. Somewhere along the line someone managed to convince the public that growing food is very hard and beyond mere mortals and their lowly landholdings.

My two rows of lettuce in my Community Garden plot. After all the harvests so far!

The sheer amount of food I get from one 25x25 foot plot is mind boggling. This year I have harvested 6 grocery bags of baby lettuce from TWO 10 foot rows of lettuce (just thinning the rows). And we took an additional 15 mature heads to the food bank last Wednesday. I have that much more still to harvest this week from those same rows! Even while dealing with a perpetual multitude of baby slugs and hail storms in June.

What I love most; it is so low tech. Anyone with even the most meager of resources can do it. No lumber to buy (pressure treated lumber is expensive and dubious for organic gardening). No rototilling (who owns one, who fixes it, who pays, and how do we get it there?). The worms do all that work!

Have rocks in your soil? Just dig them up once and use them as decorations. And KEY to my love for this style of gardening is, plants thrive in the uncompressed, humus rich soil.

Every once in a while I revisit this fine book, as I did this spring, with Mr. Reynolds photographs of Mr. Chan's lovingly tended garden and I feel excited all over again. He makes it all so simple and, well, kind of sacred. Like your garden is a temple. And like a temple, you tread softly, tend thoughtfully and breath deeply. There are so many fewer worries in a raised-bed garden.

Another rainy day is forecast for July 1. Oh well. I have an impressive batch of baby carrots and potatoes coming in soon, the tomatoes are holding their own and I have enough lettuce and peas for anyone who wants them!


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