Carrie, Carrie Quite Contrary…
How does your garden grow?
I’ve never much contemplated the fact that there is a whole nursery rhyme about how contrary I am. Until now.
To commemorate the summer solstice, I thought I’d regale you with the story of what we’ve been doing all spring… racing to put in my garden. Those of you who know me know that I tend to do things out of order. It’s not some grand plan or some commitment to being backward; it’s just that I tend to start anywhere and figure it out as I go. To my credit, I will tell you that I did quite a lot of research during the winter, fantasizing about the garden that I would build. I read at least a dozen books (it’s likely that I read two dozen books) and became a subscriber to several magazines including my new favorite, Grit. I had long conversations with my best friend, Erika, who grew up gardening with her parents and teaches gardening to kids as part of the awesome special programs she runs through 4-H and as a teacher at her local elementary school. I thought because she teaches kids, she’d be more capable of helping me learn how to approach this as an absolute beginner. But, I think that her kids are all more advanced and sophisticated than I am. Or maybe it’s just that she does all the thinking and planning and all they have to do is dig in the dirt and water and paint rain barrels.
I didn’t realize my garden was going to be such a big project. My thought was that I would put in a couple of raised beds, plant some stuff, and see what happens. It ended up taking all spring.
It began innocently enough. Nathan, Hannah, and I went to Menard’s to buy some wood to build four 4ft x 8ft raised beds. Figuring out how to find the lumber, place an order at the construction desk, drive our truck around to the lumber yard, find the lumber we bought, load it, and get out of there was a scavenger hunt that took us most of one Saturday. Nathan and I built the boxes the next day, with my friend Deirdre supervising and bringing us local Wisconsin beer. Then Steve and Nathan carried the boxes around the yard putting them here and there and adjusting them just so until they were right where I wanted them. They made me leave them there for a week before they let me put soil in them because they knew that I’d probably change my mind and need them moved at least one more time before they were installed in their permanent location. Nathan used some fancy math and engineering techniques that I still don’t quite understand to make sure that my boxes were square and that all the parallels and perpendiculars lined up right.
We installed the boxes right on top of the grass. Crap. Now, there’s grass in my boxes. I guess I should get that out of there? Steve, heroically, took up the chore of digging, hoeing, and wrestling the grass out of the bottom of my boxes. Nathan, Justin, and I went to one of my very favorite stores, The Stoughton Garden Center, and bought a bunch of top soil. They loaded as much as they could into the back of Justin’s truck and then we had to go back and load the rest in Nathan’s truck. It took me, Steve, Justin, and Nathan a full afternoon to shovel that soil out of their trucks and into my beds. But, we thought that the hard part was done and all that was left to do was plant. Hahaha.
On Easter weekend, Dylan painted all my boxes white for me. And, Hannah and Josephine started painting flowers and butterflies on them to make them pretty. That was a much bigger job than anyone anticipated. We have one box with one decorative corner. The rest remain white. For now. Maybe that will be a project the girls will want to revisit next spring.
I started talking to a lot of people about my garden plans and the general consensus was that I needed to fence it to protect it from bunnies, deer, chickens, and other critters. My absolute favorite conversation on this topic was with my dad in Oregon. He always had a robust, productive garden right along the edge of the forest in rural Oregon when we were kids and he never had a fence around it. I asked him how he kept the deer and other critters out of his garden. He said, “I didn’t really. I just planted enough for them and us.” He also had dogs that lived out by the garden and scared things away. And, cats that hunted ground squirrels. And, he planted rows of random weird things like Kohlrabi around the outside of his garden for the deer to eat in hopes that they’d enjoy that and leave the things he wanted for the table untouched. And, it worked.
In addition to gardening, I do intend to have chickens and I want to be able to free range them as much as possible. One of the primary reasons I want chickens is because they eat ticks and other nasty bugs. And, I want all the help I can get keeping ticks off my dog, off my family, and out of my house. Ugh. But, I digress. All my research says that my chickens will destroy my garden if I give them half a chance. So, I decided that we really did need to put up a fence. And, fences are a lot of work. After studying all my books, talking with folks, and surfing Pinterest for ideas, I finally decided to buy a fence kit from Home Depot. Me, Andrew, Hannah, and Josephine spent a full weekend assembling (and reassembling) this fence. Reassembly was required because we didn’t understand the instructions or the mechanics of the assembly fully until we had put together at least 10 five foot sections incorrectly. Getting the assembled fence into the ground took an entire new crew another full weekend. Nathan, Justin, Hannah, Josephine, and I got that done. We went through at least 2 gallons of lemonade because Hannah kept insisting that “lemonade helps you make better decisions.” We drank it because we were hot and thirsty. I’m not sure we made any “better decisions.” But, we did get the fence up. Hurray!
Okay, I was finally ready to plant. Oh, the pressure. What to plant and where? Dylan and I went back to the Stoughton Garden Center and bought some seedlings and some seeds and I came back and made a plan. My mom and I went out and planted, mostly according to my plan. The best laid plans… and all that. Haha. We planted tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, dill, celery, carrots, onions, scallions, chives, lavender, mint, green beans, peas, three kinds of peppers, cilantro, two kinds of lettuce, cabbage, spinach, 3 kinds of pumpkins, 2 kinds of zucchini, and 2 kinds of sunflowers. Oh my. Oh, right, I also planted bok choy. I keep forgetting that. I didn’t plan for it, threw some seeds in on a lark, and couldn’t figure out what it was until this last weekend.
And, then I realized that the grass around my raised beds was going to be a constant nuisance and encourage weeds. It was also going to be impossible to mow it and it was starting to get out of control. Oops. So, Justin bought me a weed whacker and I spent another weekend whacking that grass down as short as I could. Then my mom and I laid a weed barrier and the whole family helped us lay mulch on top of it. Steve, Nathan, Justin, Dylan, Hannah, my mom, my dad, and even Harrison all helped. Unfortunately, I didn’t really pay super close attention to where I planted my pumpkins and zucchinis so we had to wait for them to pop up before we could mulch around them. The right way to do this would be to lay the weed barrier and then cut it and plant my seeds and then mulch around them. But, I didn’t know that until I had done it all backward first.
Hannah and I wanted flowers around the outside of the garden, too. I ended up planting my sunflowers along the outside of the back fence. Dylan helped me plant hollyhocks and dahlias around the front fence. And, then I realized I have another grass problem. Anyone mowing my grass would mow right up to the fence and hack down my sunflowers and other tiny sprouting young seedlings. So, my mom and I bought and installed yet another little fence – a little white wire border fence to protect the flowers.
In the meantime, Steve planted strawberries along my front walkway for me. He got inspired and also bought raspberries and blackberries, which caused me to also want blueberries. Haha. Like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” If you give Carrie strawberries, you will also buy raspberries and blackberries, and then she will want blueberries, and then you will have to remove the dead bushes next to the deck and plant a berry garden. I’m sure this particular story is not, yet, over. But, what did happen, is that Steve and I planted blueberries and raspberries in between the white picket garden fence and the little white wire border fence this weekend. He was a little frustrated with the mechanics of trying to dig holes big enough to plant our berry bushes in the small space between fences. I also sprinkled a ton of wildflower seeds in that little border between fences. I have no idea what might come up and what won’t. But, we should have a wild, gorgeous flower garden that attracts butterflies, bees, and dragon flies all around the outside of my garden. I should also eventually have a nice big blueberry bramble to keep my chickens occupied so that they don’t feel like they need to hop the fence for more tasty treats.
So, here’s what my garden looks like today:
I am incredibly proud that there are things growing and we delight in visiting once or twice a day to see what changed and discover new things like the bok choy I forgot I planted.