Or: “Controlled Chaos in the Garden”
Many people start the gardening season in high hopes of maintaining the garden in a orderly and productive manner, right through until a hard freeze kills the tender plants growing in it. In our part of the country that’s a hard thing to do. Here, summer heat sets in, other farm affairs vie for my attention, weeds shift into hyper drive and, before I know it, the garden is a mess! Read on for 5 tips for gardeining when life gets complicated.
During mid summer the heat greatly limits what a gardener can do outside, other than in the morning and evening when it cools down. The drought makes the soil exceedingly hard. Hence weeding becomes very difficult. Certain crops fail due to various factors: the climate, diseases and pests. It’s all too easy to follow the custom of many old timers in our region and simply to shut the garden down by the end of June.
Everyone has their challenges; some of which may appear nearly insurmountable for the would be gardener. Some people have to deal with floods, some have late frosts. Many deal with deer and other varmints. Sometimes there is personal illness or family emergencies. There’s no telling what may disrupt the gardening season.
Depending on the challenge, it may be necessary to drop the garden, for the time being. But I would assert that there are times that we can readjust our expectations and persevere. It’s possible, that in spite of challenges, we may still harvest something worthwhile from the garden. There may still be some satisfaction to be had in it. There is almost always a way, with minimal investment in time and effort to, at the very least, improve next year’s garden.
Around 1994, while living in Hidalgo Mexico, we had a garden on the grounds the the Bible Institute, where I taught. On afternoon, after a full day’s work, I packed up and headed home, which was 12 miles away. That evening, right at dusk, we looked in the direction where the Bible Institute lay. There were very dark, very large storm clouds right about where the school was located. We could see large bursts of lightening, peeking out of the clouds. The storm missed our home. But when I went to work the next morning I discovered that the storm had squarely hit the school. As I drove onto the grounds, I observed 8-10” piles of hail which had accumulated under the eaves of the buildings. Trees were defoliated. I walked out to the garden and found no damage…. What?! You say, no damage? Well, there was “no damage,” because there appeared to be nothing there. There appeared to be nothing where our garden had been the day before. All I saw was bare soil. I didn’t see a trace of damaged plants or disturbed mulch. The whole plot looked as if it had been freshly cleared and tilled! I believe this occurred in late June or early July. We lost our beans and almost all of our other crops. But interestingly, though defoliated and buried under a thin layer of mud, the entire sweet potato patch had survived. Within days, the plants sprouted new leaves. Our sweet potatoes went on to produce a normal crop in October! I did replant some squash and beans. We did have a harvest that year. Yet it would have been easy to take one look and write off the entire gardening year.
This account illustrates two principles for gardening when life throws you a curve ball:
- Often, there is much more in a garden than what meets the eye. You may think there’s nothing there, but there is. Many years, here in Oklahoma, the mid summer garden has gotten so very out of control, with weeds, that I have been embarrassed to have folk look at it. It looked like nothing more than a weed patch. Yet, every time, we have been able to eat from the garden, even up until the coming Spring. One year I actually “lost” the potato patch, so bad was the drought and so virulent the weeds. Yet we we able to dig and eat potatoes all winter.
- There may still be time to replant. In Hidalgo, I could replant a good many crops and still harvest. Here in Oklahoma, I have even planted bush beans after the worst of summer’s heat has passed. By covering them during cold snaps, it has been possible to eat fresh green beans up until Thanksgiving. Turnips, beets and kale grow well, in the fall.
Here are three more principles for gardening when life gets complicated
- Don’t treat the garden as an all or nothing affair. Some people feel the whole garden has to be presentable, or else nothing at all can be done. This is not true. If you can clear a few square feet, you can plant something useful. We often plant a patch of turnips, amidst the weeds of our late summer garden. Then, from sometime in November until the New Year, we enjoy fresh turnips and turnip greens.
- Try to plant some kind of “die hard, survival type crop,” in case of a garden catastrophe.
For example, we always have Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes) in our garden. If nothing else made it, we’d have their huge crop of edible roots to encourage and feed us in the winter.
I also plant a super hardy kind of pumpkin. It grows rampantly, smothers weeds and PRODUCES delicious pumpkins almost without fail.
Cowpeas are another “die hard” crop for hot weather regions. They almost never fail.
- Look at gardening as a cycle. When one part of the cycle fails, get ready for the next.
It’s almost never too late to plant a cover crop. A cover crop is something one plants, to fill the space, smother weeds and improve soil. Depending on the temperature, some possible cover crops are: cowpeas, bush beans, winter peas, wheat, rye, oats, buckwheat, hairy vetch, soy beans, turnips.
If I could do nothing else, I’d start piling organic material where I intend to grow. When the leaves begin to fall, be on the lookout for bags of leaves to mulch the garden.
Note about picture: Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes) are super hardy and make a HUGE crop of edible roots. Native Americans, in the eastern part of North America, used to carry them and plant them where they habitually made winter camp, leaving them to grow wild, while they were elsewhere. When they settled down in their winter camp, they could dig plenty of roots to fix with meals. Insect, heat and drought resistant, this is a “feel good crop.” Even in a bad gardening year, we can count on this harvest!