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Try, Try and Try Again

This is an entry in this month’s contest “What Inspired You To Start Growing Your Own Food?”.  Be sure to rate this article!

Years ago when my son was small, I planted a couple of edibles in the backyard so that he could see where food comes from AND enjoy eating his vegetables. However, a few years ago when all of the information about GMOs started coming out, as well as increasing food prices and financial constraints, I decided that I wanted to be able to provide all of my family’s vegetables, at least, from our own garden. I’m no where close to that!

We have clay soil on a mostly sloped site, a short growing season that goes from too cold to too hot with hail storms in between, and only me who’s interested in gardening. I’m short on energy and have various physical constraints that seem to increase by the year, so I try to think of ways to make it easier. For one Mother’s Day a few years back, my husband and son built a greenhouse. But it needs to be better insulated to be effective at extending the growing season. Right now it’s mostly a nice spot to sit in on cool nights :).

I finally got smart and moved the main garden plot close to the house and the hose. (Yes, I hand water. Someday I hope to put in a drip system.) I got the ‘boys’ to dig out a 2′ deep, approximately 7′ X 9′ area on a flat spot. I like to get things free or as cheaply as possible, including compost, but I wanted to make sure I did this right, hoping it will produce well from the beginning. So I bought a few bags of prepared compost and sheep-peat mixture and put that in the trenches, then covered it with the original clay soil. I have a compost heap where I dump grass. leaves and vegetable cuttings, but it decomposes slowly into dirt as I don’t turn it and water it and do all of that stuff. So I’ll use that at the end of the season and cover crop growing areas. We also have free mulch here in Aurora, Colorado, so when the veggies are larger, I’ll go collect mulch in buckets and cover the vegetables to keep in more moisture. I have found that and many other useful tips on the internet.

Sprouts are springing up from seeds that I planted before Mother’s Day, considered early for here. I wanted to get an earlier start to make sure everything would have time to mature, as well as be able to plant a fall harvest. The pounding hail we had soon after did not cause them harm, as they were too small. Colder weather vegetables went in first, such as lettuces and Spinach (I did cover those), and I planted two varieties of carrots, herbs, non-gmo corn, turnips and turnip greens, beets both golden and red, and possibly a couple of other forgotten things. I labeled all on popsicle sticks (the fat colored ones from the local hobby store) with the date of planting. It certainly won’t be enough to feed us our veggies all summer, but it’s a start, right? There are also little weeds springing up, but I cannot always tell which are weeds and which are crops, so I will leave them be until they are large enough to tell apart.

We have a few other food sources, mostly perennials, scattered about the backyard: the chard by the fence that comes back on its own every year – and spreads; the Jerusalem Artichokes/sunchokes by the bottom of the yard that require little maintenance, come back every year – and spread!; green onions and garlic that pretty much grow themselves; the Stella Cherry tree on one side that self-pollinates and provides absolutely delicious cherries, when I can get them. Late cold snaps and hail storms sometimes kill off the early blooming flowers. Last year I planted rhubarb on the other side of the house, and it too returns, bigger each year. Wild asparagus, dug up and transplanted from a woodsy area, returns annually – and spreads! I experiment planting other things around these, trying to find what works best in those hot, exposed areas. This year I planted strawberries around the rhubarb (supposed to be a great combo, and they’ll spread!), and non-gmo soybeans nearby interspersed with summer squash. Between those and the garden plot I am growing a variety of beans, some from last year’s crop, that I hope will climb up the porch rails. It’s also shadier there than at the bottom of the yard where I tried beans last year. In a too-large above-ground box at the bottom of the hill, I planted some medicinal herbs a few years ago, which so far provide untapped potential. I need to redo that whole area, making the boxes smaller and higher, and thus more convenient.

I’ve had two – make that three – big issues in past years: 1) bolting. It gets so hot here in the summers that things like lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower and chard bolt early. Even lots of watering doesn’t prevent it. I’ve stopped trying to grow broccoli and cauliflower for that reason, as they take so long to mature in the first place. 2) seeds that never come up or come up and then die. It’s very mysterious. I figured they couldn’t get through the clay soil, or I added too much compost and burned them, or I didn’t water them enough. 3) cross-pollinating! I seem to be in a minority with this one. Other people plant cucumbers, different squashes and pumpkins next to each other, and that’s what they get. I plant them yards apart, but my cucumbers still turn into squash cukes, and my squashes into mixed up breeds, and my zucchini into flavorless combinations of any of these. This year, I was determined to get my cukes, so they went into the garden plot, and the summer bush squash I mentioned, around the side of the house. My fingers are crossed for a purebred crop!

My crowning glory, the thing I feel proudest of, is definitely my cherry tree. I went to the nursery, picked it out, prepared the planting site, planted it, staked it, watered it, and watched it grow. I had to wait 5 years to see my first cherries. The squirrels got that first, small batch. But in the sixth year, beautiful clumps of cherries grew all over. We protected them with screen door mesh, stapled together over each large clump of fruit, and finally got to enjoy our one – and so far only – season of cherries! They were fabulous and worth the wait.

The prize for the winner of this months contest is valued at $100 and includes a copy of the “Grow Your Own Groceries” video set, “Alternatives To Dentists” video set, and 3 months of free membership in the Core Community.  If you want to enter this month’s contest, write an essay on “How You Got Started Growing Food” and submit it here at this link: http://growyourowngroceries.org/contribute-here/

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