I did not plan on becoming a gardener. In fact, I truly believed I had a "gang-green thumb". I could not grow something edible. How would I even begin?
Now, only a couple months later, I find myself obsessing over vibrant greens, bright yellows, and the rich reds that are popping up everywhere in our garden! We have been eating a rainbow of vegetables. I swear, there is nothing that could encourage healthier eating more, than growing your own veggies. The amount of pride it brings, and amazement when the produce actually appears is like nothing else. Then you add knowing that there were no pestisides sprayed on them, and they were grown with your care, your water, your choices... It's confidence instilling, and about as fresh as it could possibly get!
This year, we went plant crazy. We wanted to try EVERYTHING. So, we did. We didn't have a clue if any of the plants would take, but it was worth it to try.
We have been wildly successful with many of our plants, especially the summer squash, cucumbers, and herbs.
Those that did not survive as well were the zucchini (becasue the summer squash spread like wildfire and literally "squashed" it), and the lettuce... It started well, but got away from me a bit and began to bolt. When lettuce bolts, it becomes very bitter, and is essentially just chicken food... We were able to harvest quite a bit of it before this took place, however. Homemade salads have been a hit!
Garlic also had been planted, but so far it appears to have done not much of anything... which is a bummer because as an Italian, I practically live on the stuff. Further research will be done to make that work in the future - I was so looking forward to pretty garlic braids hanging in our eventual root cellar....
Let me just reiterate that I have never successfully grown vegetables before. I have kept one or two flowering plants alive in the past, but that's the extent of my sowing seeds experience prior to this. To be fair, the Homestead Husband had done this a time or two a few years ago, so he was able to guide me through the experience.
Success with a garden such as this, really starts with the preparation (like any well done project). We looked at our land and the quality of the dirt - and by dirt, I mean sand. We have very sandy, rocky soil. Not great for plants that require rich nutirents. We can grow some weak crab grass, and a few dandelions, and that's about it.
Raised beds turned out to be the way to go. In the end, these are cleaner in my opinion, and a little less readily available to my sometimes free-ranging chickens (who LOVE juicy tomatoes).
The cost of raised beds can be a bit intimidating, but there are ways to lessen it. We sourced the lumber from a local hardware store and lumber yard (Welch's Hardware, Lebanon, ME) who had some warped boards that they could not use as proper building materials in a structure (but for this type of thing, they were perfect). They gave us a very helpful discount for taking the boards off their hands.
The next issue was the fill - since our soil was poor, we had to bring in dirt and manure. I know - poop - gross. It becomes less strange when you realize what it is capable of helping you to do, and frankly, it's used by big farms that produce the veggies you buy from the grocery store, too, it's just that you normally don't think about it when grabbing a bushel of asparagus off the shelf.
We sourced our manure from a local horse farm (found on Facebook Marketplace) who was willing to give it away for free (they have a lot of horses, which means a lot of manure to shovel). There is some debate over what is better - horse or cow manure. We were happy to find the horse manure for a couple of reasons:
A. It was free!
B. Horses don't have as many stomaches as a cow, so the nutrients in the manure are stronger compared to that of a cow's that have been processed further.
C. It does not smell quite as pungent.
However, when using horse manure, you can't just throw the plants or seeds in right away, because it is considered "hot" and will potentially "burn" your started plants, which may not allow them to grow to their full potential. To mitigate this issue, we let the manure sit for a while, and mixed it with some higher quality dirt from our local feed store (Willow Brook Farms, North Berwick, ME). After about a week or two of letting the mixture rest in the raised beds, we finally began planting. If we had used cow manure, we may have been able to begin right away, but there would be less nutrients in the soil for the plants to grow. That being said, I have no doubt that people also see great results with cow manure. It's purely a preference.
Many of the plants we had started from seeds in a makeshift basement green house - the issue is that we started them in like, February.... which was a bit over-zealous. They were ready to be planted in April, and the ground in Maine was still frozen at that time... oi. So, we ended up only being able to use a handful of our originals, and the rest we purchased as started seedlings from Wentworth Greenhouse (Dover, NH) or online. I will say, it definitely makes a difference when you purchase higher quality started plants or seeds. You will have a much better return on investment in the end.
Companion planting was also our friend - some plants will grow better next to certain other plants. We were able to find a simple companion planting chart online to follow along with.
I don't know if it is the health aspect of growing our own food, or if it is purely the fact that I don't have to add these items to my grocery list... Either way, I am quickly becoming a gardening freak.
Stay tuned for recipes using fresh herbs!