As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.” His gibe was aimed at Washington policymakers, but I’d say the same thing about planning my modest summer garden, which is still months away.
In my mind it will be perfect, and none of the mistakes I might have made in the past will be repeated. But as I’ve come to realize over the years, my garden’s chief enemy is neither bug nor blight, but my own bottomless enthusiasm.
Before I order any seeds, I will read the catalogues with a critical eye. I will understand that a “vigorous” tomato plant or heirloom squash vine, or even “trailing” nasturtium, may be code for “growth habit similar to strangler fig.”
If I buy those seeds anyway, I will limit myself to one or, well, maybe two or three varieties. When they come I will not sow all the seeds in the packet, but if by some chance I do and they all germinate I will not plant them all. If I just can’t help myself and do just that, I will make sure not to crowd the seedlings but set them out at the proper spacing, even if it means there are some left over. I will not waste several days trying to find homes in the neighborhood for those seedlings, as if they were kittens, but throw them on the compost pile where they belong.
I will apply a mulch to the garden to prevent weeds from sprouting. Even though it is sometimes hard to come up with a source of baled straw or hay, especially if I start the garden too late in the season (which is definitely not going to happen again this year), I will follow through on the mulch. If that fails, I will cultivate all my rows every few days with a draw hoe, while the weeds are still tiny, to avoid having them take over. Of course that would never happen this year because I’ve learned my lesson once and for all.
This time, the Belladonna delphinium I keep planting, in the hope that it will not turn white with mildew, is banished from the garden. Fortunately, the seeds I have for it would not germinate anyway, because delphinium requires fresh seed. I will finally throw out those and all the other old useless seeds I’ve saved in that huge box on my desk.
I will set up all the hoses and sprinklers in their proper places and leave them there, not drag them around to water the chickens and wash the car, as has happened every year in the past. The lawn mower and all the tools, wheelbarrows, trellising devices, bug sprays, Band-Aids and vole traps will also stay in their designated spots, no matter who needs them elsewhere. Anyone who violates that rule will not be fed; in fact, I might not feed anybody at all.
Finally, I will make enough time for my garden this time around. Houseguests will not arrive, especially those with pet and if they do I will hand them a sleeping bag and direct them to the barn. I will forget the birthdays of family members, all of which fall in the months of April, May and June. Except for mine, which is in July, and I am canceling that. I will just remain the same age this year.
Tip of the week
If you are starting eggplant and peppers from seed, now is the time to sow seed in flats under lights. Both require warm soil for timely germination and benefit from electric heat mats placed beneath seed trays. Seedlings should be moved into individual pots in early April and planted out in early May. — Adrian Higgins