|DeWees Farm #43 - My experimental garden|
for three years
I planted about half of the garden in cover crops this year, and was really satisfied with the results. I tried four new species of plants (Bee's Friend, German Millet, Hopi Amaranth, and Hot Biscuits Amaranth), and all four grew and bloomed. To some extent. I got to experiment with gravity-fed drip irrigation, which also worked. To some extent. But I didn't get a lot of food.
I joined the City Farm 4 years ago (wait-listed the first year) because I wanted a healthy garden, but our back yard was in dense shade for all but a few hours in the morning. Tomatoes grew, but were leggy. Peppers grew, but didn't produce fruit until October. Okra plants produced 2 pods each. What a bummer - and a waste of time, energy, and water.
I've documented the good, bad, and ugly of community gardening - just my own personal experiences - in pretty extensive detail here on River Mud. I seem to have hit a couple of real obstacles, though:
1. It's not at home. Not being able to easily lay my eyes on my garden on a near-daily basis meant that I simply can't grow some crops (hasn't stopped me from trying). Some (watermelons) are likely to be stolen if others assumed that I have "left" them. Others (okra, squash) go from being "perfect size" to "inedible" in about 48 hours. At my most active (year 2-2011), I was visiting/picking/working the garden every 48-72 hours. It's not enough.
2. Out of sight, out of mind. Because extra effort is required to even get to the garden (driving or walking, carrying tools, etc), garden work easily fell down the "to do" list.
3. Limitations of a public space. Huge varieties of issues here, from my complaints that uphill gardeners were using way too much insecticide on their bare soil, to others' complaints that my sunflowers were blocking the sunlight for their tomatoes. And all of us mutually blaming each other for the rat problem that occurs once gardeners start ignoring their tomatoes in August.
Anyhow, another big thing happened this summer.
The giant storm that knocked out power to 18 million Americans hit us too, leaving us without electricity for a week. On the sixth day, crews showed up to butcher the trees under the powerlines in our 70 year old neighborhood, including three big trees that blocked all of our morning sun. The first crew left a huge amount of destruction, but the trees were still standing. A month later, a "mop up" crew came back down and took down about 15 trees on our street (all under / through the power lines) and over 100 trees out of the neighborhood in general. In addition, half of the canopy of a fourth tree fell out of the sky during the storm, so we actually now have bright sun conditions from dawn until noon, and very light shade from about noon until 4pm. Not perfect, but a vast improvement.
As a result of that storm, and some events that surrounded it, I've made some changes in the way I think about things. About life, too. I'm working very hard to simplify. It's a very tough task. Part of it means growing food seriously. Which means growing food at home. Next year, my peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, greens, and herbs will all be living in raised beds in our back yard, watered by drip irrigation that comes from a set of three rain barrels. An intensive grow setup basically like this:
So, all of that basically being decided, what becomes of the City Farm plot? It's 200 square feet of beds that I've meticulously cared for over the last three years. I hate to leave the plot, only to see it be tilled under and put into standard, highly eroding, highly polluting conventional gardens (hills, rows, and washouts is what I call it). If I keep it, I'll simply use it for a low maintenance crop like potatoes or sweet potatoes next year. Do I need 5 bushels of potatoes next year? I'm not so sure. But if I give up the plot, I certainly won't forget all the cool stuff I grew (and ate) over the last three years.