Building a Garden, One Board at a Time

Basically, all I do these days is stand around and take pictures of Roy working. No, I’m kidding. But seriously, there’s been much to do around here lately that involves a table saw and a nail gun. I am not too handy with either of these things.

Fortunately I am fluent in untangling and reconnecting drip hoses, unfurling rolls of Remay (row cover) and draping them over seedlings, jamming PVC pipes in the ground (our “hoops” for the row cover) and securing the fabric with giant pins and heavy rocks. Also, I am the one who gets down on hand and knee to weed and thin the little lettuce and radish seedlings and painstakingly arrange grass clippings and seaweed mulch around these babies before the drip hoses and row cover go down.

I’m bringing all this up to make myself look good, of course, in the face of Builder Boy’s many smart-looking contributions to the farm-ette this month. Well, okay, I’m kidding again. The point I’m really trying to make is about infrastructure: If you want to get an ambitious garden going in a new location, you will probably have to (or want to) build all kinds of stuff that you’d never thought about—the garden enclosure (corner posts, deer fencing, gate, etc.) being only the start.

In the past few weeks, Roy’s built a raised bed for the carrots, begun building the actual farm stand for the veggies, rebuilt and expanded last year’s cold frame, expanded the brooder box for the chicks (now small hens), reconfigured the seedling shelves (again), built a small hay mow in the barn, and done more work on the chicken coop. And together we’ve been working out the watering system and continuing to dig beds, remove grass and rocks, improve soil, thin, mulch, and plant.

It’s ironic that even with all this work on the infrastructure, the garden doesn’t yet look terribly pretty or impressive right now. Mid-May, after all, is an awkward time in a New England production garden. All those hoses and row-cover and piles of rocks and dirt everywhere are not so sexy. I notice the expectant looks on people’s faces when they stop by to see the garden. Where is the romance, the lush greenery, the color? (Still weeks away, I’m afraid). It’s not like the neighborhood nursery, so verdant with all those hot-house jumpstarts. To save money, we start everything from seed around here. (Next year, a hoop house is top of the wish list. More room and more light for starting seedlings.)

And this year, it’s been so cold and dreary that many seeds in the garden have been slow to germinate. Only in the last few days have my carrots surfaced and my lettuce begun to look like it means business. The good news is that the new lettuce varieties are spectacular. I’m already in love with the Speckled Amish (left) and the Flashy Green Buttercrunch. Also, despite the cold, I think we’re on track to harvest arugula, radishes, and a bit of lettuce for Memorial Day Weekend visitors.

Right now, it’s an awkward time inside, too. The chicks are huge! They have most of their feathers now–and a new-found sense of adventure. When they’re not trying to fly the coop (literally, when I’m cleaning it), they’re chasing each other around, knocking their water dish over, or squeezing each other on and off the roost. If we can just get through the rain and the cold of this week, they can move outside to the coop this weekend. And the overgrown, leggy tomato seedlings under the grow lights are dying to get some fresh air and direct sunlight, too.

I know, soon enough I’ll be complaining about the heat and the weeding, about washing all that lettuce and picking all those green beans every morning. But right now I’m just impatient for nature to do its thing. We’re holding up our end of the bargain, after all.