Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kristy Rustay: Starting Afresh

I started my first garden in 2009 from scratch. The plot was a good location for a garden — sunny, square, and partially fenced in — but the tangled mess of weeds, trees, and vines that were already growing in said plot were less than ideal. I hired someone to clear the deep-rooted and large overgrowth, and the rest I did by hand with a pitchfork and shovel. Because of the laborious hand tilling, my garden started small — three short beds the first year. By the third year I had a decent-size kitchen garden that I was very proud of. I literally put blood, sweat, and tears into my garden, and it was well worth it!  [Read more about my first garden.]

March 2009 — the tangled mess that I transformed into a garden

 July 2011 — my proud kitchen garden included five raised mounds,
plus a lettuce patch. One additional row was added in 2012.

This past December I moved.

In February our garden group leader at Storey, Carleen Madigan, sent out an e-mail to see who would be participating in the group ordering of vegetable and flower seeds. The idea of the group order is to get a large variety of seeds and split them among us. It saves money and allows us to try several varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, and so on and to learn which of those varieties grow best in our gardens and taste best in our kitchens. I had taken part in the seed ordering the past two years, but I wasn’t sure if I should do so again this year. . . . After all, I no longer had a place to plant them.

The thought of having no garden was just plain depressing. My finances were tight, and my free time even tighter. But a garden was something that I really wanted, so I vowed to myself to make the time to start again, and to do so as cost-consciously as possible.

The first step toward my new garden was to join in on the seed order — $14.65 for more seeds than I would ever be able to plant in the largest of gardens.

I then designated my new garden plot. I roped off an 8' x 25' sunny yet out-of-the-way area of yard, then hired someone to rototill it. I still don’t know exactly how much I spent on the tilling because I have not been invoiced yet, but it was estimated at $25 to $40. This was a huge time-saver and, in my opinion, well worth the meager cost (whatever that may be)!

The newly tilled garden plot

Next step was ensuring good soil for growing. In the past I made several trips to the garden center and bought bags upon bags of garden soil and compost. This was neither time efficient nor cost effective. This time around I took a coworker’s recommendation and purchased a truckload (1.5 cubic square feet ) of compost for $60 from a local organic farm. I was able to shovel it right from the truck into my garden (while my daughter slept!). I raked and mixed the compost in with the preexisting soil, creating fertile raised mounds that were ready for planting.

April 2013 — truckload full of compost ready to unload into my newly tilled garden plot

The last week of April I direct-sowed peas and mesclun greens. The first week of May I transplanted Swiss chard and direct-sowed more chard and some kale. The second week of May I direct-sowed carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and radishes and transplanted chives. And just last night I transplanted Romaine lettuce and strawberries.

Cinder blocks and old sliding glass doors are my free, makeshift cold frames.
I used them to cover the Swiss chard, kale, peas, and mesclun on a few cold evenings.

My efforts and upfront cost so far have been minimal. I am well on my way to a successful growing season. I am a very happy gardener!

— Kristy L. Rustay, Digital Production Manager, Storey Publishing

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