Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Break Part I: Ben

So this week was spring break, and I (Ben) took the opportunity to cultivate the teeny bit of dirt we have around our back patio. I've always wanted to, but I've never planted a garden of any kind before, so this is my first attempt. I'm a little nervous about doing it so early in the year, but the weather has been agreeable, this was the only week I'd have time, and I don't have a mentor to give me any sound advice, so here I go. I made probably 3 trips to the local nursery getting info about plants, advice about soil etc. before I finally went and bought things.

First step was preparing the soil. I raked it out and pulled up all the weeds (which was much easier than when I did this when we first got here. There weren't nearly as many weeds.)

This is post-raking but pre-weeding

After working back there for a while I seriously considered giving up on the garden and starting a pottery studio instead. It's just total clay back there, which is apparently our lot in this area. I would shovel a clump, turn my shovel over, and the huge clump of clay wouldn't fall off the shovel. Then it would with a wet thud.

The clay. I love how you can see the shape of the shovel on top.

I needed to add as much organic matter as possible to try and get the soil a bit more loamy. I got a few bags of compost and peet moss and tilled them into the ground along with some gypsum.

A roto-tiller would have come in handy here, especially to break up the clumps, but all I have is a shovel. It's not a big area, but especially with all the clay, that was probably the toughest part.

I also had to choose plants! The other difficulty we face is how little sun we get back there. Our back door faces west, and is fenced, so it only gets a few hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon. (I know this because I spent a day measuring and mapping out the sun and shadows on graph paper.) So frankly, most vegetables are out. I don't really think a garden is a garden without tomatoes, but they need way more sun than they would get back there. That left us with some shade perennials and herbs, and some colder weather veggies like broccoli and cabbage (hooray...) At this point Barbara came with me to the nursery and we went to the shade perennial's greenhouse. We walked down the line and pointed out the ones we liked and I wrote them down to look up at home. In the end we settled on Lenten Rose and Polomenium, Jacob's Ladder (heavenly habit.)

I also got three types of mint (which apparently have to be very carefully contained or they will take over your entire garden. That's why they're in pots in the ground)

and just four each of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Once all the plants were in, I mulched it over with a hardwood mulch, and now I'm just watering in the mornings and hoping for the best! I wish we had a hose back there. I have to fill up my watering can in the tub, so I hope they get enough water before I get tired. This may sound pessimistic, but I worry that there's a good chance this will be a disaster. Reason #1, it's still March, and although we've had a very mild winter, we could still get a horrible frost, and I don't know how the plants would fare. Reason #2, the soil is truly abysmal. I tried to till in as much stuff as I could to help it, but there's just so much clay, it might not drain well enough for these plants, or it mat be too tough for their roots to push through. #3, the lack of sunlight. I tried to find things that like shade, but this is a lot of shade. #4, and this is the biggest reason, my complete ignorance and lack of experience. Everything I've done so far has been accompanied by finding every scrap of info I could on the internet. So I'm learning lots, very fast, but the more I learn the more I realize there's so much I don't know. And that's not even including all the pests and diseases that can strike that I wouldn't really know where to start with. I figure even if it is a disaster, I've already learned so much so fast, and hopefully after a few years I'll know something about something. OR it might be a success! I think the broccoli is visibly bigger than when I planted it just a couple days ago, and it's hard to describe how exciting that is to watch. Anyway, if it's not too boring to hear about I'll give updates every once in a while.

The other thing I did this weekend was a quick trip down to Louisville. I went to audition for the apprenticeship at the Actor's Theater of Louisville. ATL is one of the oldest, most established regional theaters in the country and their apprenticeship program is also one of the oldest and best. It's 9 intensive months and they have an amazing track record of placement out of the program. I went down to audition on Saturday and I'll actually find out in a few days if they want me to apply. Truthfully, if they do want me we don't quite know how we would swing it. I'd be 2 hours away and not making any money. But as Barbara said, I may as well audition and cross that bridge when we come to it.

Stay Tuned for Spring Break Part II, in which Barbara will tell of our adventures on Pi Day (3-14)!


  1. Good luck with your garden. I hate clay soil--it's what they have here in Utah. One suggestion for you--when it freezes, and it will--get some containers to put over your plants before you go to bed at night. You can take them off in the morning. It will, hopefully, save your plants. I like milk jugs with the tops cut off, but you may have a better idea.


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