I took advantage of a cool, dry day last week to finish tidying the vegetable garden and do a little planting. Mostly peas, because they are my favorite (next to tomatoes), but also lettuce, mustard greens, radishes, and leeks, which all do well in Autumn.
I topped the furrows with straw and, with my husband’s help, chicken wire to keep out leaves and critters (especially chickens). It’s not lovely but pragmatic and practical enough to provide budding seeds and vines protection through the end of the year.
This is the first fall garden I’ve planted in South Carolina and I almost didn’t make it because the season has been so wet, so hot and humid. And always, there are mosquitoes.
The idea of a garden is always a little nicer than the reality of one. Especially spring gardens, which come at a time of year when there is much energy in the air. When it’s good to be outside in the sunshine. When seed companies send emails with fantastic project ideas complete with photographs and how-to diagrams. When hardware and grocery stores display bedding plants and perennials by their entrances so as to cause a green thumb to itch for some dirt and a trowel.
The trick to spring gardens is getting through whatever weather July and August have in store, to persevere until harvest and canning season.
In contrast, fall gardens have a quiet hope. Instead of invasions of early-spring insects that devour broccoli plants no matter how much soap is applied, the fall gardener looks forward to fewer mites, less fungi and mold. Instead of drought and extreme heat, there are cool days amid falling leaves, the appearance of fewer weeds.
In Charleston, the coming months will continue to be mild, even warm, and wet, the days cloudy and short. Frost will be uncommon and light, freezes unheard of, snow rare. Not impossible, but not major concerns — events that are mitigate-able and manageable in a small garden such as mine.
And always, there are mosquitoes.
When a garden thrives, it is impossible not to take pictures; impossible, apparently, not to share and brag about it on social media. Homemade bread seems to have the same affect on people.
But where are the photos of the July/August garden, when tomatoes have given up hope and weeds encroach even well-mulched beds? The images of stripped leaves and hollowed-out fruit, vines that bloomed but never produced, the pickle-cucumbers that swelled into round globes because they were overlooked? The plot plowed from necessity and with limited resources?
These interest me.
My own garden is built to take advantage of the short and narrow swath of available sun, which, of course, alters with the tilting of the planet, and is within steps of the back door so I can quickly grab fresh produce and herbs for cooking. I guess you could call it a kitchen garden.
It began as two square raised beds and was expanded this year to seven connected squares. The rails are vinyl because they are inexpensive at Costco and because I could put them together without tools, and I chose to fill it with dirt rather than invest in a tiller that would have to be stored and maintained.
The yard is slanted so the raised bed is too, and the dirt it contains was brought in over the months one bag or five at a time from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Costco, and West Ashley Hardware stores when available. The seed was free and given to me by my mother’s neighbor who had accidentally bought enough for an acre of land. Each variety vacuum-sealed in a waterproof Ziplock pouch and hardy. If germination isn’t 100%, it’s certainly been in the 90% range. Even after a spring planting and a fall planting, there are still plenty of seeds left. And since the winters are mild, this year I will attempt to winter over the jalapeno, bell pepper, and one tomato plant that are still alive enough to warrant it.
Home & Gardens may never knock on my door with a camera crew in tow, and for that I am actually quite grateful. I prefer the imperfect, the experimental, the freedom to do things poorly, to make massive mistakes in privacy and solitude. I prefer authenticity and honesty, the vulnerability and satisfaction of an honest attempt.