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    A Productive Distraction

    Reflections on my summer quarantine garden.

    Posted on August 5, 2020

    A backyard garden is much like life: dynamic, unpredictable, filled with pleasures and frustrations.

    In mid-March 2020, when the United States came to a grounding halt, a few things became evident. First and foremost, I wouldn't be going out as much. To the office, grocery store, or restaurants. We'd pivot to a life of delivery and DIY.

    One of the first ideas I had was to create a vegetable garden. It sounded to idyllic, a dream of a bountiful supply of summer vegetables perfect for our provincial homestead north of Charlotte.

    I started with a sketch in my notebook. I'd have two 4x8-foot raised beds. I knew I wanted tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, squash, and bell peppers. I recalled Steve Tate (former owner of Goat Lady Dairy Farm) go on about the virtues of companion planting when I interviewed him for a graduate school assignment years ago. So, I quickly searched for "companion plants for [insert vegetable name]" and added them to my list. Dahlias, calendula, geranium, nasturtium – to name a few.

    In the "before times," I would have taken my list to Lowes and the garden center down the street. But, in quarantine, I needed all of this delivered. After days of research, I landed on Gardener's Supply for the raised beds and Azure for the plants. I placed my orders and quickly realized I was not the only person who planned a Quarantine Garden. Everything was on backorder. The garden started teaching me lessons in patience sooner than I expected.

    Crawl, walk, run.

    Everything arrived by the last week of April. Fortunately, this coincided with the last cold weather of spring. I built the beds, unloaded 52 bags of compost/soil mix from Wallace Farms, planted the vegetables and flowers, and trim out a 1-foot border to keep the grass from encroaching on the beds.

    The garden on May 3, 2020.

    Time passed by and garden grew a little each day. At a certain point, the tomatoes needed support. So, I helped them climb with a few modular cages. The cucumber and canteloupe vines went from crawling to running. So, I built a simple A-frame trellis. The kale started producing more than we could reasonably eat in a week's time.

    Soon, every plant began to flower. I watched as the flowers grew bigger until they began to peel off and fall to the soil. In its place were tiny fruits – little buds of tomatoes, canteloupe, squash, peppers. I felt proud to have made a place for these vegetables to do what they evolved to do.

    There's nothing more fulfilling to a vegetable gardener than harvest the first batch of vegetables. Weeks of watching and waiting builds anticipation. Even more so, during quarantine, the garden became a regular topic of conversation in our house. My wife and I talked about the progress each day. We'd carry our daughter out to "check on the garden" each morning and again in the evening.

    These cherry tomatoes made it inside. The first few were eaten straight out of the garden. The first crop of squash were perfect and made for a nice side dish at dinner.

    Worms and Rot

    There's no such thing as the perfect garden. The romantic notion of an bountiful and hardship-free garden is a myth. Every gardener faces challenges. A garden is a living organism, subject to the environment around it. We work to manage the inherent risks, but they are inevitible.

    I first noticed holes in my kale leaves in mid-July. They almost came out of the blue. After some research, I realized that I had an infestation of cabbage worms. It looked as if they enjoyed the kale more than I did. I cut out all the compromised leaves and threw them into a natural, grassy area a ways from the garden. I ordered BT to wash down the plants and prevent the worms from sticking around – plus this solution allowed the garden to stay organic.

    A few days later I noticed black and white spots at the root of the squash plant. The rot, as it turned out to be, kept crawling up the plant. It spread into the fruit and quickly took over. There was no saving it. The squash had to be removed completely from the garden. I'm still not sure what caused it.

    Gardens Grow On

    I'm still harvesting tomatoes and several canteloupes are nearly ready to drop. I've pulled some of the biggest cucumbers I've seen in my life. Pickling is in the near future.

    The garden on June 28, 2020.

    As fall draws near, I'm thinking about the next iteration. It may soon be time to make room for onions, cabbage, and string beans. There's still research to do, sketches to draw, and discussions to have before those decisions are made. In the meantime, we'll start and end each day with a walk around and picking what's ready. We'll add our homegrown vegetables to our meals and feel a certain satisfaction with each bite.