Garden ideas

Twice now on Prairie Home Companion, I've heard a song called Talkin' Harvest Time Blues by Stephanie Davis that has made me laugh- and wonder what I'm getting myself into, thinking I can start a vegetable garden. Here it is:
Well, it starts with a catalogue that comes in the mail
In the middle of the winter, when you’ve had it with those pale
Thick-skinned, store-bought, sorry, hard-as-rock
Excuses for tomatoes with the flavor of a sock

And there on the cover sits THE juicy, red, ripe
Homegrown tomato you’ve had dancing in your head
Never mind you said last August that you’d had it up to here
With the hoeing and the weeding—that’s what you say every year!

So, you fix a cup of cocoa, sink into your favorite chair
Put your feet up and you thumb through the pictures and compare
Big Boys, Better Boys, Early Girls, Romas
The new disease and drought-resistant hybrid from Sonoma!

Then it’s on to peas and carrots, lima beans and beets and kale
And you’ve never tried kohlrabi—say, the lettuce is on sale!
What’s a garden without sweet corn—better plant some marigolds
And you just read in “Prevention” ‘bout how garlic’s good for colds!

So, you phone an order in that nearly melts your Visa card
Then stare out at the foot of snow that blankets your backyard
And visualize your garden, oh, so peaceful and serene
Until at last you close your eyes and slip into a dream about:

Harvest time (bushels of red, ripe tomatoes!)
Harvest time (sweet corn that melts in your mouth!)

Well, the days turn to weeks and the next thing you know
There’s a robin at the feeder and the last patch of snow
Disappears ‘bout the time that a UPS truck
Backs up to your house and you stand there, awestruck

As 47 “Perishable—Plant Right Away”-
Marked boxes are unloaded on your porch as you say,
“Are you sure?” “Yes, ma’am, need your signature here—
Looks like someone’s gonna have ‘em quite a garden this year!”

Well, you watch him drive away, then you sink to your knees
‘Cause you feel a little woozy: Forty-seven boxes—Please!
God, I know I’ve got a problem and we’ve had this talk before
But help me this one last time—I won’t order anymore!

Just then, as if in answer to your prayer, your sister’s van
Pulls up into the driveway with Aunt Martha, Uncle Stan,
Two nephews and a cousin, who just stopped to say hello
But soon are sporting calluses as up and down each row

You, their warden, push ‘em; it’s a scene from “Cool Hand Luke”:
“Over there—those clods need breaking! Leave more space around that cuke!
See those bags of steer manure? Bring a dozen over—fast!
Yes, I know you have lumbago, but you’ll thank me when at last (it’s)

Harvest time (show you what a real strawberry tastes like!)
Harvest time (might even let you help me dig potatoes!)

Well, that night it starts to sprinkle and you can’t help feeling smug
‘Cause your garden’s in the ground and getting watered while you’re snug
Underneath the covers, or at least until midnight
When the temperature starts dropping and in no time you’re smack right

In the middle of your garden, in your jammies, on your knees
With a headlamp and a hammer and some tarps and jeez Louise
It’s cold but you keep working ‘till the last plant’s safe from harm
And there’s holes in your new jammies and bursitis in your arm

“Cause by gosh, you’re a gardener right down to your muddy clogs
And even when the rabbits take your lettuce and stray dogs
Pee on your zucchini and a fungus coats your kale
“Cause it’s rained for two weeks’ solid—do you falter? Do you fail?

Yep. You throw your hoe down, stamp your feet and call it quits—
Declare to all the neighborhood that gardening is the pits
And you’ll never plant another and this one can bloody rot
Then suddenly the sun breaks through the clouds and, like as not

You see a couple weeds you must have missed the last go-round
And shake your head and meekly pick your hoe up off the ground
And hoe and keep on hoeing ‘till your romas dangle red,
Ripe and juicy on the vine, sweet corn towers overhead,

Beans hang from their trellis, big orange pumpkins sprawl about
And you get that satisfying feeling once more when you shout:

Harvest time (Break out the canning jars!)
Harvest time (Man the pressure cooker!)
Harvest time (You have to take zucchini—we're related!)
Harvest time (Now THIS is a tomato!)

So, my question... what should I grow? I know the fresh veggies and outdoor exercise that a garden provides will beat a diet patch any day, so the garden will be good for us. The catch: I need to be sure to grow only the kinds food we'll eat, or the work will be a waste-- unless I have family, friends, and co-workers that promise to take the bounty ;-)

Some ideas I've had: I know I at least want to plant peas, green beans, and tomatoes, for sure. Beyond those, do I try corn? Strawberries? Pumpkins? Potatoes? Carrots? Broccoli? Cauliflower? Spinach or lettuce? Do I start asparagus or rhubarb this year so I can have it in the future? I don't know. I just want to brainstorm a list to research.

I need to go out and measure the space I have, and construct a plan on what will go where. Once I have a plan, I'll need to figure out what variety of seeds I'll be getting, when, and when everything needs to be started indoors or out. I'm starting to think about this as early as I can this year because I don't know what I'm doing.

For those of you who have done this before, what's your experience? What're some things I could grow that won't be TOO ambitious for this newbie?


Anonymous said...

Matt and I will promise to take some of your strawberries, green beans and cucumbers if needed :)
Yummy!!!I have great memories of picking strawberries with my mother.

Some farming engineer said...

You don't have enough room to grow corn, unless you hand-pollinate it.

Strawberries will get established better if you don't eat off of them the first year. Same with rhubarb, if you want any rhubarb.

Asparagus, if you like it, takes a couple years to get established. The garden is VERY composty & so this would be a good year to plant some. It involves digging a *serious* trench.

My biggest garden wish is that I'd started with some perennial vegetables / fruits years ago. So if you want strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, currants, gooseberries, Jerusalem artichoke (very different from regular artichoke), might be good to start there.

Really easy: green beans, peas.

ALso really easy: anything you grow from a transplant. I know someone who will be growing a LOT of transplants this year including such ridiculous things as okra & eggplant. That person may have extras if you were interested.

More advice is free at any time for the asking. :-)

Stephanie said...

First gardens are so exciting. I didn't get asparagus, strawberries or rhubarb in last year. I want ot do that this year.

I'd recommend Swiss Chard over Spinach. They are similar, but the Chard will produce all season while the spinach will bolt when it gets hot. For a first garden I recommend starting small and then adding the next year if you find you want more.


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