Nothing is quite as Norman Rockwell as the backyard garden we picture in our mind’s eye each spring … and nothing is quite as Stephen King as that overgrown patch of weeds that we mow around all summer in hopes of wrestling enough food away from the aphids and groundhogs to harvest a decent sized dinner salad.
So … what went wrong? I mean, humans have been tilling the earth since way before the Gardens of Babylon became the seventh wonder of the world. You’d think it’d be second nature by now (or at least that there’d be an App for that on your smart phone).
But … when it comes down to gardening advice … you’re best to listen to somebody with a little dirt under their fingernails, I think … somebody like Jane Presby. After all, Jane’s family’s been harvesting a living out of this same piece of ground for close to 200 years now, so it’s hard to beat that kind of resume.
First things first, as Jane always says, so first on the list is a plan of attack. Here are a few things to think about when planning your summer garden:
- What do I want to plant? Some plants, like Tomatoes, have long growing seasons and should be started indoors. (At the farm here, we typically start our tomatoes in the greenhouse the day after Valentine’s Day.) Other plants are sown right into the outside soil (beans, beets, corn, peas and potatoes are just a few). So it’s important to get a list of what you want to plant so you can plan when to start, transplant or sow each variety.
- What kind of soil do I have? While much of the soil in New Hampshire is rocky and thin (and so will need a little building up with composted organic matter and the like), there are a lot of areas that have good loamy soil that is well drained. To see what kind of soil you have, first gather the clues from your yard: do you have evergreens or hardwoods? Will your lawn grow if you don’t water it? Are there rocky patches or outcroppings that could be signs of a shallow ledge and poor drainage?
- How good is my soil? Good question. The old timers could tell a lot about the soil from the look, feel and taste. However, we’re going to recommend that you go to a professional to have your soil tested. Sure there are home test kits available in hardware stores and garden centers, or you can order something online, and these are fine for a broad-picture view of your soil. But if you want more detailed information about nutrient deficiencies or excesses, toxic elements, or PH, you might do better sending a sample off to the UNH Cooperative Extension for analysis and nutrient recommendations (standard garden test is $17). Click here to find more information on that.
What tools do I need? There are more garden tools out there than you can shake a scarecrow at, so it’s easy to get carried away (like I tell my wife, if you only got two feet, why do you need to own fifty pair of shoes?). Here are some of Jane’s favorites:
- Hoe: Get one that is not too heavy so it is easy to control. Use for weeding, hilling, trenching and smoothing.
- Shovel: If you only buy one, get a spade. The shape makes it easier to cut through soil or loam and the blade is wide enough to let you get some good heft. Spades come in short handle and long handle varieties. Jane likes the long handle as it is easier on the back and gives her more leverage to handle the weight. (Besides, the long handle makes it easier for her to reach out and smack me on top of the head whenever my mind and my work get a little too far apart.)
- Long-Handled Steel Tooth Rake: This is used for spreading mulch, stone or debris, and for leveling out beds.
- Wheelbarrow: A good wheelbarrow will save you a lot of work … and a lot of time rehabbing your back. Buy one that “fits” your size and strength levels, and one that is balanced when you pick it up. There also are wheelbarrows that have removable sides … these are particularly good for carrying trays, flats of plants, bags, brush, etc.
- Trowel Witch: This is like a miniature spade shovel that can be used to dig holes for transplants, help to pull weeds, and smooth out garden surfaces.
- Small Garden Claw or Scratcher: Use this to work around your plants, lightening the soil and loosening the weeds. It also works well to help reach those places on your back that your arms just aren’t long enough to scratch.
- Bucket: Get a good bucket that is easy to clean and carry when it is full. Plastic or galvanized, your choice.
- Watering Pot: Like the bucket, find one that is easy to lift and maneuver when it is full. This tool will do a lot of work, so remember that quality will save you money in the long run.
- Pair of Gloves: Doesn’t matter much what you buy as long as they are comfortable, durable, waterproof, and a good fit … so you don’t get blisters.
- Jackknife: Short blade, good for cutting, opening and trimming.
So, there you go. I think we’ve covered enough to get you started. Check back in the coming weeks for more specific information about backyard gardening where we’ll talk a bit about amending the soil, sowing the seeds, watering, weeding, pruning, placement and much, much more. Now I’ve got to go … Jane is talking about fertilizer again and she knows how full of manure I am …
So, nuff said for now …