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The Village Idiot

Recording the Garden

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(10/2011) Mother Earth News (once upon a time, our familyís favorite gardening magazine) offers on-line garden software allowing detailed garden planning and record keeping. Iíve mostly resisted the insane urge to keep even hodge-podge records of anything Iíve planted other than last yearís garlic. Iím thinking this program might be just what I need as I get farther along with a market garden.

The Texas homesteader is so disgusted by the idea of spending money on a computer "game" she didnít bother to chide me when I mentioned I might give it a try. She has an analytical mind, the discipline to take notes, compile records and organize them. She can go back over the years and tell me what variety of veggie she planted where and when on her farmett. How it grew, produced (or not), what it tasted like, how much she harvested, whether she canned or dried it, how much she put away and on and on. I donít do any of that and the few times I have started a garden record, well, I canít find it two weeks later. I am not analytical and the only things Iíve ever bothered to compile were beer cans and wine bottles.

The garden software seems ideal for me. For $25 a year ($20 a year if I buy two yearsí service at the same time), it allows me to lay out the garden before I plant it. I can set rows, or blocks of plants wherever I want them and the program will tell me how many square feet of space Iím working with. When I add a vegetable it will calculate the number of plants that would work best in that space. The software has built in stats on most vegetables and a feature allows the user to add plants that arenít on the list.

Telling the program where on this rock Iím gardening allows it to tell me when the best time is to start seedlings indoors, or to sow directly in the garden. It also suggests a harvest date, useful for planning a succession planting. As the program would have my e-mail address, it would send me reminders as to when to start seeds indoors. (What it doesnít do, yet, is predict the weather, or which insect pest will turn up in any particular year.)

Which reminds me, there is a "note" section that allows the gardener to add detail to the record. If I were to use the "free for 30 days" trial program and lay out this yearís garden as best I can recall, Iíd note that European cantaloupes burst open (like misbegotten flowers vomiting seed onto the soil) when it rains while they are maturing. A new (to me) squash bug showed up this year, a "leaf-footed" bug. I found a tomato hornworm on a pepper plant. The crucifers Wanda so carefully planted were devoured within two days by flea beetles.

Flea beetles? I havenít seen a flea beetle in a decade! There must have been a gazillion of the little black leapers! (The Mother has a debatable sense of humor, but I knew that the first day She offered the acre to us. As the Texan pointed out, I wasnít willing to prepare for the realities of gardening. Sometimes pesticides, organic or not, have to be used!)

Scattered among the "notes" would be our successes. The European cantaloupe was a big hit, those few that didnít split. One of the two cultivars of watermelon we grew was highly praised. We have demands for more melons next season. The green bush beans I sowed, with no intention of harvesting at all (they were a cover/green manure crop), ended up producing so many tasty, tender beans we couldnít help but sell them, trade them, dry, freeze and eat them ourselves. And the peppers! Iím intoxicated by the fragrance of bell peppers piled in the living room waiting to be blanched, frozen or dried. Iíve pickled 14 quarts of mildly hot peppers and probably have at least as many more standing in the garden. Wandaís lima beans, after a long fruitless July, are finally setting and filling pods with thick, tender, creamy seeds. I doubt any of them will make it to the dry stage this late in the year. There are too many two legged bean eaters devouring them as green shellies!

Other notes would remind me to plant early maturing varieties of everything to avoid the swarm of Brown marmorated stink bugs next year. While I seemed to have had some success controlling them with a mix of Dawn dish detergent and water it takes some time and a bit of looking to squirt each of the little buggers. I imagined myself as an ungainly tall, bearded Hoggle (the real Hoggle is a handsome fellow, not nearly as grizzled and cranky as I) from the movie Labyrinth as I slowly stalked along the row of lima beans spraying each bug I spotted. Wanda thought I was avoiding picking green beans, I thought I was saving her lima beans from predation. Whatever I was doing, she decided it seemed to be too much like fun while she was working. (Some people donít know how to make a game out of work.)

Looking over the notes Iím making of this yearís garlic stash, and this fallís planting stock, I see I have 13 cultivars saved from Julyís harvest. 169 bulbs and hopefully 850 cloves among them worth planting. That will more than fill last yearís garlic bed. Then I have nine cultivars, ten bulbs of each, I bought from Hacienda Shiloh (717) 642-9161. Coupled with the 4 pounds of seed bulbs I bought from a grower in Ohio, I figure Iím close to the 2,000 plus cloves I wanted to plant this year. Now, if I can figure out where to dry/cure next summerís harvest I should have enough garlic to satisfy me, a couple of buyers and those friends I share the superb gourmet garlic with. Actually, Iíve been cussed at by more than one friend for getting them addicted to "good" garlic. After weíve eaten all of my garlic, and whatever Hacienda Shiloh has, we suffer withdrawals as we wait on Julyís harvest and the miserable two weeks it takes to dry and cure the bulbs! Supermarket garlic, whether itís grown in California, Florida, Argentina or China is all sad, sad garlic compared to the hundreds of cultivars available outside run-of-the-mill retail outlets.

Iím jazzed about the approaching winter. As soon as the ground is dry enough weíll work it up and plant the garlic. A bit of snow that lingers on the beds would be nice, but Iíll be happy with a couple of months of below freezing temperatures to flavor the garlic and get it to set cloves.

Itís time to get serious about record keeping. I guess the software program is my best bet. Unless the Texan wants to move here and take that part of the garden over. As close as the wildfires got to her place this year she might consider the offer.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.