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The Village Idiot

2017 garden

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(11/2017) In spite of all that goes wrong in every garden- weather, insects, iffy soil experiments, poor seeds, late starts, late frosts, clueless gardeners (in my case- lazy gardener syndrome) there is usually something to brag about come harvest time!

What little I planted this year was sown directly into fermenting straw bales. Mostly I wanted to see how a straw bale garden behaved. Better than expected.

With only ten prepped bales to work with I managed not to go too crazy come seed sowing time. Tomatoes, beans and peppers were a fair compromise this first experiment. The tomatoes are 'Italian Heirloom' which seems a rather arrogant name, but that's the one they are sold under. The largest fruit, so far, weighed in at 1 lb, 9.9 oz. The others average around half a pound. I sliced one for a BLTM sandwich. It was flavorful, though a bit watery. The rest of the picked tomatoes were cooked down to a tasty sauce. Would the variety have been better flavored, less watery grown in soil? Possibly, but it proved its worth in a straw bale.

A Serrano chili variety -an heirloom known as 'Sinahusia' from New Mexico- was grown opposite the tomatoes in the same bales. I'll likely pick and pickle the green fruits for use in stir fries. The red fruits I'll dry and save the seeds of against the day I've used up the old saved seeds I grew this year's plants from.

The mottled Christmas Lima bean is a pole variety (Momentarily my favorite- a fine creamy, nutty bean unlike any other Lima bean I've ever eaten!) is growing between the tomatoes and chilies- in the same bales. The Lima bean seeds were the last to sprout among the three bean varieties I'm trialing, but the Limas were the first to bloom and set pods. I pinched off as many growing tips as I could find and the vines still set pods maddeningly late in the season! I may get enough seeds to actually boil up and butter- with a dash of salt and pepper!

Scattered among the bales, intertwined with the Limas, are a black runner bean: Ayocote Negro and a green pole bean: Rio Zape, supposedly the most flavorful of dried beans. The runner has beautiful red blossoms that have been drawing humming birds since they began blooming, but hasn't set many pods- as is its wont. Its natural climate ain't mid-Maryland's! The dry soup bean bloomed late, set pods profusely and hopefully will have gone to seed before the first killing frost. (Yes, I'm a zone denier. I'm growing all these beans outside their native climes.)

Tucked in where I can hardly see them are a few oxalis bulbs, two rosemary plants and a borage.

So far? The straw bales have proven their worth in my garden! Though this year's attempt is merely a stepping stone to bigger and hopefully better gardening methods as I play at improving on what worked this year and plan for less cooperative weather next season. It seldom rains enough here to keep a traditional garden productive without supplemental watering so wrapping the sides of the bales with plastic would help keep them moist in a less wet season. A mulch of some sort spread over the tops of the bales would also help retain moisture, though I noticed this year the rotted straw held water better than I'd been led to believe it would from the research I'd done before acquiring the straw. A soaker hose with a 2 gph washer sustained the plants well enough during the few dry patches we had this summer. And though the water was occasionally left on overnight, our water bill was not affected by the small usage.

DW hasn't had much time to look at what I've done to her yard this year. Mostly she sees unmown weeds when she wanders back there, but she did comment that I'd accidentally stumbled upon a garden method that seems to work for me. "Pity you couldn't have figured this one several thousand dollars worth of tools ago." (Women. Sheesh.)

"Can you plant some heirloom melons next year? You've been trying to grow them for years on the ground- without much luck. Maybe the bales are the way to go?"

I've been planning a melon experiment since the first bean pushed its way out of the straw! But I'm going to have to take part of the dog run away from the beasts and that's going to require some serious planning and effort on my part and DW's! I'm simply not up to some of the physical effort I know next year is going to require. Now would be a good time to sit down with my neighbors and work out a mutual garden, but- stubborn ass that I am -I'm still balking at that idea. I'm sick of losing control when I have to rely on other people to get things I envision done. Better to go it alone, show others what can be done and then see if they want to get involved!

A neighborhood garden could easily become a danger to me. If we managed to build one that worked for even one season I'd be tempted to try establishing a youth market garden. I already know that path leads to madness because it eventually requires government sticking it's ugly nose into the business. Better to plan on running my experiments and taking what works back to Marty's family farm and showing his kin what I've done and see if they might make use of it.

The latest three straw bales I brought home from the farm (Marty's family's farm) are going to be planted with three varieties of hardneck garlic: Bogatyr, Metechi and Romanian Red- one variety per bale.

"You spent $52 on seed garlic to try them in straw bales?" DW blinks rapidly. I can see she's warming up to unleashing Balor of the evil eye on me.

"Well," I'm ready for this confrontation. I've been practicing all summer. "I've been spending that much on bourbon and rum each month for the last year. You've noticed I haven't bought any booze since I began funding First Sister's painting T-shirts? Well the garlic experiment ate up some more of the booze money." I smile. "Would you rather I buy booze? There are several expensive gins I've been wanting to try."

Balor retreats. I drag the bales into the yard and prep them for planting garlic. Flipping them on their sides with the cut ends facing up I sprinkle them with an organic bulb fertilizer and water them well each day it doesn't rain. As soon as they reach an internal temperature of 110F I spread the layers open and stuff them full of professional potting soil, poke in the garlic cloves and water again. A mulch of last year's straw bales and I'm set for winter. Perhaps a bottle of Makers Mark- to celebrate the first garlic planting in several years and to ease me through the winter months could be considered?

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