Resolutions for the Gardener's New Year
Murphy, Bane of Well-laid Plans and Good Intentions, mocks my enthusiasm as he lurks over my shoulder and watches me begin to make my plans. Murphy knows all about resolutions. He knows that all resolutions are easy to make and most are easy to begin, but carrying-through is another matter altogether. Carrying-through is where he always wins.
But not this year!
This year, I'm not just going to plan out my garden on paper before I start to plant. I'm really going to follow the plan!
Every spring I get out the graph paper and lay out the vegetable garden. Some things have to stay in the same place, year after year. The asparagus, of course, in its bed. The spinach and lettuce on the end that gets shade. But other things are supposed to move around to avoid pests and disease. Don't plant cabbage in the same row where you put it last year. Don't plant tomatoes where the potato patch was. So just where was the potato patch? Next to the beans? But where were the beans? Outside in the garden, all signs of last year's rows have been erased by the fall tilling, leaving it a blank slate of enriched earth, ready for the new season. But if I'd only followed my original plan, I'd know for sure where everything had been. This year, it will be different.
This year, I'm really going to keep a garden log.
Every spring, my good intentions prevail and I start a garden log. Last year's was in a blue spiral calendar notebook. The first entry: Feb 18 - Started cabbage and broccoli seeds. I set out the plants on April 16, according to the log, but I don't know when I started to harvest them, because by that time I'd stopped making regular entries.
Not this year! This year, I'll know how long it takes the broccoli from planting to harvest, and I'll write down what varieties I planted, too. I'll note when the first cucumber beetles show up and when those red moths come around to lay squash borer eggs. In the future, when I wonder when the cherries will be ripe, I'll be able to look in the garden log and see what date I picked them in 2008. From the first seeds on the heating mat in the spring to the last head of broccoli in November, it will all be written down there in the log.
Maybe I'll keep the log on the computer this year. I hear that there is garden planning software for this purpose. Maybe I'll put it all in an online journal. If I think someone else might be watching me, I'd be more likely to keep it up, defying Murphy.
This year, I'm really going to put out better plant markers.
Every spring, I get a whole bunch of those tongue depressors and write the names on them when I put out plants or sow seeds. Then, in August, I find myself standing in the middle of a tangle of melon vines, wondering, which variety is this one? Yellow Doll? Petite Treat? Which kind has the stripes? Is it supposed to be ripe yet? They all sound the same when I thump them. So I trace the vine back to its source, looking for the markers that will tell me what variety it is. Ooops. If the marker is still there at all, the writing has washed entirely away. Melons Anonymous.
Of course, I could look up my garden plan to see what varieties I planted where, but I know what I'll find – a blank rectangle labeled "melons". I can hear Murphy now, laughing at me. I really need those markers.
This year, I'm not going to be seduced by the pictures in all those garden catalogs. Or the plants in the nurseries, tempting me. Yes, that is certainly the most wondrous hosta, the most exquisite daylily, the most desirable rose! But do I have room for it? Every year, I get carried away and buy some new plants with only a vague notion of where I could put them, then try to squeeze them into some crowded spot where there isn't really room for them to grow – or, worse, where some other plant is already established but hasn't emerged yet. [see above, markers]
This year, I will be resolute. If I am tempted by a new plant, I will first ask myself: do I have a proper place to plant it? How large will it get - is there space for it to grow? And how well will it go with the other plants already in place? Will it overshadow them? Will it get too large and crowd them out? Will it bloom in a season where I really need something blooming in that bed, or when its color will clash with some established flower? And if I really need to have it, am I willing to tear out some other plant to make enough space?
The same goes for the vegetable garden. Yes, all those different varieties of squash look so tempting! But how much space does a squash vine take up? How many do I really have room for? This year, I will not succumb to the temptation of thinking that if I plant each one just a foot closer together, I'll be able to add a couple more. [see above, garden planning]
Alternate resolution: Enlarge garden. Start new beds.
This year, speaking of those garden catalogs, I will not be deceived by the photoshopped pictures. This year, I will not plant 6 dozen so-called pink daffodils only to discover the next spring, when they emerge, that they are a nasty orangey apricot. I will exercise due diligence. I will go to the PlantFiles and look up my intended purchases before I place my order. I will get the plants I really want.
I know could make more resolutions. I could resolve to install drip irrigation instead of relying on sprinklers. I could resolve to get a branch chipper and make my own mulch. I could resolve to get a pressure canner and preserve a lot more of my own produce. I could resolve to surround the garden with a varmint-proof fence.
But the ghostly sound of laughter is getting louder, and I think I should not tempt Murphy any further. There is always next year.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)