This is a garden challenge - as in, a story of a challenge of turning an abandoned plot into something vaguely resembling an actual garden. The above photo splice is from a few weeks ago, but the plot originally looked like this in March:
There were big trees in one corner (that is a mass of about 9 trees), small trees scattered around, and pits dug out all over the plot. The plot size is 40x40', and it had been abandoned for many years. The previous plot holder had been a tree farmer, hence the pits and some of the saplings. I cut down all the saplings and 4-5 of the medium sized (20' tall) trees with a handsaw. When I reached the limits of the handsaw, I enlisted my father to help out with a chainsaw.
This took care of all the big trees *in* the plot. It was too hard to get the cut trees out of the plot because there is really no egress and we are not allowed to throw the branches into the woods. So, there is a big pile of branches in one corner of my plot.
The above photo shows the cut stumps, the logs that were too big to move and now form a divider with one of the adjacent plots, the rest of my plot (from the logs back to the fence), and one of the big challenges of this plot: full size trees that grow up to the plot border on the eastern and southern sides. National Park land starts about 20 feet back into the forest on the south side, with the city "forest reserve" on the east side. The trees result in more than 1/2 of my plot being in full shade, there is a triangular wedge of my plot that gets various amounts of sun starting at noon.
The really great and unexpected news is that the city may come and cut back the shading trees from near the garden plots this winter. We are not sure yet how many or which trees will be cut or trimmed, but there is a decent chance that I might get a whole lot more sun next year. But this year, not so much.
Another challenge became evident in the spring - the entire plot is infested with poison ivy vines. Also ticks, but I was expecting the ticks. If you don't know what poison ivy looks like, here you go:
that is actually a lot better than another gardener's plot nearby, who has 40 foot tall dead trees covered completely with insane poison ivy vines. I could
show you a photo of the 20 tick bites I got on my ankle at the garden this weekend (the ticks were so small they went right through my socks), but I won't.
I have a special set of garden clothing that I treated with permethrin, now I am going to add some special socks to the outfit.
I decided to dig out some of the beds as short rows. This area tends toward swamp and doesn't drain that well when it rains, so I wanted to plant in raised areas only. I put down cardboard to make paths and put mulch (free from the city mulch pile) on top of the cardboard. The one time this year that we got really heavy rain, the dug paths flooded and had standing water for days, so the cardboard may not have been necessary.
I also wanted some framed raised beds, one for leeks and one for madder (a dye plant harvested for the roots). I wanted to be able to control the soil composition more in these beds, adding some sand into the leek bed especially. These two raised beds are in one of the sunnier areas as well.
In the back of the photo is a blue tarp, used in this case to collect water into a plastic container. These community gardens have no water supply (a BIG challenge), and I live more than a mile away in a highrise apartment building, so carrying water in my compact car in a hilly neighborhood is not a good solution. The tarp works ok, but tends to come detached from the pathetic supports. I am planning to get a real water barrel and set up the tarp properly this winter.
I started some seeds indoors, mostly for plants that are hard to find - dye plants especially. I also started my own leeks. Because I am cheap, I start seedlings in recycled food containers. I germinated them inside, and then moved them out onto my north-facing balcony until they were large enough to transplant. There was one incident where a storm knocked over and killed some of the leeks, but I ended up with more than enough seedlings anyway.
This community garden has almost no rules - you can plant pretty much anything you want. I wanted cane fruit (usually disallowed in community gardens), and put in raspberry and blackberry canes along the sunny fence. I also put in a trellis to help control the blackberries. I snagged a free straw bale from a re-enactment event and used it to mulch the cane fruit, as well as the leek bed.
Deer have been an ongoing problem, especially in early summer. They killed some rudbeckia, tried to kill the japanese indigo and zucchini, and have been munching on the madder. I put some netting on the squash and then strung up fishing line a la MissingWillow (http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=380733.0
) which has cut back on deer damage somewhat. This is what they did to the squash:
I have gotten a few zucchini and one yellow squash so far this season for a harvest. We have had months of very little rain and hot temperatures (90s-100s), and I think there just has not been enough water. Now I have a bad infestation of squash bugs on all the squash.
I planted elecampane because it came in a packet of dye seeds - it looks pretty (see the leaf below), but has not flowered. It is in an area that doesn't get much sun. On the other hand, I can't find any information on how to actually use it as a dyestuff, so I am not really bothered.
These weld plants below should have been planted further apart. They are supposed to flower in the second spring, when they grow much larger than the first year rosettes. Since they do not transplant well, we will just see what happens.
After the deer ate my "deer resistant" rudbeckia back to the ground half a dozen times, I got a different rudbeckia with fuzzier leaves. They don't like this one as much. I can't figure out how so many people in the neighborhood have giant masses of rudbeckia that have not become deer snacks.
There are two plastic bowls for water plants, one is being used with the tarp, the other one has parrotsfeather and black princess taro. I think the taro may be forming a flower bud right now. I am going to try to overwinter the expensive taro in my house, we will see how that goes...
I wanted something aggressive to plant near the taro bowl, where there is enough sun that weeds are a problem. So I planted some lemon balm, knowing full well what would happen. Probably I should not have planted it so close to the path...
I bought some herb seedlings in the spring, these are all doing very well. The mint I planted in the shadiest areas, but the sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary are all in sunnier locations and quite happy. Full shade does actually seem to control mint. This sage has grown a lot in a few months:
Because the berry canes are slow to grow, I planted gourd seeds at the sunnier end of the row of canes. It decided to grow up the wire fence, and there are now a few fast-growing gourds hanging off. Will the gourds survive the squash bugs? Too early to tell!
The major edible victory has been the leek bed. Some of the leeks are already nearing harvestable size. I am going to try cut-and-come-again with a couple to see what happens. A few smaller leeks will be left alone so they can flower and go to seed next year, starting a perpetual leek bed.
The madder bed has also been doing very well. The deer still manage to stick their heads through the fishing line and munch the tops down, but it is growing all over the place. You can tell that the back corner of the bed gets a lot less sun than the other side just from the size of the plants. Madder needs 3-5 years to grow before the roots can be harvested:
And finally, I just installed a rain gauge near the leek bed. Since no one in my area is on http://cocorahs.org/
, I often have no idea how much (or little) it has rained. I can't check it every day, but this gauge should keep most of the water inside until I can measure it. Also, it has rained every day since I installed it, so maybe the gauge has special rain-control skills.
So my plans are to install and plant two small raised beds this fall - one for stinging nettles, the other for a fall crop of kale. During the winter, I want to dig up and mulch more areas of the plot, repair the border fence, and put in a rain barrel with tarp. Next year will depend a lot on what the city decides to do about the bordering trees. And that is my first-year garden!