Joy in a Suburban Homestead

The time I spend working on my garden is precious.  From planning to harvest, each stage gives me new pleasure and challenges.   Every year I experiment with new varieties and placement,  new structures and supports.

One of my favorite changes this year is the bean tunnel.   It is made of livestock panel and some metal fence posts.   The idea is for the beans to climb up it, making this pretty covered tunnel that I can hide in.  Having a small yard in a dense neighborhood means very little of my yard has the private solitary feel that I like from a garden, and also almost no shade.  The bean tunnel is an attempt at making private space, no matter how small.   So far I love it.  The beans are growing exactly like they should with almost no help from me.   The ones climbing are mostly rattlesnake (Bountiful Gardens seeds), a very tender purple spotted bean with great flavor.  We grew it last year and liked it, so we decided to do it again.

On the ground you will see black weed block.   This is also new this year.  My front yard was all grass when we moved in.  And no matter how hard you try, grass is resilient.   I think I work harder killing all my grass than anyone in my neighborhood does keeping theirs a creepy green color all year long.  This year Erik had the idea to hoe up the first few inches of grass, staple down weed block and then cover with something.  The something you see here under the tunnel is rubber mulch.  I got it because it is recycled, rather pretty, lasts forever and nothing is going to grow in it.  The downside is that is sucks to walk on with bare feet.  The other option I tried, which you can see to the left, is sand.  Feels great on the feet, and not likely to get things growing in it.  But it will wash away over time.

Specially trained attack tomatoes

Speaking of structures, a new one is called for with these tomatoes.  They have bent this support and are about to take it down.  Tomorrow I am going to take some more livestock panel and make something to put around them that might be a little more sound. While I am at it, all the other tomato plants which are still pretty small might as well get the same treatment.  Lots of volunteer tomatoes this year, there is a one under the sunflowers that looks to be a roma of some type.

I am using the biointensive method, with increasing success.   My lettuce and radish area is just about perfect – almost no space at all between these plants.  That means no weeds, no mulch, and great water retention.  The idea is to make a mini-ecosystem  under a group of plants. I have found that growing close makes for much healthier plants, and that some plants like radishes will not even grow if too far away from others of their kind.   I need to eat all of this very soon.  With the super high temperatures (mid-90s everyday this week) lettuce is about to bolt, which will not be good eats.

Companion planting is fun, sort of like a game.   For the last few years I have been trying to get nasturtium and squash both growing at the same time, with no luck.  I killed every nasturtium I planted.   Which was sad, because I thought they would be pretty.  And they are!  This year they are finally working.  I have three plants living, one each red, yellow and orange.  Which is odd, because the seed package shows red, and I have always heard they are red.  I am happy they come in more than one color.  I like surprises like that.   I hope having the nasturtium helps with squash bugs.  Summer squash is one of my favorite foods when fresh.  Last year was a real disappointment for squash.  Between squash bugs, mexican bettles (tricksy bastards) and not enough water, we got maybe 2 meals worth of squash all season.

          Here are the two great friends- yellow squash and nasturtium. The leaves of the nasturtium are almost as pretty as the flowers.  This plant looks like it either came from the past and was a favorite of dinosaurs, or else from an alien world. No, I don’t know why I feel that way, I just do.  I have an active imagination.  Oh, fun thing about my squash.  I planted the seeds of several kinds at random, so until they have fruit I don’t know what they are.  This one is yellow straight neck. One of the others is getting its first fruit and it looks  like it might be a pattypan of some kind.

Sometimes I look at my tiny yard and I long for the future, when I will have a real farm with all the garden space I could ever want, with chickens and cows, and an evil mule.  But most of the time I am happy with what I have.  I am learning each plant’s likes, dislikes and needs on an intimate basis. Each plant is special. With a small garden I can take the time to care for them one at a time.   Also, a suburban homestead is a nice step.  A 5-acre plot might overwhelm me.  I might run around like crazy planting things at random, wanting to use it all, and making a big mess.   With my small plot I have to really think about how I am going to use every foot.   Until I started this garden I always thought of growing my own food as efficient, self-sufficient and utilitarian.  Having a garden in the front yard as taught me that a garden can also be a beautiful work of art.