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Gardener’s Odyssey

by Peter Ciccarelli

Every spring thaw brings with it inspiration and newfound energy. The sun is warmer in the sky and the days begin to get longer. Although the nights may still be chilly, you know that winter is over. This spring that little inspiration bloomed into full-fledged activity: I decided to plant my first vegetable garden. Of course everybody encouraged me. Friends suggested different ways to get started and vegetables that would prosper in the environment. Family members gave me gardening tools and a watering can. Even Mother Nature cooperated, delivering a mild spring with some rainy days and some sunny. Gardening is a like playing a sport or a musical instrument. You learn by doing but it helps to have some instruction. That said, I hope everyone who reads this journal will use the information to grow something themselves. If you don’t want to grow veggies, then plants flowers. If flowers aren’t your things, then plant a tree. Even if you live in the city, you can plant a window box or some flowerpots on a table by a sunny window. Just dig in the dirt – you’ll be surprised at what can happen!

Saturday, May 25th, 2002: Site Preparation

First things first. I needed to find a decent place to plant. I live on a small lake in southwestern New Hampshire. The soil in my yard is little more than granite ledge and sand. Under these conditions, I thought it best that I build a raised bed and fill it with dark brown earth brought in from another location and plants that were sure to prosper.

I went to the lumberyard and bought a twelve foot by eight inch by two inch board and (2) ten foot by eight inch by two inch boards. I had someone at the yard cut the 12 foot board into (2) six foot lengths. I used a screw gun to bolt the boards into a sturdy structure that became the garden’s border. I went to a nursery down the street and bought about a yard of soil and then went to another place that a friend suggested had good vegetables and bought some plants that I thought would prosper. Before I knew what was happening, I was in business. I was a gardener. And I want to share all the crazy, beautiful, natural things that happen in this garden with you.

  1. Pick a plot that gets sun all day – I went out in the yard for a few day in a row and observed the arc of the sun. I realized there was a spot in the yard that received good sun from about nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. This was the best spot in the yard and so this is where I dropped my boards.
  2. Build Frame – You don’t need to get fancy. The frame is really just a border to help you plan what to plant where.
  3. Prep Area – Pitchfork existing ground, remove rocks, weeds, etc., add soil, cultivate.

Pondering Soil
I want to say a quick word about soil. While you might think it’s just dirt, soil is actually the lifeblood of your garden. Plants use the organic material (grass, leaves, animal droppings) that is found in soil to grow. Soil bacteria help break down dirt into essential elements that plants can use. How fast the bacteria perform these processes depends on temperature, air, and soil moisture. Soil density will also determine how often you’ll be watering. Clay soil holds water better than sandy soil and there is a wide spectrum of soil densities in between.
The best soil improvement can be found in a compost pile that you can start yourself by collecting grass clippings after you mow the lawn or weed from a flower garden. You might put coffee grinds from the breakfast table and vegetable skins and cores from the dinner table in here, too. Heap everything in a pile that is out of the way but convenient to your garden; some folks might think a compost is an eyesore.

I found an old wood frame that looks like it had once been used for compost purposes and I put it back in action.

Sunday, May 26th, 2002: Planning

I know I want to grow vegetables. You might decide to grow flowers or a combination of flowers and veggies. I like the idea of growing something that I can eat and share with my family and friends. Plus, I have a hard time getting the required seven servings of vegetables that are recommended by the government and I think this gardening thing will be a good way to strengthen my diet.

After doing some research and talking to friends who have grown things in the same type of environment, I decide to grow three kinds of lettuce, a few types of tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. I chose not to grow cucumbers, peas, or other types of creeping veggies that will take up too much room in a small plot.