To the chagrin of our college age sons who don’t enjoy change on the home front, we took out an overgrown crab apple tree this spring and added another bed to the vegetable garden. This means there is less lawn (a good thing), less room to kick a soccer ball (a good thing or bad thing, depending on your point of view), no place to hang the hammock (apparently a very bad thing) and much more sun-kissed ground in which to plant additional vegetables (a very good thing).
The new bed is an in-ground bed (as opposed to the six raised beds built over a former driveway). I filled it mostly with ingredients for soup: potatoes, carrots, leeks, parsnips, tomatoes, and onions (my other soup ingredients are already in the raised beds: garlic, more onions, spinach, beets, celery, butternut squash, peas, sorrel, parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, parsley and bay).
We started working on the new bed by watching. Once the crab apple came down, and the trees around the edges of the property started leafing out, we watched the progress of sun and shade across the lawn over the course of a week. There is no point in going to the trouble of putting in a new bed if it isn’t going to get enough light. After all, what do plants need to grow? A patch of healthy soil (there’s a topic for another column), good light, and water.
In a small yard like mine, where the cast shadows from the house, the studio, the neighbor’s trees, and the hedges for privacy have their say, the movement of light and shade bears watching (my art students will be familiar with this obsession).
It is all about light.
When planning a garden, it makes sense to think about what it is you enjoy eating and therefore what it is that you literally wish to get from your garden. Is it fresh salads/greens to pick the minute before sitting down to eat? Or fresh warm tomatoes? A cutting garden for flowers? Edible flowers? An herb garden? If you are lucky, there’s enough room to plant it all.
Lately we’ve been eating young lettuces in salads that also have the thinnings from the rows of beets and arugula and chive flowers. The sorrel has started to bolt, and I have hacked it down to put into potato dishes and soup. It will come back. The parsley that wintered over is also bolting and I have planted more. The spinach has been eaten. We harvested the bok choi and I planted a row of basil in its stead as the basil seedlings I put in the ground are not happy with all the rain. The peas are ready to be eaten. The tomato plants are suddenly reaching for the sky. And the potatoes are taking off — a little on the late side after all the rain. But they have not rotted! There’s soup stirring beneath the soil.