September 12, 2010 by Leah
Before we were dating, I asked Aaron what he thought about lawns. We were hiking Flattop at the time, and he didn’t even pause before saying something like, “they’re pointless wastes of space and resources.” (One of many little signs that he was The One.) I tend to agree. Yet here we are with a giant lawn and a $90-per-month portion of our rent that goes to lawn care. Obviously, we needed a garden.
It took us a couple of months of talking about a garden before we actually got moving on the project. The first big step was building a compost bin, although that was motivated more by a wish to stop contributing so much to landfills than by a wish for compost. Aaron built us a bin one Sunday afternoon about three weeks ago.
The next big step was doing some reading. I was inspired by an article in Mother Earth News about growing $700 worth of food in 100 square feet, but it wasn’t a how-to manual. While I successfully managed my mother’s garden when I was a senior in high school and taking AP Biology, since then all I’ve done is grow some peas, beets, and herbs in containers on my (north-facing) porch (in Alaska). For an actual garden in a new area, I needed some advice.
Enter my shiny new library card. I took it for a spin and discovered two books on the “new arrivals” shelf, both about growing food in small spaces. The books were really interesting and very different. One thought “small” was nine square feet, the other felt small was anywhere from 750 to 3000 square feet. The authors ran very different types of gardens – one was all about neatness and order (he’s a New Englander) and the other took a more relaxed approach (she’s a Dutch-born Australian). Both included garden plans and good information about what crops grow well together and helpful advice (for instance, I’m not growing potatoes because – even though I love them – we are starting very small and somewhat late). I checked the average frost and frost-free dates in our area, just to make sure planting now wouldn’t be totally ridiculous, and I was surprised to find that it does indeed frost around here. Usually on about December 12th, and leaving around February 11th. So I have three months.
While I was reading and hemming and hawing, Aaron had been working on tearing out a patch of lawn. He decided 50 square feet was a good area to start with, which was just fine with me when I dug down and installed all the edging by hand yesterday. I also made a garden plan yesterday, and to my pleased surprised I found seeds for everything I wanted on the shelves at our local garden center (Armstrong’s – it’s a great local chain).
Aaron came along and found organic vegetable food and organic planting compost to shore up our rather clayey and dry soil, and by yesterday afternoon we had seeds soaking and the soil was ready to go. We spent about $90 on five bags of soil, fertilizer, seeds, and a new (longer) hose. We also spent probably $35 on a shovel and a hoe previously.
Thanks to the aforementioned lawn care (his name is Jay and he is quite supportive of this garden experiment) we now have a heavier-duty shovel, rake, and some other things on permanent loan from the landscaping department. He also provided the edging I installed. (Somehow Aaron neglected to get a picture of me sawing it to pieces while wearing a safety mask.) Depending on the dog and presence of pests, we may have to install some kind of fence, but I kind of doubt the coyotes will be interested in our vegetables, and they definitely keep the place free of rabbits and the like. So our initial outlay was $125 and a lot of hard labor. Will it pay off? I have no idea. If all our vegetables grow according to the plan, it will pay off big time (monetarily and in other ways), but there’s always the possibility the entire venture will collapse. After all, who plants in September?