Garden party

Posted by Cameron on 12.16.08 1:46 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

I have never been an instinctively organized person. I tend to leave planning until the last minute, overestimate (and overbuy) the necessary materials, and then fly by the seat of my pants. Most of the time my “method” works, but it can be wasteful. It’s also hard to define and evaluate what I did in retrospect, so that I can do it better next time.

I have been trying like heck not to take my typical approach with our nascent vegetable garden. From the construction of our new raised beds (hammer and shovel account coming in a future post, I promise) to planning plantings, I have actively encouraged my inner project manager to come out and play.

However, I am acutely aware of the fact that what I consider a “plan” often sounds like Marty McFly’s instructions to the 1950s dance band in Back to the Future: “Okay guys, this is a blues riff in B. Watch me for changes and try and keep up, okay?” So when Genie, aka the Inadvertent Gardener, volunteered to lend a hand with our very first planting, I was primed to overthink the entire event. And boy, did I.

I read all of the instructions on the seed packets, inside and out, cross-referencing the information with my two new best friends, Pam Peirce’s Golden Gate Gardening and Jeff Ball’s 60-Minute Vegetable Garden. I gazed at our new beds, making calculations about relative amounts of sun and shade, and searched the Web for general planting instructions, raised bed ideas, and wide-row planting theory. I made a list of the vegetables that I wanted to grow, organized by the distance between rows that each required. I drew up a small diagram of my beds (to scale, of course), illustrating what would go where. And, when Genie asked what time she should arrive on Saturday, I thought about how much time planting might take and left a generous margin for error, suggesting that I pick her up from the BART station at 1pm.

Saturday morning, I laid out all of my garden tools (a shovel, a long rake, a hand trowel, and a hand rake) and the seed packets, clipped together. It wasn’t until Genie arrived and I started describing the work plan — illustrated with my hyperactive little meth-junkie diagram — that I started hearing the loose screws rattling around in my tiny little head. I hauled in the reins and ground to a halt, biting off the suggestion that we measure the distance between rows. Folks, we’re talking about two small raised beds, each almost exactly eight feet long and four feet wide; surrounded by and aligned with stone tiles that are each almost exactly two feet square. About the only thing that we didn’t have to work with was a grid printed directly on the dirt. Somewhat sheepishly, I handed Genie a rake and suggested that we start loosening the soil in the beds, which had settled and crusted over a bit in the two weeks since I installed them.

About an hour later, I was feeling like an even bigger dork. The planting that I thought would take most of the afternoon? Done. Actually, Genie finished her bed in about 30 minutes and spent the rest of the time taking pictures of me stumbling about. Right now, somewhere, my über-gardener mom is looking down on me and laughing her butt off. With love, sure. But laughing nonetheless.

But you know what? We now have a bunch of dirt with seeds in it! We’ve got three kinds of onions in (two from seed and one from sets) — some that I’m planning to pull as scallions. We also planted three rows of mixed beets, two rows of French breakfast radishes and another of cherry radishes, a row of leeks, two of peas, and one of mixed lettuce.

And to tell the truth, I could use more “chore” days like this one. Anita made delicious lunch of Reuben sandwiches with Marin Sun Farms pastrami, which we ate with Laura’s dilly beans and Sean’s pickles. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking, playing with the pups, sipping beer, and kibitzing in the kitchen.

After the sun went down, the three of us washed our faces, put on our city duds, and headed off to SPQR, where red wine, non-stop wisecracks, at least six different kinds of pork, and a surprise fireworks display (seen across the bay from the top of Fillmore Street as we waited for our table) were the order of the evening. If there’s a better, happier, more karmically charged way to kick off a new garden, I cannot imagine what it would be.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

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Comment by Laura

So glad you enjoyed yourselves! Just wait until you get back from London and see all those pretty little sprouts poking their heads up!

I did the same thing last year. Read way too much, drew out a massively detailed planting diagram in Illustrator. Of course I did actually use a tape measure to plant (still do actually). I dunno though, might seem anal to some people, but I think have a solid plan makes it easier to improvise later ;)

Posted on 12.16.08 at 5:59PM

Comment by Genie

Laura, I know you’re right about the planning and the tape measure, and I think you’re even right about the solid plan leading to better improvising! Still, the little planting chart made me chuckle, less because of its validity as a method and more because I am so very, very bad at planning any kind of garden other than in the broadest and vaguest of terms.

It was an incredibly fun day! And every now and then I was actually able to impart some of the small pieces of gardening knowledge floating around in my brain. AND I got to eat the dilly beans, which were uh-may-zing. So hooray for planning! :-)

Posted on 12.17.08 at 7:04AM

Pingback by Friends don’t let friends use tape measures – The Inadvertent Gardener

[...] To read the other side of the story, please head over to Cam’s wonderful rendition. [...]

Posted on 12.17.08 at 7:10AM

Comment by Greg Turner

My wife and I keep toying with the idea of putting in a garden. She’s much more a planner than I, and I’m hoping this post will enable us to find a little compromise between my own, “Ah, just put them anywhere. If they grow, they grow!” and her “The directions say each row should 2.5 inches apart and the seeds planted no more than 5/16 of an inch.”

I can’t wait to read about your results.

Posted on 12.17.08 at 7:21AM

Comment by Morgan

See, Stacey and I are mostly like that too, except I’ll be the obsessive dork that draws out about fifteen different diagrams showing what will be planted where. But then, when it actually comes to planting everything, I’ll be the one who is eye-balling it while Stacey’s following ME around with a tape measure. Before long we’re into a “You don’t trust my judgement talk”. Then comes the bitter silence…

Wow, that got uncomfortable really quickly. [insert awkward laugh]

Posted on 12.17.08 at 7:40AM

Comment by cookiecrumb

See, Cam, that’s the same sort of over-pre-obsessing that prevented me from planting with abandon for so long.
Finally, ChileBrown said, “Dig a hole and dump some bullshit into it.” I opted for chickenshit, but all the same… it worked!
Relax and enjoy the harvest. They didn’t have rulers when agriculture was invented.

Posted on 12.17.08 at 2:01PM

Comment by Cameron

Laura: I don’t think that I’m going to completely believe that it’s real until I see those sprouts.

Greg: I find that I need both of those voices inside my head to keep me on track. The Planner gives me a greater chance of success and the Improviser reminds me that the goal isn’t perfection, it’s to grow something. And eat it.

Morgan: I’m not sure how to respond to that without charging you $150/hour. :D

Cookie: It’s kind of weird, but I’m actually enjoying the planning. It’s like getting to play in the garden when there’s actually nothing to do there.

Posted on 12.18.08 at 9:06AM

Comment by Morgan

Well, at least you’re reasonable.

Jokes…only jokes.

Posted on 12.18.08 at 11:48AM

Comment by cookiecrumb

OK, you’re not letting go. That’s fun for you. Just wait; it’ll get funner.

Happy travels!!

Posted on 12.18.08 at 5:39PM

Comment by Tartelette

You guys are my gardening idols. Seriously!!
See part of me thinks I’d compulsively drop the seeds precisely where they would sprout best and the other part of me thinks that I would just scatter them everywhere and hope for the best…I can’t believe we are still enjoying our first homegrown tomatoes and it is December 19th and 80F during the day…crazy!!
Wishing you the best holiday season and a safe trip!

Posted on 12.19.08 at 11:28PM

Comment by cassie

earlier today i was drawing up the plans for my first garden in illustrator. i can’t decide if i am over planning or not. i am just excited to grow my own food!

love your blog and look forward to seeing how your garden grows!

Posted on 12.20.08 at 2:39PM

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