Two Fridays ago I was sitting at the Dog & Duck on a first-date-like-activity with an architecture-grad-student-boy. As we were finishing the last of the pitcher of beer he asked, “What’s the plan for the rest of the weekend?” I responded “installing a garden at my new place.” I didn’t think anything of it until he paused, wrinkled his face up a little and then stared off to some far away place right above my shoulder. Instant panic! Last I heard gardening was pretty cool yet I’m pretty sure his response threw a look of terror and rejection across my face. After what was a pretty long second, he said “installing a garden, as if it were a piece of plastic.” “Yes, just like a piece of plastic,” I blurted out because I have this awful habit of parroting the last thing that someone says to me, especially when I don’t know what else to say. The rest of the evening was pleasant, ended with a slightly awkward handshake and a great late night bike-ride home. As soon as I walked in the door I googled “installing a garden,” because I really didn’t think my turn of phrase was that unusual. Google says that you install garden paths, sheds, fences, lights, ponds; apparently you don’t install gardens.
Saturday morning, while my new roommate was mowing the lawn, I ambitiously began digging. Having spent March and April volunteering with the Green Corn Project, I had a pretty specific idea of how I wanted these small beds to look: small, symmetrical, threeish by sixish, on the south side of the house and chock, chock full. If we are speaking technically, this system of gardening would be a highly modified biointensive “double-dig.” (Please check out the animated gif on the Wikipedia page. It is low tech brilliance!) Having dug several gardens on the east side of Austin this spring, I was braced for a debris-filled rock and clay wasteland. I was very pleasantly surprised once I ripped up the grass: both red and black clay, a manageable number of rocks and a pretty decent and worm-rich soil was right under the sod. If I’m being honest, though, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t find any buried cell phones, needles, discarded toys or broken 40-ounce bottles like I was anticipating. I surely lost some eastside street cred because of this and have no witty story to relay when I’m with the Green Corn folks next time I see them.
As I was digging the second to last row on the first bed, Liz showed up with tools, organic fertilizer and a fistful of good advice. We finished the first bed, double-dug the second one and took a break in the air conditioning. Because this specific Saturday was also the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby, we had made plans for mint juleps while gardening. Tara and our friend Amber (whose bed is also featured on this blog and supplied the mint for our juleps) showed up with all the fixings for these top-shelf cocktails. I threw together a fruit salad, my roommate showed up after walking the dogs and the party shifted back outside to the garden. The final soil preparation included forking the three bags of compost into the dug bed and a generous sprinkling of organic fertilizer. After this soil preparation, I felt pretty solid about the soil itself. While it certainly isn’t the best in all of the Hill Country, I believe that by this time next year, it will be a great plot of land that won’t need to be double dug, just lightly cultivated and composted. I imagine this is an appropriate place to say that instilled in any garden is hope for the future and our little bed on Deloney is no exception.
Earlier in the week, my roommate and I had consulted the Travis County Extension Office’s planting schedule to see what exactly could go in the ground this late: Lima beans check. Beets check. Squash check. Peppers check. Cucumbers check. Tomatoes, well, we wanted tomatoes, so we planted them in defiance of the extension office’s suggestion. May is at least a month too late to put them in the ground here, especially with the unseasonably hot spring we are having this year. However, I have heard other Central Texas gardeners say that they have had late planted tomatoes fruit in the fall, as late as Thanksgiving, if they can just get them to weather the summer heat. I have no idea what to expect, but being from Appalachia and having beds upon beds of tomatoes as a kid, I absolutely could not imagine a garden without at least attempting. We should maybe start referring to this as the punk rock garden, because in addition to the planting schedule, I chose to blatantly ignore spacing suggestions for the plants. While the debate for and against square-foot gardening rages on, I am a believer in bio intensive planting in Texas, if for no other reason than plants grown close together provide a foliage cover over the soil and thus conserves water. So bio intensive planting we did. In one of the small beds we planted three heirloom tomatoes, a row of golden beets, a row of blood beets, two cucumbers and three squash with marigold seed scattered in between. We mirrored the second bed to the first substituting the two rows of beets for a row of bush lima beans. After the seeds and starts were all settled in, I looked over at Liz, took a deep swig of my julep and said something along the lines of “screw square-foot gardening, this is installing a square-half-foot garden.” She laughed that appropriately loud laugh she sometimes does. It always makes me feel funnier than I actually am.