For those who have read through my previous posts will have experience my struggles against not only nature but also a large dose of gardening ignorance. It was a journey of discovery, which developed into an all out war. This was not the end… far from it An internal battle was looming, it was time for my sanity to take a little vacation.
The adventures with the groundhog did not end with the fencing. As soon as spring appeared, it was time to push the advantage and leave the rodent with a herculean challenge. My reading online taught me that groundhogs are creatures of habit. Each spring they leave their winter abode and create a summer den where they rear their pups. The location for this vacation home of procreation just happened to be under my shed, which in turn was right next to my vegetable patch. The final phase of the battle entailed the enclosing of the space under the shed with wire netting (and burying it 12” underground) in order to make the summer den inaccessible. Once complete… no crops were lost again to the hog. The plants were safe. I had my victory. My memorial to the battle involved building more raised beds. A lot more raised beds.
If we go back to one of the key tenets of Square Foot Gardening, it is that using the high density method, the backyard gardening can reduce the amount of effort that they put in and increase their yields. I first started with with about 100 ft² of garden, which gave me an excessive crop of lettuce, spinach, carrots, leeks and all manner of healthy vegetables. The second phase of expansion raised it by 50%. Yields were curtailed due to the groundhog, but they were still reasonable. However, my celebratory escapade proceeded over a period of 12 months to add a further 500 ft². I expanded into every part of the garden. Areas which were previously for parking cars… gone. Corners by the deck… gone. It was a massive undertaking requiring over 20 cubic yards of compost (which was still cheap). My wife would come home from shopping to find a new set of beds which had magically appeared. Irrigation systems were expanded. My mind went into overdrive thinking of the crops I would plant.
It was around this time that the spreadsheets appeared. If I was going to go into mass production, I needed to plan. Each crop would be planted at a specific time and if I organized everything correctly, I could get more than one crop from a single square foot in a seasons. Seeds and seedlings would be planted at the correct time to maximize yields. My garden would become a model of efficiency, it would be complete victory over nature. [Evil laugh with hand rubbing]
With so much potential yield, plans were drawn up to go into seedling production. To hit my peak production quotas, I needed over 150 seedlings. Not just tomatoes, but squash, peppers, corn, lettuce, herbs, and psychosis. The dining room became the center of a micro manufacturing industry. Mats would heat the seeds in sprouting medium. Once they had a few leaves, they were re-potted into small containers. A second potting would them see them transferred to the basement where lamps and a semi-automatic irrigation system would provide them with a month of growth prior to being planted out. It was perfect, a model of efficient. Row upon row, tray upon tray, everything was designed and calculated so that even with some losses, I could fill every square foot of my life with plants. If this worked, then I could plan it down to the future meals. Months in advance, I would know what crops would be ready when. It would be like eating at the end of a 4 month long conveyor. [More evil laughing]
Reality of course set in. In many ways, it brought me full circle. Some crops would flourish, others were choked by weeds. While indeed, I was able to grow more, apparently it came at the expense of the things I also liked. Spending time with my family for example. My wife discovered that she didn’t like farming (not that she ever expressed an interest that she did). My daughter and spent less time together (apparently gardening was only slightly interesting to her). My water bill skyrocketed, as did my electricity bill from all of the lamps. The successes were heavily outweighed by the failures. Some beds would go a whole season without a single crop. I managed to turn a wonderful backyard hobby into a nightmare.
Unfortunately, like an alcoholic, you never truly recover from this sort of insanity. Rather than being cured, it was removed from my life. In mid 2011, in part due to work, we found ourselves in Illinois. A state with a different climate, new vermin to deal with, and a yard untouched by a vegetable gardener. This time I would do it right. This time it would be different. This time I would learn from my mistakes… This time I will….wow, my office has these wonderful plots of land that I can farm.