Out numbered, out composted

I really thought I was a pretty serious composter. I have two large (at least 5 x 5 x 4) bins going at once, often three – mmmhhh… “piles” would probably be a better word than “bin”, although I do try to corral my compost … some. All kitchen vegetal scraps, garden debris, weeding, grass clippings, raked leaves, old potting soil, mulch etc go in there. And a few truckloads of horse manure when I can get my hands on it (actually if my garden facilitator can get it for me). A few months later, tada! Magic has worked and I have black crumbly deliciously earthy-smelling compost. I actually thought I might be good enough to earn recognition in Organic Gardening magazine if I ever wanted to send a photo of my compost piles for that special last page. Some visitors to the garden are clearly surprised by the compost zeal – then really ask questions when they start looking around at what’s growing. Anyway, I thought I was pretty good. That is, until I visited the garden of Tobey & Jennifer Wheelock a few days ago.

I love visiting gardens, especially kitchen gardens. Jennifer attended one of my gardening workshops earlier in the year and one of her comments upon seeing the vegetable garden was “This is a girl’s garden”. I must admit that, at first, I was not sure if should feel flattered or piqued upon hearing that… a GIRL’s garden? What was that supposed to mean? Seeing my obviously perplexed look, Jennifer blurted. “It’s so pretty, you’ve got flowers everywhere. You mix things and they run into another; mine has straight rows and straight lines.” Well I DO mix things, but I HAVE straight lines… mostly – although it’s harder on a hill side like mine; you just can’t see them under the jumble of plants, and… OK, that’ll be a post for another day…

Jennifer’s main garden (she has an “auxiliary” garden too) reminded me of a perfect victory garden. Facing South, on barely sloping terrain, the garden may measure 45 feet square – maybe 50. It’s cut by a wide path in the middle. Each side has wide (4 feet?) straight beds, maybe 15 or 20 feet long, 8 or 10 beds on each side (I should have counted). The bed are very intensely planted in blocks maybe 6 feet long. Some block were fallow, awaiting later sowing or transplanting (like sweet potatoes). The paths are mulched with hay, grass clipping or lamb’s wool gotten from a lamb farmer. Lettuce, potatoes, Swiss chard, peas, raspberries, blueberries, asparagus, corn, onions, garlic, squashes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, okras (and I am sure I forgot something) are thriving. Very clean-looking – unlike my main vegetable garden – and obviously very productive. The secret was also obvious. At the end of almost each bed, on the outside edge of the garden, was a compost bin. Each also very tidy. I saw one bin which could have been purchased, all the others were made of discarded wood pallets, one to a side – with more pallets neatly stacked at the bottom of the garden [The compost bin in the picture is one of their many]. Some had finished compost, others were in process, at different stages of decomposition, and there was a (neat) pile of hay nearby. They also have a cow which was grazing in a nearby small pasture. Jennifer tells me they move the cow often, always giving her a fairly small area to ensure she has fresh grass all the time. A cow? Well, that would certainly help for compost quantity… I wonder if … Never mind!

Jennifer says her family of 4 eats a lot from the garden, throughout the year. They use fleece or polytunnel to continue to grow throughout the winter (the small hoops that support the fleece or plastic – and could support shade cloth if needed – are left over the beds year round). Although a smallish garden, I am not sure I would call it “little” (Jennifer says it’s “small”). Certainly it seems small when one realizes how much food is actually grown there! And although not “pretty”, it is beautiful in its simplicity, functionality, organization and fertility. Something I should try to emulate for my newer Summer Garden (or Garden of the Americas).

Oh… And she did have flowers there: flowering scented sweet peas in bright colors, lilies, gladiolus, and sunflowers – each in their own neat blocks, though – nothing flopping around. A girl’s garden, indeed…

I have not been out flowered, but – clearly – I have been out composted.

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