The Milkweed Diaries

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On the Unexpected Rewards of Falling Behind

Volunteer potato

For the past few months, I've been bitterly lamenting the fact that our garden has been neglected to the point of chaos because of goats, plant sales, and off-farm work. Last fall, my life was consumed by managing a political campaign. Then our amazing interns finished their summer garden commitment, decreasing the garden labor available substantially. And it's only gotten worse since then.

In the Spring, our business selling heirloom plant starts exploded, and we grew and sold thousands of seedlings to gardeners in Asheville, Hendersonville, and Black Mountain. Plus our goat herd expanded (and will continue to, as pregnant goat bellies swell). All of this farm business was wonderful, but was only possible at the expense of our own garden.

By the first of June, the garden was totally out of control. Weeds were as tall as me in some places, and thick. We had a dense cover crop of ragweed and poke. We were planting annual vegetables at least a month later than usual--in some cases two months later than we had intended. As two Virgo first child overacheivers, and as a household that relies on the garden for all of our fresh produce and much of our food year round, we were getting pretty depressed about the whole situation.

The last of last year's mixed heirloom dry beans

I kept reminding myself of something that a friend said to me in the past few years along the lines of "Everyone's always in such a hurry to get their plants in the ground in the Spring, but it's really no rush - we have such a long growing season here, and there's plenty of time."

Dry beans and winter squash that need 100 days to maturity still have plenty of time before first frosts here, even being planted in early July. Which is a good thing since I just planted the last beans and squash today. Of course the pests get worse and worse the later in the summer it gets, but c'est la vie.

So now to the part about unexpected rewards. Last fall during campaign season, which was also goat barn-building season, we did a thing that we tell the students in our gardening classes never to do. We left almost all of our permanent raised beds exposed - no cover crops, no mulch, nothing but whatever was left of the straw mulch from last season. The only exceptions were the beds we planted with fava beans and garlic in the fall for spring harvest.

I was cursing our negligence as I pulled 5-foot tall Queen Anne's lace and dock from the beds to clear them for my ultra-late bean and squash planting. Until I realized this: we had a whole unexpected crop of volunteer potatoes. Pulling weeds was like hitting the potato jackpot in those ten or so beds. Each 40-foot bed that we weeded yielded about 15 pounds of potatoes. (yesterday's haul from weeding two beds pictured above).

And: there is nothing like volunteer potatoes to aerate a raised bed. The soil was so loose and ready for planting by the time the potatoes were all dug out that we were able to skip the broadforking that's usually part of our no-till bed prep regimen. All and all, it worked out pretty well.

I'm not saying that I ever want to do it again (fight an epic battle with weeds and still be planting beans in July) but I am saying that it's a really good lesson for me that sometimes there are unexpected rewards for not doing things according to plan. Last night we dined on potatoes au gratin made with new potatoes from yesterday's harvest and fresh raw goat milk. Even when things don't work out as planned, sometimes they really work out.


silver said...

one straw revolution!

Anonymous said...

Ugh, you're describing my goat:garden ratio my first year of milking. Now the goats are under control, but other things have kept me from spending Extreme Quality Time in the garden...and it doesn't so much suffer as look untidy and frightening to the uninitiated. But I love volunteer potatoes, wherever I find them...! Hopefully you'll "calm down" and see thing even out too. That, or all visitors need to help weed.

Milkweed said...

Thanks for the encouragement, ya'll...things do seem to be calming down a bit. Learning to let go of my attachment to tidyness, el!