Raising Beds & Un-Jungling

It was 91°F this past weekend, so of course Ex and I were building up the raised beds. No heatstroke, I’m happy to report, though it was a near thing once or twice. Himself was doing the building part. I was digging in the veg patch, so… in full sun the whole time. The thing about living in a 19th century house in Vermont is that there is no air conditioning to escape to when you need to cool down… Best I can do is the basement or a cold shower. Both of which were employed.

Raised beds & hügelkulture mounds in need of soil

Actually, I was mostly forking. A few years ago, I broke down and spent quite a lot of money on a broadfork. I have not regretted even one penny of that purchase. There is no way I could have dug through all the creeper and wild grape roots without these blades. The broadfork also makes breaking up the sod and packed earth of an average lawn almost easy, at any rate much easier than using a spade or shovel. Plus, it is a fearsome thing and makes one feel quite menacing to all the grass and ground ivy. I’m pretty sure this helps.

Son#1 and I also built up the hügelkulture beds with all the jungle growth that we cut down a couple weeks ago. There was plenty to go around the entire rim of the veg garden space, so there will be more than sufficient space for my squash and gourd addiction. I plan to grow pumpkins this year, and because this is an addiction, there are several varieties. To be fair, I do use winter squashes of all kinds heavily, so it’s not a wasteful addiction. In fact, I am already about done with the roasted purée and loaves of squash bread that filled about a quarter of my freezer last fall, meaning there will be months without it. I’m trying to be philosophical about this, resigning myself to eat in season.

But, but, but… I love squash!

I also have melons that theoretically grow in my short growing season. I haven’t had a home-grown melon in years partly because I didn’t know about this variety, Minnesota Midget, when I first came to New England and partly because my farm in Massachusetts was overrun with deer who apparently loved young melon vines. For two years running they ripped out every plant. The only evidence that something had been planted in that row was a few hoof marks in the straw mulch. One advantage of this more urban garden is a general lack of deer. Not no deer, since I’m fairly close to conservation land, but they don’t venture this far down the hill unless there is just nothing for them to eat further up. And there are many gardeners between me and the woods. (Poor them…) So I think I’ll be able to eat more of what I plant in this garden. Given the amount of money and effort I’ve spent feeding deer, this is no small thing!

I hope to have all the beds filled and topped by the first week of June for my planting bonanza. This means I’ll be shoveling compost for the next two weeks. There will be hedge planting as well on the veg patch. I need a screen along the road and figured highbush cranberry viburnum and dwarf cherries would do that nicely while providing tasty snacks (if I can beat the birds and rodents to the berries). So there’s a good deal of work yet to go. Luckily, there isn’t any oppressive heat forecasted, but I’m still glad this is more or less a one-off project. Not to complain, but I am getting tired of building gardens in my old age. I’m looking forward to next year when all I’ll have to do is plant stuff.

Jungle in leaf

The jungle leafed out these past couple weeks. The difference between what we’ve cleared and what remains is significant. And gratifying! We’ve made big strides toward fixing the mess in a very short time. There is still quite a lot left, but it is largely brush and old hedge plants. I’ve also revised the plan because I discovered that a good amount of what the city left when they came through with their saws is white lilac, which is a really good bee plant here in Vermont. It’s far enough from my house that I don’t have to smell it (I’m not fond of lilac scent), but close enough to the veg patch to give the pollinators something to eat in the lean spring weeks. Hopefully, they’ll stick around and work my garden in the summer. After noticing the lilacs, I also started thinking about getting a couple hives, though the main business of pollination is done by our native bees, especially the bumblebees. But I would like a source of wax for candle making; and though I use more maple than honey, it’s nice to have a bit of honey for oatmeal and tea.

So after I get the planting done, I’ll be wading into the jungle with the pruners. I don’t think there’s anything fat enough to need the chain saw, which is good because I just don’t have the hand strength to confidently manage that any more. I’ve never liked that task anyway. It’s loud and smelly and scary. But pruners I can do! By autumn I should have enough cleared to be able to plant a few trees in there.

All in all, the view out my front windows is far more hopeful than it was even a month ago. For one thing, there will be a harvest this year. And the rest of it will be much less overwhelmingly jungly by the end of the growing season. I can see a bright future where just a few weeks ago there was not much but anxiety. 

Now, I just have to figure out the flooding garage mess…

©Elizabeth Anker 2022