Archive for Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gardener’s life a monotony of watering, weeding

May 1, 2008

While the results of a vegetable garden can provide immense satisfaction and win you instant friends who covet your bounty, gardening isn't a terribly exciting pursuit.

A gardener's thrills come very cheap. Well-timed rains that minimize the need for watering will put a twinkle in a gardener's eye. Volunteers are another source of entertainment. I've felt my own heart go pitter-pat at the discovery of melons, dill and tomatillos that have reseeded themselves in my garden. It's like winning the nature lotto.

Despite such moments of exhilaration, there's no getting around the fact that vegetable gardening is, well, monotonous for much of the season. When the gardening season passes beyond the excitement of planting, as it will in late May, the process will settle into a routine of watering and weeding.

For that reason, it may seem odd that experienced gardeners do whatever they can to preserve that sameness and to avoid surprises. After all, unexpected developments would interrupt that daily grind. But the reality is that departures from the routine in a vegetable garden usually spell trouble and it's best to head them off early in the season.

Among the important proactive steps gardeners should consider taking now is ensuring that their fences are tight. In recent years, one of the most unpleasant and unexpected gardening challenges has been the explosion in the rabbit and squirrel populations.

Based purely on naked-eye observation, it does not appear that the population burst has run its course. Bunnies and squirrels are abundant, leading my better half to channel Charlton Heston and threaten to exercise his Second Amendment rights. Should any rodent-like creatures make advances upon his fruit trees or tomato plants, they will be met by a well-armed, one-man militia.

Short of stocking up on ammo, you might want to make sure holes in the garden fence are covered and the bottom of the fence buried. As you plant, be sure not to seed lettuce and beans next to the fence, in the event rabbits come through. Cluster vegetables that are rabbit delicacies in the center of the garden, so that repellents can be more easily and effectively applied.

Because we have had good rainfall this spring, the predators have left the tulips alone, which are usually their favorite gardening season hors d'oeuvres, but if we have a dry spell, as we did last summer, the garden will be a source of food and water. Last year a number of people reported garden destruction on an unprecedented scale. Most notable, was the squirrels' newly discovered appetite for tomatoes. A year earlier, they helped themselves to apples and peaches.

This also is the time to be on the lookout for straw for mulching. The price of everything else is ridiculously high, so it should be no surprise that the per-bale price of straw is also on the rise. I paid $6 at a feed store a few months ago. The price may come down a bit when farmers start cutting hay, but early this spring the supplies were tight.

To avoid running low when it comes time to mulch, it's probably wise to stock up between now and then.

The final favor gardeners can do themselves, to avoid creating drama in the garden later this season, is to get the compost pile revved up. For a compost shortage, there's no instant fix. A batch started now, with grass clippings and other vegetable matter, can be ready to use as fertilizer by the first of June, when young plants will be ready for a side dressing of fertilizer.

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