A Diary of a Garden

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

My husband Rusty and I purchased our present property with the best of intentions. The property was a

'useless swamp land' as some of the locals informed us. But we had vision. We chose the style of our home based on the lay of the land. We positioned the house to avoid the western winds. Geo-thermal heating and cooling was installed for 'green friendly' and cost efficient heating and cooling. The guy that did our grading? Yes - he put all our topsoil back and we even discussed where our gardens will go for deeper topsoil. We had plenty of open spaces to grow a large, traditional vegetable garden, and large perennial and shrub beds. All is well in the life of the Ryans.

First growing season: (1997)

We rototilled a large vegetable garden - about 50' x 50'. We planted our rows about 2 feet apart, so we could get the tiller through the rows if necessary. This is the kind of garden I grew up with. Intense gardening wasn't necessary when we had all this room, or so I thought at the time. Lettuce, peas, corn, beans, potatoes and tomatoes all grew quite happily this first season. We had so much produce, we shared with everyone - had my family over for a corn roast, and froze what was left. Great. The perennial and shrub garden was just starting to develop. We invested in some key shrub as we began to develop these beds.

Season two: 1998

The vegetable garden was another success! Friends complained of rabbit and deer damage, but not us! We are gardeners and know how to grow veggies! With advice from my Dad, a farmer at heart, there's no stopping the produce we could grow!

The shrub and perennial beds were developing quite nicely. Not too many problems, the biggest issue is lack of time to keep up with the planting beds and vegetable garden. The bank along our drive was really coming along; lots of maintenance, but worth every minute.

Season three: 1999

The groundhogs had found our garden! Just as the beans started to grow vegetables, those darn groundhogs ate them - then the raccoons found the corn! Oh well, guess we'll plant a bit more next year to provide for them and us --- since they ate all of our harvest this year!

Season four: 2000

It's the end of the growing season. Something has got to be done with those rodents! No vegetables to amount to much. Lots has been lost to the groundhogs. The viburnums are filling in, and the Zelcova is starting to look like a tree. the bank area is getting winning the battle. Maybe I'll let it go natural, since so many grasses seem to like growing there.

Season five: 2001

We have re-evaluated the vegetable garden. Two years of labor to feed the raccoons, groundhogs, deer and rabbits aren't working. I'll focus on the perennials and shrubs. That will keep me busy.

Season six: 2002

The perennial garden looks fantastic! Perennials and shrubs are surely my favorite plant types! Vegetables are a wasting my time. I think this season we'll buy at the farmer's market. The bank is going natural! I haven't been able to keep up with it, but I think I like the way it's developing all on its own. Lots of butterflies visit this garden area.

Season twelve: 2009

For the past several years, we've been messing around with a few tomato plants and pumpkins for the kids. But this year, we decided to try vegetables one more time. We followed intense gardening practices. Rusty built a fence to keep the animals out. We've built raised beds, 4'- 10'. In these three raised beds, we grew peas and onions, potatoes and lettuce, tomatoes and green beans. In the rest of the garden, we've grown, corn, zucchini, gourds, cucumbers and watermelon.

Our calendar looked like this: early March: planted peas and potatoes. Early April: planted onion sets, lettuce seed and four cabbage plants. By mid May: planted green beans, and I harvested the peas and had been cutting lettuce for a month. The lettuce has been great! Early June: planted zucchini, gourds, watermelon seeds and tomato plants. Because of the cool temperatures, the lettuce is still producing. By mid June the lettuce bolted and I planted more green beans where the lettuce once grew. The cabbage was eaten, probably a rabbit. But we found the spot where it dug under the fence and re-enforced it with large stones.

Early July brought us a nice crop of green beans. I was able freeze some. Pretty exciting! The tomato plants are too shaded from the sunflowers that grew as volunteers. Between the cool nights and shade from sunflowers, the tomatoes had not produced much - just enough to put in sandwiches. Late July: we were picking zucchini and cucumbers - lots! I made some dill pickles - the first time.

Mid August - planted lettuce seed where the potatoes were. Hoping for yummy salads again!

Note: throughout the last twelve years, Rusty's been developing our natural areas: providing food and shelter for the wildlife. We've planted hundreds of seedling trees and shrubs in the wetlands as well as uplands. We've planted screening from the road and developed a wildlife habitat that any bird or mammal would love to live. Trails throughout the wooded areas and lowlands have been created for our family and visitors to enjoy our surroundings and discover our fellow inhabitants, whether plant or animal life. We've successfully created a place for us and wildlife to enjoy - together.

While Rusty's been focusing on the wild areas, I've focused on the gardens closer to our home. From the vegetable garden (or lack of it), to the perennial and shrub beds that developed from a love a plants, our outside home is ever changing. Knowledge about native plants, pollinating insects, butterflies and moths have helped to create what we have today and continues to change the plant and animal life that lives with and around us.

After our almost completed year of vegetable gardening on a small scale, with raised beds, our addition of fencing, and growing differently than when we started twelve years ago, I'm confident that no matter how hard we try, nature always is one step ahead of us. We need to learn from environment - not fight it. Our family has been enjoying our most recent attempt at a vegetable garden, and even with all the resources, education and experience Rusty and I share, we're always learning - and enjoying - our natural environment, both in the garden and out.

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