It goes without saying that gardening is hard work, but if done correctly – when prepared properly with the right tools and equipment – a gardener’s life can be made less difficult. As many other Grow Appalachia bloggers/gardeners touched on earlier this month, getting the crew together in Berea helped us understand the challenges each site is facing and how everyone is tackling those problems in their own unique way. Our program definitely has a long way to go and our gardeners are beginning to understand how we can make this year’s effort more successful and put forth less work – or at least be more productive with the work we are doing. Every conversation I have had with fellow gardeners this month has been about this topic: bettering our methods so we can grow more with less work.
The first lesson I brought home are the requirements of the Grow Appalachia program… Each garden must have an up-to-date soil test, a garden plan must be prepared so we will know how much of each plant/seed we will need, release forms need to be kept for volunteers, classes need to be scheduled and all gardeners must attend the basic classes, and the list could go on and on. And the whole time I am thinking, I should have been doing this all along. However, I would admit that last year, the gardens got going last year so fast that there wasn’t much time to think about something as necessary as a soil test and I wonder with all of the documenting and preparation that went into last year’s effort, how did I let these things go; it became evident that Grow Appalachia has its gardening in order and being a part of it will help whip our program into shape and perhaps contribute our own piece of knowledge to this gardening puzzle. Growing food is what this is all about, but crossing the Ts and dotting the Is will help us identify issues and meet them head on.
The second lesson we learned as we entered the second day: know your tools and equipment, what they do, and how best to use them efficiently – meaning don’t use that old garden hoe when a scuffle hoe can work faster, and why use a motorized tiller when a wheel hoe can accomplish the same task in half the time. We have spent these last few weeks looking at the tools we have left over from last year (mostly fiberglass handled rakes, hoes, shovels, and pitchforks) and wondering what we can substitute with a better replacement. Let’s just say the first to go was the old standard garden hoe and we’ve latched on to a few of the Rogue brand hoes which are made from repurposed plows and much sharper than their ancient cousins.
Another age old piece of garden hardware will be used less this year: the tomato cage. I won’t argue their practicality, but they are expensive, and when you are planting over 500 tomato plants, that is something you don’t need. At over $3.00 a piece that would be nearly $1500.00 to grow all of our tomatoes, not counting the plants themselves. We will be using a weave method – involving fence posts and bailing twine – this year in hopes it will cut our costs and be more productive. Not to mention, this practice can help fight blight by getting the plant more spread out and vertical versus a more compact cage. Another thing we will be doing this year is replacing many of our bush style variety of beans and peas with their more vertical counterparts. I was always afraid of pole beans because of the trellises needed, but after learning about using trellis netting, we’re going to give it a shot; all it requires is several t-posts, some tie wire, and some trellis netting. Plus this method will save our backs, too – no more bending and squatting to pick beans, they’ll be at our level… Additionally, we looked at all of the pesticides we used last year and what would need to be replaced with an organic substitute. We had already been using integrated pest management to identify insects and used chemicals only when absolutely necessary, but still lost several hundreds of pounds of produce to cabbage worms, aphids, and blight. I am confident with these simple switches we will be able to grow more food with less effort. Growing food is what it’s all about and if we can grow more with less, I say we do it, bigger and better than last year, Grow Appalachia style!