Archive for March, 2010

After a decade, does my garden remember me?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The last time I grew any veggies in my garden was 2000, and I didn’t have time to do much. That December, we packed up all our things and moved from Vienna, VA to Vienna, Austria, and for nine seasons, my garden was at the mercy of our tenants.  I’ve missed the feel of dirt in my hands, the thrill of God’s gift of life, and the taste of heritage tomatoes, fresh from the garden.  I knew that some gardening had taken place during the last 9 seasons, but I just didn’t know what I was going to find.

View from my office before cutting trees (looking north)

I didn’t really want to do any gardening this year without dealing with the trees that had always prevented the garden from having full access to the sun. Hundreds of white pines had been planted in our neighborhood in the 1980s, and three of them that were along the south edge of the vegetable garden, and what is left of the orchard, had grown into 50′ monsters. It was time to take them down.

Looking SW across the veggie garden

Looking SW across the veggie garden, 1 more tree to go

The photo above shows the last, and smallest of the trees, just after it was topped. The stump of a larger one can be seen just to the left of the compost bin. Besides the shade, it was making a mess of the garden, sending big roots diagonally underneath at least 6 of my 15 garden squares.  I ended up chopping out 2 big sections of root that are about 3’ long, and 3” in diameter that were distorting a frame and hiding berry roots. I put my new mattock to the test, and it held up better than I did, although a new shovel is not.

Raspberries have been dug out, but it still needed a lot more digging

I’m a follower of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening method.  Arguably it is not the most productive method, but I sure think it is the easiest, keeping the weeds to a dull roar and minimizing the need for digging, fertilizing, and spraying.  Someone had planted raspberry, which for very good reasons is not normally co-located with lettuce and beans, so this week saw me trying to clean the canes out of the 3 garden squares that were playing host to what was becoming a huge prickly weed that was ready to take over the rest of my garden. The photo above shows the 3 squares that needed to be cleansed of berry cane roots, which required removing the pavers between the squares.

I ended up pulling one of the wooden frames out to dig the root and berries out, I took the opportunity to dig down farther on the uphill side and level it, making it into sort of a mini terrace. I pulled up all the pavers around it, and the ones on the cross path heading to the edge of the garden, and did some grading, hopefully improving the drainage.  The last tenant also had at least one dog, and had nailed wire mesh fence around most of the squares, so I spent a couple hours pulling those off, instead of taking advantage of 78 degree weather to plant.   One of the garden squares had a small bush growing in it, so I ended up disassembling the wooden frame to dig out the bush. Putting in a new frame is a project for later. Maybe I’ll grow potatoes there.  I’ve never done ‘taters before, and I’m going to plant 4 different varieties later this week. 

Raspberries have been dug out, the bush and mesh fencing is next to go

Berries and bushes and other barriers aside, I was pleased with the dirt.  Unlike the red Virginia clay a few inches underground, the plots that I dug up were filled with rich dark soil, with lots of fat earth worms.  I was more than a little worried that after a decade without me, all the organic matter would have leached out, but that seems not to be the case. Although they are well dug at this point, I decided to leave the raspberry squares for later, on the assumption that any roots left behind would sprout and be easier to find later.  I quickly and lightly fluffed up one 4×4 square and planted peas, spinach, lettuce, and radish. I decided to take a chance and went no-till on the 2nd square. I find that lots of plants do just fine without my wasting time doing preparation that they don’t need. Besides, all that digging freaks out the worms.

Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in the USSA

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Well, after almost a decade, the European adventure has come to a close. Who would have thought that High School French was actually useful, or that college German was more than an intellectual affectation?

After boxing up 9 years of intense experience, packing too much Ikea that was no longer so flat to pack, and multiple treasures from the Chertsey auction house, Elizabeth and I flew back to the States. For a couple months, we split our time between my parents in Cleveland, and our house and hopefully future home. I spent most of that time in Ohio, while Elizabeth supervised nest reno in NoVa. It snowed. Everywhere. A lot. Welcome home.
Heading past our back yard on Hunter Mill

By the first week of February, enough renovation had taken place in the house, which since 2001 has been rented out to children, dogs, and people who plant invasive berry canes in the vegetable garden, that we felt confident that if we moved back in we could sleep and shower. Well, at least shower in one of the baths. And who could have thought that it would take 6 months to install granite counter tops?

It actually took the moving company two separate trips. The first one saw countless boxes of things that we’d stored in 2000 when we left for Europe. Cassette players, VHS tapes, strangely out of style curtains, incandescent light bulbs (are those still legal?), and something that has increasingly become a preoccupation, boxes of negatives, slides and prints, all screaming out “Digitize me! Digitize me! Put me on the web! Make me a slide show! Print me!”

The second truckload, containing our European furniture and effects, arrived several days later. No, it does NOT all fit into one house. It included my PC. After 9 weeks apart, I was easily able to restore to service after buying a pair of new hard drives, fully reinstalling Windows from scratch, restoring all my files, and buying replacements for half the software. If it had been more than 5 years old, I would have started from scratch.

Neatly complementing the boxes of pictures from the first load, my Coolscan is sitting beside me at this moment, chewing its way through some incredible high school memories that actually will bring joy to the class of ’78. At least the scanner is dual voltage, unlike the printer I brought back from England. New vacuum cleaner, a BestBuy TV that can pick up whatever junk Verizon is spewing at us, a new printer, a pair of used cars….well, you get the picture.

Repatriation is often more difficult than expatriation–especially for families that had such positive experiences overseas. It isn’t the same place you left, and while so much is familiar and comfortable, other things are just strangely wrong. You don’t get all the jokes on SNL, and you can’t remember which states are red and which are blue (simple trick: red=left everywhere else in the world, so the US must use the opposite system). The food is good, and there’s lots of it, but where are you supposed to walk to when you live in a ‘burb?

I think everybody understand that it takes a long time to step across a pond, but for the record, we didn’t send ANY Christmas cards last year, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t get one.