Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Down in the Back Gardening

That's how I've been for a month. Got a spasm that won't let go despite massages, medicine and hot pad. As a result, my gardening has been minimal at a critical time in the growth cycle for many of my most productive plants. Today, I spent about 40 minutes weeding and trimming part of my garden before the pain was just more than I could take.

So what if I depended more heavily on my little garden as a source for food and income? Is there a garden plan that can take such potential catastrophes into account? As part of our longer-term preparedness planning, can we design a garden that requires little maintenance to produce edibles?

I'll start with a few of the methods I use in my garden that are working hard for me, despite my current neglect. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

Native flowering plants: here we use drought-tolerant US natives and natives from similar climate and soil types. We are hot and dry until the summer monsoon, with poor volcanic-derived soils. In addition to southwest natives like evergreen salvias (autocorrect is bad for plant species names) and Mexican evening primrose, we can take advantage of Mediterranean plants like lavender).  These plants, which must be attractive to your local beneficial insects, will reduce your harmful insect pests.   They reduce or replace pesticides.

The next labor-reducing practice is use of MULCH. We are thrifty around here, but not crazy. We have tall trees that are professionally trimmed every three or 4 years. We only hire companies that chip the cuttings on site and leave them for us. This gets spread around on paths and between plants and fruit trees to reduce weeding and hold moisture.

Irrigation system: We put this in ourselves years ago. It is the black plastic flexibile tubing with an automatic timer. We choose emitters to match the plants and vary the frequency (how many times per week) and duration (60 to 90 minutes) based on season and precipitation.

The last 'trick' is to choose plants that can take care of themselves with minimal tending.  Here are some of my favorites:

Rhubarb: It's doing well despite my neglect. It's on the drip so I can cut the flower stalk and pull mature stalks as they get big enough

Currents: My black current patch is also on the drip irrigation. Much of the maintenance is in the late summer and consists of pruning. We fertilize in early spring, as the plant flowers in December through February. Some of the berries are already turning, so it's time to put up the net so the rids don't get more than the tithe!

Almonds: About one year in six, I get almonds from our tree. The tree is a mis-match for our climate, with hard freezes often killing the baby almonds. This year, the tree is loaded with maturing nuts. As a bonus, these can be harvested standing up, a real bonus when your back is being tender.

Blue and raspberries: again, most of the maintenance is in winter or spring. We pruned the canes and adjusted the irrigation, so now we just wait for fruit!

Apples: same as above. We'll be putting bags over the fruit this week. Most years we net the tree, but last year we pruned heavily, so the crop will be small this year.

You may not have back issues, but many other temporary or permanent illnesses and injuries can reduce your gardening abilities. I recommend taking the time and a few hard-earned dollars to reduce your food production overhead in case you, too, are down in the back some day!

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