I will be the first to tell you that I am not a gardener. When I was a kid, my dad “proved up” on his homestead by planting potatoes. That green thumb didn’t take with me. My sisters planted gardens and weeded faithfully with fair success. One of my sisters has gone on to become a Master Gardener. Her place looks like something out of a magazine. She has ripe tomatoes in June.
My Delta Junction tomatoes end up dried and cracked because I forgot that they actually need a fair amount of water. I rarely weeded my garden as a kid. I figured that since weeds grow so well by not being weeded ... that other plants probably would do the same?
Once in a while one of my experiments has fair results. I would like to share a couple of those with you folks. Years back, I built a greenhouse in Paxson. Paxson can have frost 12 months out of 12, and I am off commercial fishing, so my plant care is nonexistent. I planted tomatoes, caught rain water from the greenhouse roof in a black drum above the height of the beds. I attached a bleeder hose from the barrel to the tomato bed. Self watering.
No worry about a greenhouse getting too hot in Paxson, but just in case, I made a solar-powered vent that opened on a timer for four hours beginning at noon each day. The system worked well enough; I had ripe tomatoes in late August.
This year, I thought I’d try lawn potatoes. The best thing about this method of planting potatoes is one does not have to dig. One puts down a layer of old straw, lays the potato on top, adds another layer of straw and “Bob’s your uncle!” When the leaves start to show three or four inches above the straw, one just adds more straw, covering all but an inch or so of leaf. The theory is that the potatoes keep growing under the composting straw. As the plants grow, let a little more leaf show. I put my potatoes in on May 9. They have weathered several frosts without trouble.
The idea is that the composting straw is warm and also feeds the potato plant. Your potatoes come out clean when harvest time arrives. The jury is still out on this method. A friend of mine tried planting some of his crop this way last year and told me that the yield was about 60% of his other plants. Works for us lazy farmers.
Field peas are another way to get great-tasting peas with almost no effort. Any piece of ground that has been tore up and isn’t too wet works for field peas. One can buy a forty pound bag of field peas at the feed store, feed some to the chickens and plant the rest. No special effort is needed other than to kick some dirt over most of the seeds so birds don’t get them. The peas grow well alongside weeds, because they attach their tentacles to neighboring weeds and grasses, thus staying upright. Field peas are a little smaller than the tamer varieties. They have great flavor and freeze very well.
Carrots and leaf lettuce are another vegetable for us lazy folks. Both of these plants require a bit more preparation than peas or potatoes. One will actually have to break out a shovel and a hoe. We have horses and chickens (and pigeons, and rabbits), so compost isn’t an issue. Begin by digging up a patch of ground 20 feet long and a couple feet wide. Pile up the dirt into two rows maybe six inches high. Mix 50% compost in with the dirt. Get most of the rocks out if you can. The seed pack will tell you to space the seeds a bit and then thin them after they come up. Yes, that can be done, but remember, this a lazy farmer treatise. Let your plants come up as they well. A few weeds as they grow won’t hurt — as long as you don’t thin the plants. The lettuce needs to be in charge of the row.
Leaf lettuce will be clustered tightly all of the way down that 20-foot row. Some of the plants will always be struggling for sun, thus you will always have tender leaves to harvest. Last years crop worked from late July into the killing frosts of September.
Carrots grow nicely by the same method. Carrots growing tightly together will almost never yield a grocery store size carrot. That is not the objective. The idea is to produce a carrot that the kids will eat right out of the garden, dirt and all. My kids wipe the dirt on their pants. Rarely does a carrot make it as far as the house. It is even more rare to get children to eat vegetables willingly.
Gardening can be fun if one eliminates some of the work. After all, most of us work all day; is it really fun to pick up a shovel and hoe after dinner and go fight with the mosquitoes for another couple hours for a couple of radishes? Maybe I can get a ripe tomato in June? Or January if I run down to Safeway. Us lazy folks will never be able to compete with the Joneses. However, the kids can be snacking on tiny carrots while they look at the 100-pound cabbage, (that can’t be eaten), at the Alaska State Fair.