‘Twas yesterday eve that I felt the shift. The night temperatures would fall much too cold for summer crops. I gathered my long shawl- orange and reds to match the changing leaves- across my hair and over my shoulders to keep the encroaching dusk chill away and gathered my baskets.
Out into the gardens with falling light I felt for vegetables and fruits in the dirt, on vines, hidden in lush leaves, swiftly clipping and twisting them into my hands. Watermelons, butternut squash, yellow squash, poblanos, chilies, jalapenos, green peppers, and dozens upon dozens of green tomatoes came tumbling in.
Into the warm house where the fire was lit and the candles dazzled the rainy night. For rain it poured and torrents of it came, while lightening bid farewell to the summer night games. An autumn chill has descended here and the nights will stay cool as the sun tends to fall asleep early and the gardening days of fall are almost done.
The oil lamps lit, and candles brighten pages of good books. And the darkness descends us into a warming rest. I took a sip of tea and watched him put another log on the fire.
I am the self proclaimed queen of putting in a garden anywhere. At our last house the sandy, gravelly, ant hill of a driveway became a lush corn field and herb spiral. The front yard became a three sisters garden. The side yard held myriads of delicious orbs and buckets held treasures of vegetables as well. Here at our new rented farm we didn’t have a place to put the pumpkin patch. Lordy, how can we be Pumpkin Hollow Farm without pumpkins? There is a 650 square foot garden fenced in for all of our seeds to set up shop. We have pots. But we love the look of a 3 sisters garden and we needed space for it. Corn, pumpkins, and beans are staples around this place! And a pumpkin festival! The side yard caught my attention. The long swath of spiky prairie grass, conveniently mown down to look like city grass, beckoned.
Old ways die hard. I spent the winter reading, learning, taking online classes, studying with magnanimous passion. I was going to make this new farm a Permaculture one. But when I got ready to plant I realized that prepping a half-acre garden for this was not in the cards. I would have had to have had this crazy pumpkin plan last fall and laid down cardboard, finished compost, et cetera. Now, as I stared at the thick prairie grass, I knew I waited too long and would instinctually head back to what I know.
I have had this piece of gardening equipment for as long as I remember. It has gone through bolts to hold it together but this has carried me garden to garden with ease. My small arms were apparently meant to do more baby holding and decorating than heavy work so good thing I have a good looking farmer and “The Claw”! That’s really what it is called. Geez, I haven’t seen one of these in stores in forever. Do they still make them? If so, people, get one! It made quick work of prepping 250 square feet between the two of us.
Three sisters is a phrase out of history, a gardening technique employed by Native Americans. The original companion planting. The corn was imperative to make corn meal, it grew tall and strong and acted as a trellis for beans, a very important protein source. The squash was full of vitamins and immunity and spread its trails along the ground beneath the plants shielding the soil from weeds and the hot sun.
Hard to see in the photo but after we took out the top few inches of soil/weed carpet we laid our pattern. Squash seed…six inches…bean…two inches…corn…two inches…bean…six inches…squash. The trench planting will come in handy this summer since the Almanac predicts it hot and dry around these parts. Planting in a trench helps store moisture, protects from the wind, and is easy to water. Just fill the trench with two inches from the hose. Mulching in between established plants keeps weeds down and lessens water needs.
Then I throw handfuls of organic gardening soil or potting soil over the seeds, about half an inch. I planted Jack be Littles, sweet corn, and Bolito beans in one row. White butternut squash, black Cherokee Trail beans, and red sweet corn in another. The combinations can be creative for color and pantry needs. I even planted watermelon and cantaloupe at the ends of the rows.
The three sisters garden can be grown anywhere. Even on my friends’ top floor balcony! Plant in deep buckets, in the front yard, or many side yards are perfect for this project. I did not amend the soil. All I did was add packaged soil over it. I will add compost later in the season. The three sisters garden loves water so trenches and swales work well. In history we unearth fine gardening techniques and beautiful food producing spaces. Happy Planting!
There is something going on in my root cellar…growing rather. I was casually going to get a potato that I so lovingly stored last fall, out of the five gallon bucket that held them nestled in soft straw….I opened the lid and that came out! All I wanted was some nice fried potatoes with green peppers and onions, their mouth watering scent waking up the house…but I got some kind of sea monster instead.
Now, this could be my fault (it rarely is), for I probably should not have skimmed the book on root cellaring. I started out reading it but as it went on and on speaking of ventilations and temperatures and humidity levels for a hundred different items…well, pretty soon it just started saying blah, blah, blah. As my eyes glazed over, I closed the book and figured I pretty well had it figured out.
My first problem is that my root cellar is probably not a root cellar, more like a…basement. It is dark and dank with spidery corners and a nice concave that was used to hold coal after it came down the coal chute into the basement nearly one hundred years ago and it looks like a root cellar, therefore it must be. However, my trusty thermometer states that it is precisely ten degrees cooler down there than upstairs at all times. That makes it a balmy sixty degrees right now.
The squash are happy as pie. (mmm, pie) They may as well be sitting in the soil soaking their faces in the sun in September; they truly do not know that they are in the basement. Except for the pumpkin I drop-kicked while tripping over it in the dark one time, all the other squashes are firm and ready to eat. The potatoes are rioting and seeking a new garden.
My second problem may have been the straw that I packed them in. The onions in their respective five gallon bucket are waterlogged and attempting desperately to find soil or to just annoy me because I cannot find a firm onion. The straw might have been slightly damp when I packed the onions and potatoes into their bins last fall. But I was in a dreadful hurry and was too lazy to dry the straw first. I very well may have set up ideal Spring conditions in my basement. Sixty degrees, thinks they’re underground, a bit of moisture.
The carrots were supposed to be in damp soil (I remember that chapter), and they are growing little hairy legs too. I suppose that may be normal for January carrots?
I am a bit too chicken to open the lid to the beets.
Lastly, what is curing? I probably shouldn’t have skimmed that chapter. I think it means to let them sit out for two weeks accumulating cat hair and being in my way, but I am not sure. I didn’t cure them though so perhaps that was the problem. Your wisdom on this matter or just poking fun at me is welcome in your responses.