A quick study: Gardening in Kansas

As spring finally decides to assert itself in Kansas, I once again find myself getting excited about the upcoming growing season. My wife thinks my gardening is an addiction, or at least an obsession, but there's something about seeing buds, shoots, and the inexorable return of plant life that inspires me.

When we moved to Kansas three years ago, I left behind yet another wonderful garden that I had hacked out of what had been a boring turfgrass backyard. That was in Connecticut, and thanks to the assistance of a friend there, I was able to turn the backyard into a productive and interesting space in just a few years. Before that, we actually bought a house in Utah more for the yard and garden than for the house. Turns out that's a really bad way to buy a house. There's something about collapsing sewer lines, eternal renovations, and lead paint that takes the luster off of the fruit trees, grapevines, herb gardens, and berry patches outside.

Kansas has been a different experience for us. We bought a house in what qualifies in Manhattan as the 'suburbs,' so we have a rather generic home on a typical over-landscaped lot. The yard had a host of large and, to my eyes, ugly and boring space-filling shrubs and trees, most of which I have spent the last couple of years demolishing (aided by a killer ice storm last winter). In their place, I've begun to carve out beds, patches, and corners where I can grow vegetables and other fun things.

My gardening style is, on the one hand, marked by great passion and devotion when it comes to finding information (I'm a librarian in my day job), trying out new techniques and plant varieties, and ensuring that nothing toxic lands in the soil. On the other hand, I tend to eschew buying the garden device du jour and like to reuse and repurpose all sorts of junk into useful garden items. This drives my wife insane, but at least I have yet to build a raised bed out of stacked tires. She has her limits, which I transgress at my peril.

Last year I finally found the time and motivation to build my first wooden raised bed. I searched high and low for a wood sealant that would allow me to use standard fir boards rather than pressure-treated lumber, which I still don't trust. Our local CSA farmer pointed me in the direction of BioShield; I used their Wood Impregnation Oil #99, which they no longer make, but have ostensibly replaced with an even greener product. The bed is great, produced a ton of greens, parsley, eggplant, and arugula, and achieved my goal of putting everything out of reach of the neighborhood bunnies, with whom I have a difficult relationship. I'd like to build another bed this year, but we'll see how that goes.

The sharp-eyed may notice two things in that picture. First, I did indeed use four inch PVC pipe for the corner joints, rather than a four by four post or some metal bracket. I got the pipe from the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, so it was basically construction trash. I'll have to write up how I built this later. The other thing is that brave little green plant that decided to survive the winter. That's arugula. I had no idea that it would survive the winter here, which gets down to zero on occasion, or even lower. I've never had arugula do this. It's selvatica arugula that I grew from Cook's Garden seed last year. It was a terrible germinator in our soil, and grew slowly, but evidently once it gets going, it's pretty formidable.

Having had miserable luck the last two years with pumpkins and evil stemborers, I've decided with some regret to forgo attempting that again. I'm also trying to start what I call a garden circle for lack of a better term, where a group of gardeners who lack the space or light to grow everything their heart desires band together and share the wealth of their produce. So far, I've only got one friend signed on. We're divvying up herbs and pooling our tomato production at the very least.

I'm very excited to contribute to Gardenaut, and hope to learn a great deal by exposing what I do to a wider audience. Many of you will likely laugh at some of my weirder notions, and I would be only too happy to be disabused of some of my sillier gardening theories.


Jeremiah McNichols said...

I'm just curious to know how that arugula tastes. I've found second harvests from the same plant during one season to be somewhat bitter... does a second season from the same plant taste as good as the first?

DaleA said...

Funny, that was the first question on my mind when I found them. I'm happy to report that it seems, so far, quite edible. Perhaps I was just forgiving since it was my first taste of spring greens, but it seemed spot on.

Joshua McNichols said...

In my experience arugula gets more bitter as it the weather gets hotter, or as it bolts. I'm not sure which of these is the factor that creates the bitterness.

The Mommy said...

Glad to see someone from KS on Gardenaut. I'm outside Kansas City. Look forward to reading more of your KS gardening adventures.

DaleA said...

I got a decent harvest from this survivor plant last weekend. It was fabulous, not least since it was the first produce from our garden this season. I'll see what happens as the weather warms and it bolts.

GBH said...

Tell us more about the raised bed you constructed, and how.