I planted tomatoes in my new garden beds Saturday.
They look pretty puny compared to the jungle of vigorous fava beans they replaced. Here's a before and after. Not from the same angle, but close enough to get the picture.
Saturday morning, the beds were home to a veritable bumper crop of fava beans, most more than two feet tall and flowering. None had produced pods yet.
I cut them down in one bed. Yanked them out in the other.
When I finished building the beds
a few months ago, I planted a cover crop of favas, clover, veitch, and peas. A few weeks later I sowed another round of fava beans, these soaked, on the recommendation of a clerk at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, in Dr. Earth's SuperActive soil and seed inoculant, which is supposed to intensify the nitrogen-fixing potential of the favas.
If I understand my soil chemistry right, the clay soil that I have in my yard has plenty of phosphorus and potassium, the other two primary nutrients that vegetables need. But nitrogen gets used up more quickly by growing plants and is water soluble, so it needs to be replenished regularly. Enter the fava beans.
On the other hand, too much nitrogen can promote stem and leaf growth at the expense of fruit. Last summer, I had big leafy tomato plants that didn't produce the abundance of fruit that I hoped for. Hmmm.
As I'm writing this, I'm thinking, damn, I probably need to actually read up on this and test my soil to see what nutrient levels I actually have. This whole process of writing about gardening reminds me over and over again how little I actually know. (Back in college, one of our professors printed up a card that said, "The more you know, the more you don't know." We laughed, but it's truer than I knew then.)
The more I get into gardening the harder it is to be lazy.
I truly do want to learn more, and become a better gardener. I just don't want it to become too much like work. I want it to be a respite from work.
I would have liked to let the favas grow to seed, but I planted them late, and now that it's the second weekend in May, and the days are getting longer, it's time to get planting.
I rarely eat the beans anyway, though I have saved the seeds in past years for future planting. They're not bad tasting, but before eating them, you have to shell the beans from the pods, blanche them, then peel the husks, then cook them. Way too much work for the payoff, especially compared to crops like snow peas or raspberries or cherry tomatoes that you can pick off the vine and pop in your mouth. (You can eat the favas with the husk, but you can also eat the cardboard that your pizza is delivered on, and most people choose not to.)
After I cut, pulled, and dug out the favas, I covered each bed with a couple more bags of purchased garden soil. The beds aren't full to the brim with soil and amendments, but close enough. Close to two feet of loose soil. Lots of room for roots to grow.
I laid out the soaker hose in the bed in roughly parallel rows, anchoring it with u-shaped metal stakes. Then I turned on the water spigot and gave the drip system a test drive.
One shutoff valve connector flew off under the pressure, and I wriggled/jammed it back in. It seems secure now. I also found a heavy leak where the soaker hose screwed into an "L" connector (below). A little plumber's tape around the threads, and the leak was gone. If only every problem was that easy to fix.
I planted 12 tomatoes, all different kinds, inside cages or between them, as well as 8 peppers, some basil, strawberries, and zucchini. One garden bed is almost full, the other almost empty. This weekend, more peppers and squash, plus beans, eggplant, and maybe something new that I haven't planted before.
I'm counting on a more productive year, what with the new beds with loose, rich soil, and the new drip configuration. I'd like to do better than last year's disappointing harvest.
Wait. Let me qualify "disappointing." I would have liked a more bountiful harvest, but I love, love, love my garden. I relish in it. The flowers, the hummingbirds and butterflies and bees, the curving paths, the wildness. It's beautiful already this spring, even though the only flowers that have showed up are the poppies and a few Peruvian lilies. Many more are coming soon.
When I started gardening 30 years on the outskirts of Urbana, I didn't care for all this aesthetic stuff. It was all about the produce. Now I love the beauty. It's just that I also want enough tomatoes and peppers for a couple of salsa-making weekends around Labor Day.