By Bob Beyfuss
For Capital Region Independent Media
By the time we finally become accustomed to writing 2021 on checks and elsewhere, we need to remember to start writing 2022!
I am actually better at remembering what year it is, than what day of the week it is. I always remember Mondays and Thursdays, because that is when I play in my softball league. On Wednesdays, I try to write these columns and weekends are when I get to visit the family.
Somehow, decades seem to pass like years once you get to be 60. Perhaps the biggest downside to aging is the inevitable passing of friends and family members. Cherish the old people in your life because no one is immortal and you will miss them sooner rather than later.
January is a good time to evaluate what worked and what did not work in our gardens this past year. It is also a good time to reflect on future plans. One of my favorite sayings is “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade, they will never stand.” I resolve to do exactly that this spring and hope that someday my grandkids will stand in that shade and think of me.
The past two years have been filled with COVID-fueled anxiety and I am afraid 2022 does not look much better in that regard. I expect people will spend more time gardening at home and less time in crowded bars, restaurants, airports and other public places.
In general, that is a good thing! The mental, physical and emotional rewards of gardening are well documented. It offers challenges for all skill levels, from novice to experienced. I find it amusing to see highly talented, highly paid, professional executives struggling to grow a tomato crop for the first time! Gardening can be a challenging, humbling experience and sometimes we all need to be challenged and humbled.
I had a great garden in 2021, thanks to ample rain, warm temperatures and plenty of free time to get things done in a timely manner. My eight “Big Beef” tomatoes performed as well as they always do. I also planted two “Sweet 100” cherry tomatoes in a large pot that kept me well supplied until frost.
Next year I would like to find an earlier cherry tomato that is more suited to container culture than “Sweet 100” or “Sungold,” my two favorite varieties. Suggestions are welcome! Free seeds are even more welcome!
I had excellent onion, garlic, beans, asparagus, peppers, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers and winter squash crops, but voles ate most of my potatoes. I planted beets and carrots too late to get any substantial yield. I mulched them with four inches of straw in November, before I headed south, and I hope they might survive the winter and greet me with fresh carrots and beets in April! I learned it is possible to have a non-stop crop of scallions all summer long simply by planting some store-bought scallions in a sunny window box in April or May and cutting off the tops as needed. In a week or two, new top growth will replace what you cut off.
This year I think I will forego the potatoes for a change and perhaps plant some sweet corn. Sweet corn takes up a lot of space, but it is one of my favorite vegetables. I can buy all the sweet corn I want at local markets, but the varieties they offer these days are mostly “super-sweet” types that retain their sweet flavor for weeks after harvest, but they have a crunchy texture I don’t like as much as some older, more tender varieties.
Almost 20 years ago, when I moved to my shack on a hill in Conesville, I built my garden’s raised-bed frames from 1-inch by 8-inch, green, rough-cut hemlock boards, purchased at the Cooksburg sawmill on Route 145. I thought they might outlive me at the time, but that has not been the case. This untreated lumber has lasted all this time and in retrospect, had I bought and used 2-inch by 8-inch planks, they might still be functional! I might re-do the frames this year and I am pretty certain this time the beds will outlive me.
I do plan to set up a “rain trough” that should allow me to capture about 250 gallons of water. Currently, I have three rain barrels that supply only about 100 gallons and that is not enough to water my garden in a dry summer. I will attach a hose to the trough that will allow easy watering.
Planting and tending a garden creates an annual sense of renewal that is not only a learning experience, but also a spiritual boost. We can all use a spiritual boost in these troubled times.