I think the problem lies with the expectation that they were going to want to plan and carry out some kind of "project". That's all well and good, but my love of gardening certainly didn't come from my mom forcing me to participate in the growing of our food, it developed naturally out of experiencing the benefits of having a large family garden. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of long summer days spent stuffing myself with sun warmed raspberries, collecting piles of hazelnuts, and my dad using the bucket of a backhoe as a picking platform to to access the best fruits on our enormous cherry tree.
Freshly picked strawberries to top off our breakfast.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm going to put away all of the cool, projecty ideas that I have floating around in my head for now and just let the kids enjoy the fruits of our collective (okay, mostly parental) labor.
As for my own garden plans, not having to share garden space means I can have as many projects on the go as I want! I've done things a little differently this year armed with information from Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon. I got this book out of the library earlier this year, hoping it would give me some ideas on how to improve our lousy soil, which it did. I have to say, however, that I almost didn't get to that point, as Solomon's tone in the first two thirds of the book is so negative and condescending that I almost threw it across the room several times. I did manage to stick it out until the end, and I'm so glad I did, because my garden is thriving this year. I ended up buying the book, because I think the information is vital to those of us on the west coast, and if Solomon is to be believed (and he must know a bit about gardening on the coast, as he's the founder of Territorial Seed) much of the core advice in other gardening books just doesn't apply to us here.
So, based on his advice, I limed the soil, added bone meal, manure and compost, and made raised beds. Against his advice, I did use our chicken litter to amend the soil (he's against using wood products in the garden, but our soil is so devoid of any organic matter that I figure it can handle it). We also made tunnel cloches using 1/2" pex pipe from the hardware store (a good deal at less than $2 each) and 6 mil plastic. According to the book, cloches are better suited to our climate than solar greenhouses, and they cost considerably less to build.
The frame of the cloche.
This bed was planted on May 24th, the earliest I've ever set out my tomato plants (notice the emerging potato hills to the left of the tomatoes). Based on this year's success, I may set them out even earlier next year.
Solomon uses 2x4's to hold down the edges of the plastic tunnels, but we tried making "clips" using 3/4" pipe on a friend's advice. It didn't work as well as we would have liked, but I suspect that's because we used a scrap of pipe that was a different brand than we'd used for the frame, so they would occasionally let go and fly at my head when I was least expecting it. Next year I will try making them again using the same brand of pipe. In the meantime, we're using a combination of rocks and 2x4's to hold down the edges.
Some of the best advice gained in the book was to let go of the notion of growing tomatoes that require longer than 75 days from transplant, as our summers are just too short and cool. Looking through my seeds, I noticed that many of my heritage tomato seeds from southern seed companies took 100 or more days to mature. That would explain my recent lack of success in the tomato department. The other problem was that the plants would often get chilled and quit growing for a few weeks after transplant, which the cloche prevented.
Within three weeks, the tomato plants went from about 4 inches tall to well over 2 feet and flowering, so I removed the tunnel earlier this week and put up the tomato spirals:
We built another hoop house for the peppers, which are also flowering and happy. I'll leave this cloche in place for a while longer as peppers like a bit more heat than tomatoes, and are less tolerant of our cool summer nights.
The eggplants' shelter is a little more impromptu, but is working well. I lined the bed with black plastic to collect heat, and made a protective tent out of pipe ends and floating row cover.
It ain't pretty, but a peek underneath reveals happily growing plants:
The potatoes are now fully hilled and flowering. They're doing much better this year than last, when I got a return of about 1:1 (as a friend of mine said, I should have saved myself some time and put the seed potatoes right into the fridge!). I'm looking forward to harvesting a few babies soon and making a batch of lemony potatoes!
Elsewhere in the garden, the three-sisters plot is well on its way, the onions are fattening up, and the blueberry plants are covered in fruit.
It looks like the kids have some work ahead of them!