FOOD & FAMILY - Preparation is the key to successful gardening

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Whether people do gardening or have never had garden sreally makes little difference in their reaction to the news that I grow a large garden. The most common question is, "How do you tell a weed from a good plant?"

The answer is knowing what is growing in the place I am weeding. Growing up I was expected to help keep the garden weeded, so gardening is not new to me; actually, it is a source of mental relaxation and physical exercise. In years past I used the usual tools: shovel, hoe, rake and tiller. But if you want a beautiful garden, you don't want a blind person using a hoe or a garden tiller. I will readily admit, were I to do this, my garden would be anything but what it should be. Thus, I use the small hand tools, such as hand spade and hand rake.

This spring I decided to put my entire garden into raised beds. "This will be so much easier for me," I reasoned. So with the help of my brother, or should I say I helped my brother, my garden was transformed into a series of raised beds. My brother would build the raised bed frames with a little help from me, then it was up to me to fill these empty raised beds. Wanting to use my own rich garden soil, I shoveled dirt from beside the raised bed frame and tossed the dirt into the empty beds. By digging garden soil from beside the raised bed to use in filling the bed frame, I was actually raising the top of the raised bed.

My favorite raised bed consists of the inner liners and outer casings from old refrigerators. I'll agree they may not look the best, but when filled with dirt the top of this raised bed is right at waist level; these are easy on the back and abdomen muscles. But the majority of my raised beds are built out of old decking lumber, with the filled top of the raised bed being around knee high.

I water completely with soaker hoses and find it an easy job to lay these out straight and to later plant and weed as I follow the hose. I was still lacking one raised garden bed when we ran out of building material, but only the pole beans are planted at ground level. Today I can just stoop over or even sit on the edge of the raised garden bed to care for most of my garden. This year, I have nine raised beds, each around 24 feet long, and five of them are four feet wide; filled with garden soil they are about my knee height. There are between one to three rows in a bed, depending on what I am growing there.

Telling weeds from good garden plants just takes a little remembering what is planted. There are a few plants that I may want some help with weeding for the early weeks. My peanut plants and Asian eggplants are easy to get mixed with some of our common weeds, but once established, I can tell them apart.

This year, since I have raised garden beds and no longer need someone to come out and work up my garden soil, I can just leave the soaker hoses in all year. We purchased a composting barrel, and I am trying my hand at turning garden and kitchen debris into good garden compost, which I can use to enrich my garden soil and thus continue to have fertile loam for growing plants in.

"Now how did those melon plants find their way into my bean row," I ponder. But remembering how well the volunteer cantaloupe plants did last year, also in my bean row, I allow these two plants to grow and wait until I can eat some of their delicious and juicy fruit.

But I had to remove many volunteer squash plants growing in my melon row. Not only would the larger winter squash plants cover up the more tender melon plants, but I am not inclined to save melon seed that may be crossed with squash. Or maybe I should try for a new variety; how about a winter squash that when cooked is sweet, juicy and flavored like a cantaloupe?

Disabilities may be a problem but don't let them control you.

Have a great day; better check those ripe tomatoes.

Ernie Jones, a registered nurse, retired early due to vision loss. He and his family moved here in 1986. He can be reached at theolcrow@charter.net or 529-9252.

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