Helping garden to grow it alone

If you must take off on a trip in the spring, leaving your garden to fend for itself, approach the prospect well ahead of time. This applies for just about anywhere you may live.

Knowing several months ahead that we had to be gone for about a month, I tried to plan on being away at a time when my absence would be least noticeable in the garden.

Wishing to do everything I could to assure progress as usual, some of the things I did in advance were to consult my garden notes of former years, read up on local weather patterns to find out what to expect as to moisture, temperatures, and the likelihood of storms; and then check the catalogs and garden encyclopedias about how long it takes each plant to mature.

Most of the early plantings will take the whole month and be about ready for harvest when you return.

With this knowledge, plant each vegetable that you expect to be working for you while you are away, notify any helpful friends or neighbors who have volunteered to be watching in case of emergencies, and be on your way.

Of course, it helps if the spring is moist and cool. Then, too, we counted on the amenities of the mild climate in the Ozarks, where it's very possible to have two gardens in one season.

For instance, it's the custom to plant potatoes on St. Valentine's Day and lettuce even earlier -- around the first of February. Also, it is axiomatic that you "never let the July rains fall on the onion bed!" this means that onions should be planted early enough to mature in that time slot. I planted sets. Carrots, beets, and leeks were already in and carrots up and thinned. I knew the Jerusalem artichokes would be springing up in their accustomed place without fail.

Seeds had been ordered early. I was determined to try out the new sugar-snap peas so we planted them in spite of almost daily rains. We even built a six-foot-high trellis before we left. We also made a trip to a greenhouse and bought a few hybird disease-resistant tomato plants to set out.

I figured we could stop at the same place on the way back and pick up additional tomato and bell pepper plants.

The soil was a good as I could make it with plenty of mulch from a fall and winter of shredding. I didn't fear bugs (they usually come along with hot weather) and I had been careful to rake out any corners and borders where dry or dead trash might harbor wintering predators.

In the hillside herb garden at the last moment I ran out and scattered seeds of sweet basil and corriander, both annuals. It was raining and too wet to cover the seeds. I trusted the rain to do that for me.

At this time I noted that some of the old perennials such as lavender, sage, wormwood, horebound, and comfrey were showing their first leaves. Mints were barely up and tansy was waving it short new green plumes.

We left on our trip on the third of May and didn't get back home until the end of the month. Arriving home, we found the garden hiding behind, inside, and underneath a great green jungle, but forging ahead full speed nonetheless, not seeming to have missed us at all.

Here was one time when every seed and slip that had been put into the ground had come to light with pizzazz and flourishes without exception. Weeds were right in there doing their thing, too, readying up for more mulch and compostmaking.

The lesson we learned is that planning does pay off.

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