Backyard Gardening - For The Fun Of It

As a practicing vegetarian, what hobby or pastime could more practically contribute to the enjoyment of cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables than backyard gardening? It's just a natural.

It doesn't matter how much space you have to work with. Even if you live in an apartment or a condo, there is usually at least a porch or patio where you can grow tomatoes, peppers and herbs in containers. Of course, the more space you have with good sun exposure, the more bountiful your harvest can become. And with a little careful planning you can create your own backyard gardening paradise.

We have a small house with a typical 40ft. x 60ft. fenced-in subdivision backyard. We have two patio areas, a pear tree, 2 persimmon trees, an orange and a kumquat tree and four other different citrus trees (our future citrus hedge), four different varieties of figs, four vegetable gardening areas, a small herb garden, a large compost bin and grassy pathways providing convenient access to all areas.

Our American Gothic It's been a work in progress over the years experimenting with different layouts and trying to take advantage of sun and shade areas, convenience of movement and other practical matters. It is an ongoing and rewarding hobby for us and we're still comming up with new projects and improvements, even today.

Gardening is good exercise and the old adage "a farmer's work is never done" also applies to the backyard gardener. However unlike the farmer or the fruit grower, who may be tending to acres of crops or orchards, the backyard gardener is involved in an intensive agricultural approach. "How can we achieve a more varied harvest from this small growing space?"

This is a challenge that will mandate differing solutions for each and every homeowner since each backyard location will have different variables -- local climate, lot size, lot shape, lot orientation to sun exposure, grade variations and drainage will all need to be taken into consideration.

Here in southeast Texas we have lots of sun exposure and ample rainfall most of the year, but the soils are mostly a stubborn clay variety called "black gumbo", which is notoriously difficult to work with. Therefore we do all of our plantings in raised garden beds to enhance proper drainage.
baby watermelon
We have a large pine tree in our front yard which yields two annual crops of fallen pine needles. We use the pine needles (which are acidic) as mulch around our fruit trees and figs, since gumbo soil is alkaline and the fruit trees prefer a slightly acidic soil. The grass clippings that we collect every time we mow the yard are used as mulch for the vegetable gardens. When we prune back the figs or fruit trees, we cut the useable limbs into 8" to 16" pieces, stack them to dry out and then use them in our fire pit. The leftover ashes, which have natural potash, are destined for the compost bin to become a soil enhancer.

With our long southeast Texas growing season, we enjoy a staggered bounty of fruit throughout the year. The figs usually ripen between April and August. The pears ripen between July and September. And the different citrus trees can produce ripening fruit from November on into February.

We also have two vegetable gardening seasons. We plant our tomatoes, peppers, cukes, melons, beans and other summer crops from late February into early March, which we harvest throughout the summer months. In late August or early September we plant our winter garden of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, beets and potatoes, which we harvest in the springtime.

We garden organically. We don't use weed killers in our lawns because we add the clippings to our garden beds as mulch, which eventually decomposes and blends back into the garden soil. We fertilize our gardens with our own compost, bagged composted manures, peat humus and other natural soil amendments.
But even with all of this TLC, we never know from one year to the next what kind of results we can expect. One year the tomatoes may seem to double their production. But the next season they may not produce nearly so well and we can never pinpoint why. Even though we've been gardening for years now, we still feel like greenhorns. Mother Nature has a way of keeping you humble and the term "master gardener" is seen to be nothing more than an unattainable mirage. Eventually we all come to realize that we don't really grow our gardens...we're just Mother Nature's stewards.

So if you're toying with the idea of breaking ground and you're new to gardening, don't feel intimidated. Just go ahead and start planting, even though you don't really know what you're doing. You'll learn as you go from your failures and your successes.

Best of all, you'll soon begin to reap the rewards of your labors and come to enjoy some of the finest, most delicious, organically grown foods on the planet...your very own home-grown delicacies from your personal backyard gardening paradise!

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