When my kids were little, they used to love helping me in the garden. But as they got older, their interest waned. So imagine my surprise when my oldest son, Spencer, called and asked me to help him create a vegetable garden! I was thrilled, to say the least.
Spencer and his brother Dalton live in a home I own in Norman, OK, where both attend the University of Oklahoma. Spencer will be a fifth-year senior this fall, majoring in astrophysics. We both share a love of science, but he's an order of magnitude smarter than me, especially with regard to his math skills. His specialty is the study of collapsing stars (like me!), and he's employed by the department of astrophysics as a researcher. Dalton will be a junior majoring in film, and he's definitely more creative than I'll ever be. He's got a keen eye and an intuitive sense of style that should serve him well. Dalton's back in Tulsa for the summer (because he loves my cooking and, more importantly, because his girlfriend is home for the summer as well), working at a local film and video production company.
(Sorry for the digression, but as you've probably guessed, I'm a proud father.)
So, where was I? Oh yeah, Spencer calls and says he wants to put in a veggie garden. My first reaction was one of absolute joy. I explained that he'd missed the opportunity to plant a spring garden, and that it was a tad late for most summer crops as well. But the fact is there's no such thing as a wrong time to create a garden, especially the first garden.
We agreed that I'd make the drive to Norman on Thursday, June 4th. I loaded my tools that morning, along with a few bags of organic amendments and some organic fertilizer for the lawn, and headed off. When I got there, Spencer was in class (he had a final in Spanish III and had to make a presentation to his research advisor that day), so I unloaded my car and made a trip to the local blue store for lumber (2X6 cedar) to make a raised-bed frame. I also bought some granulated castor-oil to deal with a mole problem and some Bermuda grass seed for the lawn. And as a surprise, I grabbed several Coreopsis and Salvia plants in one-gallon pots to dress up a small bed under the front porch.
I spent the rest of the day doing odd jobs -- building the raised-bed frame, cleaning a filthy garage, replacing AC filters, spreading the castor-oil pellets, putting up a new bird feeder, meeting with a contractor to repair a fence, and so on. By the time Spencer got home, I was tired, and I was ready for a cocktail and dinner, so we waited for his girlfriend of nearly ten years, Erin, to get off work and went to a dynamite little Indian restaurant. We agreed to get up early the next morning and tackle the new garden.
Around 7:30 am, I put Spencer to work spreading the grass seed and watering the lawn. When Erin finally woke up an hour or so later, we started the veggie garden project. Spencer had selected a site that received about a half day or so of sun. It wasn't my favorite spot, but it was right next to a faucet, and I figured the odds of having a successful garden would improve if watering chores were as easy as possible. So we set the cedar frame in place and scored the edges of the garden with a half-moon shovel.
That first step went fairly quickly, because thankfully the soil was fairly soft due to recent rains. I could tell Spencer and Erin were having a good time, but little did they know that the hard part was about to come.
The hard part, of course, is digging the sod out of the area within the frame to a depth of four inches or so, enough to ensure that the Bermuda grass wouldn't sprout and quickly take over. Some folks just lay weed fabric over the area and place the frame on top of the fabric, but in my experience that doesn't work as well. Besides, for the most part, I hate weed fabric.
And so began the tedious task of digging out the sod, which we accomplished using a special sod-cutting tool. There's no getting around the fact that this is hard work, and neither Spencer nor Erin had done this kind of work before.
After about an hour of digging, the sod was gone. We used what we removed to fill in bare spots in the lawn, and to fill holes here and there. I then showed the newbies how to loosen the subsoil with a garden fork. The soil was actually quite good, and it wasn't long before it was time to position the frame in place and level it. However, before we got to that point, I suggested we get on our hands and knees and remove any little pieces of Bermuda grass from the area, because all it takes is one tiny root to create a huge problem later.
As a precautionary measure aimed at smothering any dormant weed seeds, we laid several sheets of newspaper over the area, and with that done, we proceeded to pile on the organic matter, which consisted of bagged products, including a large bag of composted chicken manure.
All told, it took about two hours to complete the new garden, and it came out great. I did manage to find some bush bean and cantalope seeds for Spencer and Erin to plant, as well as some herbs in four-inch pots. However, they had to leave town for the weekend, so it'll probably be this week before they get them in the ground. And later this summer, it'll be time to plant all sorts of great cool-season crops for a fall harvest.
Oh, I can't wait! Congratulations, kids! You've now been bitten by the gardening bug, and I couldn't be more proud of you.