Sunday, January 30, 2005

I want a potager

Back to French class, but only briefly, and then back to gardening for a moment. You know, the supposed focus of this blog. Oh yeah, gardening.

So French class is going well - we've learned to count, to issue and follow directions, and (this week) to order a variety of delicious foods for dinner. (Brett amused the class by ordering them all, one by one, plus three desserts.)

For all my earlier bitching, I have to admit that it's not actually all that hard. I'm getting used to the pronunciation - the CDs apparently helped more than I realized at first. Plus, as with Spanish and Italian, I know enough of related languages that a lot of it doesn't seem particularly new to me - I rather quickly get to the point where I can sort of talk/write pidgin French, enough to goof around writing my own little sentences in class when it's not my turn to speak. If only I could harness my early enthusiasm about each language I dabble in and apply it to actually mastering one.

One of the nice things about French is that there are song titles that you can bend to your purposes that ask functional questions. I turned to Brett towards the end of class and said, huskily, "Voulez vous aller au Barnes-and-Noble avec moi, c'est soir?" Lookatme Mom, I'm speakin' French!

So off we went to Barnes and Noble, spouting pidgin French along the way, where I found this gorgeous little book (only in stock on the site), about how to create decorative vegetable gardens in small spaces; I've been nose down in it ever since. This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately, because what I really want to do with the back yard is create a kitchen potager - a geometric layout of edged beds that contain a profusion of edibles, with brick paths between and an apple arch or some other feature in the center. However, we have a weirdly-shaped yard, and I'm not sure there's room.

And then there's the whole issue of ripping up the deck, shown here at the height of summer last year, looking so lovely that you're going to think I'm crazy:

But it takes up the whole backyard. This little 4x6 bed crammed along one side of it is the only in-the-ground planting space I have that's sunny enough to grow vegetables.

We've been talking about ripping the deck up for over a year and have come as close as we ever have to the decision to actually do it. We'd get more planting space out of it (one of the few reasons we ever consider buying a different house), and we'd flagstone over a corner somewhere for outdoor dining and lounging. In theory it sounds great, but I keep having serious doubts about this.

First, there's just the whole issue of taking it out. How do we dispose of it? Do we rent a dumpster? Do we need a truck? How do you go about either of those? How hard is taking it out actually going to be?

Then there's the question of what's under it. Usable dirt? I doubt it. Building rubble? Probably. Dead animals? Who knows. But I'm guess we'll have to haul in top soil and spend a year or so just amending the soil to make it fertile enough for what I want.

And then there's the whole question of spending a whole year staring out the back door at what used to be a very attractive deck and is now a pile of mud. Sure, it'll get better in the long term, but it's going to make for an ugly year. And then there's time pressure. If we're going to do this, we should do it now. Soon. Before the growing season really starts.

And then there's the whole question of whether we can actually make this mess turn into an attractive yard again. Much as I kid myself that I have any garden design skills, so far my one year of real gardening has been kind of random. ;) Yeah, the sunflower plot out front was nice, and I kicked butt with the backyard containers, and the parking strips are a big improvement over the weed-fest that were there before, but I've hardly evolved into any consistent set of design skills yet. What if we tear up our beautiful, sprawling deck, and what goes in its place is just ugly?

I worry too much. If it's ugly at first, it will evolve, and nothing is permanent, and spending a year amending soil is well worth it for vegetable gardening - I know all of this. Anyways, we're probably going to just bite the bullet and do it. I need more growing space so much that it's like an itch, always picking at my mind. Mainly, I want it to grow more vegetables - I get enough flower gardening out front. The deck, it has to go.


JMBalaya said...

What about a pea patch?

I like your idea about a slate patio. I like your attitude toward change.

Despite all the squarefoot gardening that you can do, I think you will actually end up with less food than you think.

Containers and watering systems can be very high yield.

million bells said...

Actually, you can just gradually shrink your deck bit by bit each year. Which would give you time to rework smaller portions of soil, and gain experience gardening. Just use some of the spare wood to create modular stairs that can be moved each time you remove some of the decking. You'll probably need a good saw to cut back the support beams to the desired length.

Good decking wood can probably be put out at the curb a little at a time and snapped up. Or put an advertisement: Free to anyone who hauls it away. Or use it yourself, it will make good retaining walls for raised gardens.

My dad did this with his oversized deck. Granted, he's a bit of a handyman and used the wood elsewhere. But I do know that it's usually the same soil that would be in your yard that's under the deck, with lots of rocks.


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