How this procrastination expert got his vegetable garden started right on time (and not a moment earlier)
If there is ever a Procrastination Category in a gardening competition, I will win it because I am a master at putting things off until the very last. For example, last fall I promised the wife the garden would be cleared and ready for planting by the first day of spring.
3 Months To Go
It was an easy promise to make back in November when spring was way off in the next year. None of the dead stuff left over from fall was going anywhere. Plenty of time to clear it out.
There was still plenty of time in January when I made the promise again. Months, really. Plus it was cold and rainy and clearing everything and hauling all that stuff down to the compost heap would make a muddy mess.
6 Weeks To Go
By February, I was a little concerned about the extent of work that needed to be done. The bed wraps had shredded in the rain. The tomato teepees were still standing but now wrapped with fibrous dead tomato vines as thick as rope.
More concerning, the blackberries had escaped their boundaries last year, but I hadn’t done anything about it (because, as an expert procrastinator, I figured I’d get to it later). Since then, they’d invaded the lower beds and set up a dense defensive perimeter of six foot tall dead blackberry canes studded with hooked thorns that could whip around in the wind and rip through leather gloves, or break and fall to the ground to embed themselves in the bottom of work boots like spikes in a pair of golf shoes.
So I started to think about a plan to clear the garden I would put into action. Later.
3 Weeks To Go
In early March the broccoli I’d left to bolt last fall, was in the middle of a second, atmospheric-river-fueled run. The plants, now 5 feet tall with stems thick like tree trunks, had torn through the raised bed wraps and spilled out the path, forcing me to take the long way around if I wanted to get to the next bed or anything beyond.
Still, they were flowering, there were plenty of fresh broccoli crowns to eat, and the bees were happy, so I told my wife I had everything under control and would still make the much-promised first-of-spring deadline. After all, I’d been working on a plan. A plan I would execute as soon as I was done planning.
10 Days To Go
It would have been much easier if I started on March 10th, but it was raining a bit and I didn’t want to do a lot of heavy lifting in the mud. The next day I told the Mrs. that I was waiting for the ground to dry a bit before getting to work.
I feel like she was starting to doubt my commitment to fulfilling my promise because she said if I wasn’t going to do it she was. Then she picked up a pair of pruners, some gloves, and a shovel, and headed off to the garden to get started without me.
I watched her hack away at the far corner of the blackberry bramble for a while. She didn’t make much headway – maybe a foot or two – but she was down there doing battle with the invader plants while I drank my coffee and watched from the patio above.
Finally, I took pity on her desperate cutting and chopping and went down to show her how this is done. Plus, she was doing it all wrong and I didn’t want to have to fix whatever she messed up.
In hindsight, this may have been her plan all along because after I joined her and got to work, she quickly begged off with something supposedly more important to do, and left me to clear alone.
That day I finished about half the 50 foot run of blackberries, but left the rest along with the two dozen raised beds, the herb gardens, and the pole bean plot for the next day.
9 Days To Go
I forgot how much hard work it was to fight blackberries on their own turf and switched to reloading the raised beds. I decided to begin with the four beds in the row clawed back from the blackberries yesterday.
Reloading a bed here is basically a version of in-bed composting/organic layering/“lasagna” gardening. It’s a bottom-up versus top-down process, so rather than topping the bed off with fresh soil or compost, the bed is dug out then refilled with layers of coarse organic, fine organic, and compost before it’s finally leveled off with the soil dug out earlier.
I forgot how much hard work it is to reload a bed, so after one bed, I declared success and called it a day.
5 Days To Go
It started raining Monday and didn’t stop until Thursday. Another atmospheric river that dumped a half foot of water before finally moving on and leaving the garden even muddier and messier than before.
I waited a day, took a deep breath and plunged back into my blackberry fight. This time around it was surprisingly easy as all the water made the nastiest of the canes soft and far less likely to whip and hook my arms and face with their thorns.
It took a day, but I managed to whack the remaining 25 feet or so of blackberries back to their designated area.
The next day I turned my attention to the raised beds. I pulled the bed wraps and disposed of them. Then I cut the tomato teepee poles away from the dead tomato plants, disassembled the cucumber and squash ladders, and stacked all the hardware off to the side for use in a few weeks.
The spent plants were hauled to the compost heap where the chickens took over the job of tearing them into smaller chunks that would decompose more easily.
The last task was to haul out the broccoli plants that had gone native over the season.
They didn’t want to go. The plants were large and heavy, their roots dug in deep. I had to spend several hours chopping them up, digging out the roots, and tossing the pieces into the wheelbarrow before hauling the whole lot of them to the compost heap to join the other garden castoffs and chickens.
3 Days To Go
With the beds cleared of last season’s stuff, I began the laborious task of digging each bed out and relayering it, first with a thick layer of blackberry canes, which serve the dual purpose of adding coarse organic matter and providing a thorny deterrent against squirrels and gophers burrowing into the bed.
Next I added a layer of partially composted straw and chicken manure, then replaced the dug out soil and topped the bed off once again.
Reloading each bed is a fair amount of work – especially if the ground is damp, and you’re old and out of shape.
It took me about two hours to dig and reload each bed. There were 24 beds and by the end of the day had completed four.
2 Days To Go
I started early that day, planning to muscle through at least the 12 beds in the central area of the garden. By mid-morning my back hurt and I was already thinking of excuses I could use to explain why the garden wasn’t ready on the first day of spring.
Still, I figured I needed to reload at least half of the beds if my story was going to have any chance of standing, so I soldered on until I finished the dozen I planned that day.
Then I went inside to have a beer and find the heating pad for my back.
1 Day To Go
Early Sunday morning I let the chickens out of their coop and noticed a wet spot on the ceiling inside. The old asphalt shingle roof was apparently losing the battle against all the rain. Knowing that another round of storms was expected in the next few days, I decided to re-roof the coop before the leak got any worse and I’d end up having to do serious repairs.
As a result, I didn’t get back to the half-finished garden until after lunch and was only able to knock out four more beds, leaving eight to reload before spring arrived tomorrow.
8 Hours To Go
Spring wouldn’t officially arrive until 2:24 PM Pacific (like any master procrastinator, I checked), so I still had about 1 hour per bed to make good on my promise to my lovely bride. To add to the pressure, another drenching storm was set to begin late in the afternoon, meaning if I didn’t get the beds done today, I’d be stopped for days and my “it’s practically the first day of spring” fallback excuse would go right out the window.
I banged through the first four beds finishing them by mid-morning. I ran into problems with the fifth bed.
Throughout the bed reloading process I’d been pulling composted straw and manure from the compost heap. That pile was exhausted now, meaning I’d have to go up to the enclosure in front of the chicken coop to get more.
The chicken coop is as far from the vegetable garden as you can get on the Acre. It’s also uphill and on a hard dirt path trenched on both sides by years of scratching and foraging from the ducks and chickens. When it’s wet, walking on it is a bit like trying to ice skate uphill, so if you’re not paying attention, it’s really easy to skate, skid, and take a rough fall into the trees (says the guy who’s broken an ankle, ruptured an elbow, and bruised 4 ribs doing it). Controlling a wheelbarrow loaded with wet straw and manure on that muddy path is basically like hanging on to the back of a bobsled during a downhill run.
Still, the deadline loomed, so I got the manure fork and got to shoveling, sledding, and dumping.
2 Hours To Go
12 wheelbarrow loads and one bloody knuckle later (pretty good by my standards), the chicken enclosure was clean, and a nice big pile of old straw and chicken manure sat at the end of the four raised beds in the vegetable garden’s last row.
It was slightly after noon, meaning I had a little more than 2 hours to finish the beds and be able to crow “I told you it would be ready!” to my now openly skeptical wife. So I took a short break and went and had a beer to (pre) celebrate.
50 Minutes To Go
The celebratory beer turned into two beers, and a fresh bale of straw for the chicken coop, so by the time I got back to the garden there was less than an hour left before spring arrived. I probably could have bought a little extra time if I hadn’t foolishly been over-specific about the vernal equinox not occurring until 2:24 PM our time.
So there I was, ready to power through the four remaining beds in record time. I stab the shovel into the dirt of the first bed and “blurp,” the shovel sticks like it was just shoved into wet cement. I’d forgotten this bed is in the lowest, shadiest portion of the garden, so when it rains everything drains towards it.
In the summer this is convenient because it’s possible to grow lettuce, cilantro and other veggies that appreciate extra water and shade. But in the winter – especially a wet winter – it’s boggy days after the other beds have dried.
30 Minutes To Go
As an experienced procrastinator, I was used to improvising solutions when things didn’t go according to plan (which they rarely do when you’re in a rush). I grabbed a flat shovel and tossed the muddy contents into the bed next to it. Then I tossed those contents into the bed next to it, which dried it enough to be soil again, and quickly dug it and the remaining bed out.
I didn’t know what time it was at this point, but I knew my wife would probably show up to gleefully call me out when I missed my own over-promised deadline. So rather than carefully layering each bed one at a time, I opted to do the whole row simultaneously.
I forklifted a giant pile of cut blackberry canes over and mass-forked them into each bed. Then I kicked them out to flatten each smaller pile and stomped up and down in the beds to crush them line the bottom. Then I did it again to make sure it was a good, thick layer. After that it was onto the straw and manure, followed by topping off with the soil.
As I was finishing up the second-to-last bed, my wife showed up, smiling and holding an unopened beer. I figured it was either a delay tactic, or I was already late, so I ignored her and moved on to the final bed.
When I finished (by the way, doing the whole row was a lot faster than each bed separately), I raked the bed flat, looked up at her and asked the time.
She smiled and pulled out her phone. It was 2:21 PM. Four minutes before spring.
Naturally, I did a little happy “I told you so” dance and told her this was my plan all along. She rolled her eyeballs and handed me the beer.
As grateful as I was for the beer though, I couldn’t help but be a little miffed that she didn’t give it to me four minutes ago.
As a master procrastinator I had plenty of time.
The rain started an hour after spring arrived. It’s rained over 2-inches since and there’s more on the way for the next couple of days. It probably won’t be in a condition to plant for the better part of a week, assuming, of course, we don’t get any more rain, which is not out of the question.
Dang it. If I’d known I had an extra week, I would have taken it.