Memorial Day weekend is an unofficial start to the summer in so many ways – pools open, BBQs are fired up and for me, it’s usually when I get to really start to dig in and enjoy my garden for the season. Until that one day when I gleefully go to pick my carefully tended produce that I’ve had planned out since January, only to find some *#%&! critter has robbed me of the joy of ever having a chance to taste it.
I’ve been exchanging some messages lately with friends on gardening wonders and woes and it’s inspired me to share some of my tried and true tips for protecting my garden from the elements.
1. HARDWARE CLOTH – Depending on where you live, you will undoubtedly be faced with some kind of critter, be it moles, voles, birds, squirrels, deer, etc. You name it – there’s an army of pests just waiting to eat your hard-earned produce. Trust me – I have had my fair share of plants devoured and it only takes one hungry animal to obliterate your garden. Where I live, moles and voles are a problem. Hardware cloth is essentially a mesh-like sheet of metal you can put under your garden bed to prevent underground critters from attacking your plants. If your garden is already set up, it might be a pain in the neck to add it, but it’s a great and cheap investment to add if you’re just staring out. You can find it at home improvement stores like Home Depot, Lowes, etc.
2. CHICKEN WIRE CLOCHES – While the hardware cloth handles defense from below, my cloches do the work from above. The items I grow that are most vulnerable to visiting pests (i.e., squirrels & birds) are greens and fruit – with some exceptions. Critters typically won’t touch herbs and I’ve had a very long-standing success rate with arugula (I think they dislike the bitterness). And while they won’t have access to my radishes, carrots or beets underground, they will eat the greens, which does enough damage to pull them from the ground before they’re ready. Since it’s important to me that my garden be equal parts form + function, I wanted to find a solution that was both practical and pretty. This season I discovered chicken wire cloches. Most of what you’ll see out there are smaller cloches meant to cover one head of lettuce. I need more coverage so I prefer the three-in-one cloches you can find from places like Gardeners’ Supply.
3. FOXGLOVES (Not the plant)- WEEDING IS THE WORST. Sure, sometimes it can be therapeutic but honestly it just kills my knees and it’s a Sisyphean task that seems to only get worse as summer goes on. That’s why I really rely on good gloves to help me with the job. If the glove don’t fit, you are gonna quit. (Ha!) But seriously… there are a million kinds of gardening gloves out there and if you don’t find one that works, you’re going to get frustrated and give up. I’ve found many gardening gloves are either too loose, too thick, too fragile or just plain uncomfortable. Until I tried Foxgloves. While they aren’t really waterproof, these babies make me feel like I’m a surgeon in the garden, capable of gently pruning plants, pulling weeds, and giving me just enough grip to be incredibly dexterous. They retail for about $25 on Amazon. I garden several times a week and I usually need to replace them about once every two years.
TIPS & ADVICE
- KNOW YOUR LAST FROST DATE. A few weeks ago when we were in week 3,458 of rainy cold, I had some friends ask me if I’d started planting anything yet. Typically I will begin planting as soon as I can work the ground – but that’s only for certain items that I know to be cold-hardy like peas, some lettuce varieties, etc. This spring had a multiple personality disorder, ranging from crazy heat back in February to plummeting frosts in early May. That’s why for most crops it’s good to know what your last frost date is to be extra careful to not plant or transplant seedlings too early. Just be advised that last frost dates are averages and while they are typically very reliable, this year I’m fairly certain we had at least two frosts after the average date given the wild weather year it’s been. You can find out your last frost date here.
- KNOW WHAT GOES & WHAT GROWS. One of the best perks about a home garden is getting to grow things you might not otherwise be able to find at your local market. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to try growing acai berries in my backyard. Stick to what is going to work well in your climate and branch out from there. Like tomatoes? There are more than 10,000 varieties in the world! One of my favorites is the oxheart tomato which is challenging to grow due to its size but you can’t buy it in stores and you’re lucky if you can find a farmer growing one and selling it at a market. Speaking of farmer’s markets, they are an excellent source for inspiration and/or advice on what good varieties are to plant. Farmers have a fantastic working knowledge of what grows well in your area.
- IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY AND TRY AGAIN. Listen, if I’ve learned anything as a gardener, it’s that even the most cared for plants will sometimes fail to thrive. You win some and you lose some. You’re at the mercy of so many variables, weather being the most volatile. Sometimes you get a good year of one variety and a bad year of another. I’ve found success doing things in threes. That means when I plant my seeds, I plant three seeds in each hole. There’s an old saying “One for the rock, one for the crow, one to die and one to grow.” If you get lucky enough to have three seeds sprout, you’ll need to thin them out (pull a few as they get bigger to make room for one) but it improves your chances of having at least one grow.