First I would like to thank my loyal readers for not deleting me during my summer absence.
The U.S. Army honored me with an opportunity to take part in boot camp this summer where I immersed myself in the army culture and lost about twelve pounds. My edible yard was left in the capable hands of my ten year old son Quinton and my wife Shona. The Greeley Master Gardeners placed my yard on the tour this year and I was conspicuously no where to be found on the day of the tour. My family and friends spent the week before the show trimming, mowing and pulling weeds in order to get the place presentable. I received text messages updating me about the comments and questions from visitors (more than two hundred) who walked through my yard that day.
I cannot describe the anxiety that was fostered by being away and unable to control any variables relating to the success or failure of presenting my message (through my yard) to hundreds of strangers there to scrutinize my plants, my design, my ideas. In short nothing less than my artistic integrity was on the line. I don't think that I am exaggerating when I say this. Greeley tends to be a place where people judge and remember your every public appearance and they tend to relay stories so that they spread and stick like hot honey on mini toast. I was very nervous with those annoying questions that populate your thoughts only when there is absolutely no way you could do anything about it anyway.
Did I program the drip timer adequately to compensate for the increasing day length and temperatures?
Do the boys know all of the plants?
What if someone needs specifics information?
I had a very generous reader who volunteered to continue the blog in my leave but I was unable to coordinate this with her and I hope that her feelings were not hurt. I had very limited access to internet and the outside world at Fort Sill. I really appreciated the offer though. I liked the idea. Maybe next time.
Back to the show and my yard.
I was nervous but that night my wife, my dad, and the local nursery owner all left messages on my cell phone letting me know that the show was excellent. I felt so proud of my family. My sons gave the tours. Shona had prepared the vegetable gardens and had painted the front yard with exotic red lettuces and black pearl basil. Feedback was so positive in fact that the local paper was at my house three days after my return to do a feature on my edible landscape complete with pictures and further promotion of my message.
This experience proved something profound to me though. One of the biggest reasons that people have lackluster outdoor spaces is because they don't want to care for fruit trees, or cultivate a garden, or plant seeds, harvest, put food up, or quest for self sufficiency. Perhaps if properly done an edible landscape can be mostly hands free. Perhaps the key to having a yard that can be managed is in the design.
My space utilizes drip on every plant including the vegetable gardens and the hanging plants. This eliminates the need for hand watering. My design concepts include a philosophy of "right of way" - let me explain.
Strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries have the right of way. If they spread into lawn areas the grass is eliminated and the berries get the space. I adjust to accommodate the increased yield of fresh berries. This allows my landscape design to flex and change to suit the needs of the plants.
Right of Way saves me the frustration of attempting to control plants that I planted because they were aggressive and tenacious in the first place. Adopting this philosophy saves time and increases success in the edible landscape.
The orchard is allowed summer growth without pruning. I prune in winter to open the canopy of the tree without stunting growth. Winter pruning invigorates the tree and encourages growth and fruit production. Pruning in the winter frees me from heat of the summer work.
Planting companion plants that control pests reduces the need for chemical sprays.
I started my yard with a foundation of planters mix for a minimum of 12" of topsoil enriched with compost and organics and thus the plants do not have a need for fertilizers. Once again this detail at the very beginning reduces the maintenance.
In summary I think that the lessons learned from my hiatus are related to the initial design and early planning. Retrofitting a landscape may actually create some new work and maintenance requiring the person taking a leap forward toward self sufficiency to make the commitment and follow through. If you have the luxury like I did to start from the ground up I would really pay attention to the foundation first. Bring in enough top soil and install all of the irrigation for every plant including those still in the catalog before you plant your first seed.
Your landscape will pay you back someday - maybe while you are doing pushups in Oklahoma.