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Raised-bed Gardening: Trials and Satisfaction

Over the course of the growing season, The Food Project staff member Allison Daminger, along with our Boston interns, will be blogging about their experiences tending two 4 ft. x 8 ft. raised bed gardens located on The Food Project's farm in Dorchester. Although Allison and the youth have learned a lot through osmosis—when you work for The Food Project, it's hard not to pick up at least the basics of growing food!—watching and assisting others is quite different from having one's own garden. We hope that reading about their mistakes and successes over the course of the growing season will encourage other aspiring gardeners to dive in with a little less fear! Here, Allison reflects on what's working, and what's gone wrong!

“Something’s wrong with my radishes!” I complained to a co-worker in mid-August. The green tops had been shredded by a pest of some sort, leaving them looking more like lace than leaves. Meanwhile, my eggplants had expanded far more than I expected, and their broad leaves had begun to shade out the radish plants in front of them. Worst of all, the radish roots stubbornly refused to develop. Although it had been more than two months since I put the seeds in the ground, there was no sign of the tender red vegetables I looked forward to eating.

The Food Project staffer Sadie, a more seasoned gardener, offered to take a look at my plot. Right away, she spotted the problem: overcrowding. I had been generous in my seeding, since I was using seeds leftover from previous growing seasons and didn’t expect a high germination rate. To my surprise, a good number of them sprouted. I should have thinned them to the proper spacing once the seedlings were a few inches tall, but at the time it seemed silly to pull them out of the ground when they were doing so well! But as the plants grew bigger, they began to compete for nutrients (and space!) in the soil, and this competition stunted their growth. Together, Sadie and I pulled out radishes, carrots, and beets until there were about sixteen per square foot. “We might have saved them in time,” Sadie told me optimistically, but I would have to wait and see.

This week, it was clear that the radishes were a lost cause. While a few of them had developed roots, they were small and yellowish-pink, and I opted to compost the whole crop. It wasn’t all bad news, though! I harvested about fifteen pounds of produce that afternoon, including beets, cucumbers, green beans, eggplant, scallions, and parsley. While most of the green beans went straight into my mouth, the rest of the veggies are being turned into salads or stirfries and shared with friends and colleagues. As the grow-your-own and local food movements continue to gain traction, it perhaps seems a bit clichéd to talk about the incredible satisfaction I’ve gotten from eating food I grew myself. Still, the point bears repeating. As I munch happily on the fruits of my labor (and mourn the radishes that didn’t make it onto my plate), I’m already dreaming up next year’s garden.

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