Tag Archives: blind gardening

A Garden Update

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

July has come and gone. After July 5, the rain stopped. This is not unusual for July and it will soon be four weeks since any measurable precipitation has fallen on the garden. We have watered the pots and raised beds each week, but the other portions of the garden have remained dry. August doesn’t hold out much promise for rain either; again, par for the course.

July 15 and July 22 mark the end of the green bean crop. Four pickings is a good crop, and they were thoroughly enjoyed. I haven’t checked the plants since then, but since it hasn’t rained, I know they are in tough shape. They did their job. Now, they can die.

The potatoes were dug on July 19. The plants were pretty much dead, but I could still feel their stalks, so I dug around them with a large garden trowel. This is one of my favorite garden jobs, as you never know what types of potatoes will show up. Due to my clay soil, the potatoes were rather small, but that is not a problem for me. We have already cooked some up and their taste is fantastic.

I planted a second crop of green beans where the potatoes grew. I haven’t watered them and it hasn’t rained, so my hope for them is slim, at best. However, with some late season rains, they could come through. These were leftover seeds, so if they don’t grow or produce, not much is lost.

I did pick a bag of peppers, and have enjoyed them in salads. I also froze my first bag of peppers. I judge by size when I pick them. Banana peppers are my favorite, and since I’ve grown them for years, I have experience when sizing them for harvest. Several young peppers have set, so I am looking for another harvest later this month.

The garlic has also been dug. Like the potatoes, I use a large trowel to dig out the garlic at the base of the plant. I dig a few inches away, then get under the plant and lift with the trowel. This avoids damaging the garlic bulbs. Elephant garlic will always be my favorite, as it produces large and tasty bulbs. The other type is much smaller, but still productive. I already have garlic ordered which should be here in the fall.

When checking on the sweet potatoes I planted on July 6, I noticed that this area of the garden was getting very weedy. This is where the spinach, radishes, and lettuce had grown. Before weeding, I mounded up the sweet potatoes again and gave them another drink. I am thinking that they will need additional soil around them at least twice before harvest.

This weeding was a challenge. In one respect, it should be easy. After all, the early crops were either harvested, or pulled out. On the other hand, it was critical that I get near the carrots. When weeding, I always start with the obvious. I pulled out all the weeds first that had been in the rows with the early crops. In weeding the carrots, I first pulled out the obvious culprits—dandelions, night shade, and other unnamed pests. The challenge was the grass that was growing among the carrots. The carrot leaves are ferny and quite distinct. When in doubt, just pull off one of the tips and smell it—it won’t hurt the crop. But with the grassy weeds, their roots become entangled with the carrots, and could damage the crop. I didn’t do a perfect job in weeding them, nor do you have to. I am looking for a fall harvest, again depending on weather. I have dug them from mid-September up to November, depending on weather and rainfall. For all the bother they are, each year I wonder why I raise them. But, their first taste makes the effort worth it.

Getting Busier

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Braille-seed-packets-02

The spring rush has just begun. On April 14, I settled down to order some additional plants from Dutch Gardens, one of my favorite mail order houses. I wanted some calla lilies and I was not disappointed in the selection. I ordered a mixed bag and a dark purple calla. These lilies are easy to grow and have a unique flower form. I will place one bulb each in a two gallon pot.

April 18 was as close to a perfect day as it gets. I took off work early and the afternoon found me working in the garden. I called to have the garden tilled, but didn’t call in time–it’ll have to wait. So, I took this occasion to fill up more pots for future vegetables and flowers. I now have 24 pots full of a mixed soil of wood chips, soil brought in from old pots, and our neighbor’s work projects. Beth was also busy filling pots.

The following day, Saturday, was just as nice. A friend stopped by with his truck and we went to Earl May to pick up 26 bags of potting soil. Earl May is a great store with excellent customer service. I call it very “blind guy friendly.” It didn’t take us long to unload the bags before we dumped 12 bags into each or the two new raised beds. Our son Rob and I had carried the new beds to their locations earlier in the month. While we were at Earl May he put the liners in the beds so the dumping could begin in earnest. Also while we were gone, he leveled off an area for my five large clay pots and placed them there. After lunch, we carried bags of potting soil to fill the pots after I placed ballast (broken shards of old clay pots) in the bottom of each one. At this point, all five pots and the two new beds are ready for planting. I am having a tough time deciding what will go into my new beds and pots. I am full of ideas, so there will have to be a decision made!

I pay to have the garden tilled. On Tuesday, my man Steve showed up to do the job. I like to wait until at least one day has passed before planting so the soil has a chance to form a dry crust on top. The soil looks mellow and ready to roll. We had a half inch of rain Wednesday-Thursday, so no planting has been done yet. My sticks await along the garden edge, my string is in a bucket, and my seeds are labeled and sorted.

The last entry into this session involves another visit to Earl May. I wanted to purchase some seed potatoes. Norland is my preference. They were in stock and are currently resting in the garage, awaiting their planting. Rob installed a new connecting fence last Saturday as well. We’ll see how it does with the cucumber seeds I purchased at the store. Twenty-five plant markers also went in to the shopping basket. I prefer the 10 inch wooden variety. They give me plenty of room for Dymo tape Braille labels. Four bags of potting soil were also purchased. Finally, I needed some brassica plants, so eight kohlrabis and four early cabbages (Copenhagen Market) went into the basket, too.

This is going to be a busy weekend. Priority will go into planting seeds in the garden. Beth also informed me that two boxes of perennials have arrived from Bluestone. Add some Master Gardener activities to the schedule for this weekend as well. It is the time, and it is the season!

Alternative Techniques in the Garden

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Since I have become a Master Gardener, I have been occasionally asked to speak to garden groups. They are curious to know how a blind person can garden. Fortunately, there are not a lot of alternative techniques involved. Hard work, good knowledge, planting the right things in the right areas, soil preparation, correct watering, and harvesting in a timely manner are just as important aspects of gardening as any special tools or techniques I use.

I do bring along a couple of tools. One of my most valuable tools is a Braille yardstick. They are available from Aids and Devices at the Department, are inexpensive, and quite durable. I have had mine for several years; it is beaten up and ugly from use. Of course, it has Braille numbers. But it also has raised lines of varying lengths for those who are newly blinded and just learning Braille.

Another tool I bring is my hoe without a handle. Standing up to hoe does me no good, as I can’t see what I am doing. So, I hoe on my hands and knees. This type of tool can be adapted for many gardeners who may have trouble standing for whatever reason. I got it from a driver who broke it off while hoeing. It is rusty and ugly from use, but so be it.

I also use Braille markers. I purchase inexpensive wooden markers that look like Popsicle sticks, make a label with dymo tape, and place it on the marker. These have proven to be quite temporary, and unfortunately, are too easy to move. Therefore, when spring comes, I oftentimes find that what I have marked last fall is no longer there. My wife, who is sighted, uses visual labels; she encounters the same problem. A case in point is a yellow peony which I purchased last spring. Unfortunately, its markers have disappeared, and we are not sure if it is up or not. I have raised peonies for years, and know their leaf form well. It appears that it may be breaking the ground, but the leaves feel finer, and the stems are not a stout as regular peony stems. So, the jury is still out. I’ll be visiting greenhouses soon, and the place I purchased this peony is on my list. I’ll know more in two weeks, and can judge accordingly.

My most frequently asked question is “how do you tell the plants from the weeds?” It depends. I have been involved in gardening, in some capacity or other, for about 60 years now, and have always gardened by touch. Some weeds are familiar–dandelions, Canadian thistles and clover are prime examples. Some wanted plants are also obvious from experience–corn, green beans, peas, radishes and lettuce. Carrots and parsnips are the toughest ones. I once asked my Mom how she can tell the carrots from the weeds when they are small and she replied “you tell me and we’ll both know.” So, like Mom, I let the carrots and weeds grow together until they are big enough to tell apart. I have also heard to plant radishes and carrots together to solve this problem. I’ve never tried it. Container gardening, which is now all the rage, also makes this separation question easier. I am a fan, and have lots of containers for gardening.