Moving the Cottage Garden

Reader Contribution by Becky And Andy
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Sometimes farming teaches you that no matter how well you plan, you are still at the whim of nature’s desires.

Back in February, I decided to move our cottage garden a few hundred yards closer to the house. Where it sat, everything from electricity for the fences and water for the plants had to be accessed via extension. I have in my possession 350′ of garden hoses. I had 600′ of electric horse fence for the perimeter of that large garden and another 150′ of wire run along the ground to hook up said fence to our electric fencer, plugged in nicely on the side of the house. Then the aspect of walking there, back and forth, each time you forgot something or filled the wagon with produce, was starting to get old. Finally, our retired friends who garden with us were less and less excited for that same walk each time they came out. In my mind, all signs pointed to move.

The end of March and the first two weeks of April were so wet, it made no sense to take things down. Our soil is mostly black clay and if you step in it while it’s wet, your boots will soon be twice as heavy and behave like snowshoes. Plus, it ruins the tilth of the soil with all that tramping around. No, I’d have to keep waiting.

On April 13th, a freak snow storm hit Wisconsin. While April snows aren’t unusual here, the magnitude and length of this storm certainly was. It continued for the next 48 hours, dropping 30+ inches of snow in some areas. Records were broken all over the state and the snowfall was so heavy that literally everything shut down. When Winter Storm Evelyn finally ended, no one was going anywhere on Monday morning. It took another week for the snow to melt and another week after that for the ground to fully dry out.

In my little world, that meant there would be NO moving any garden beds, and especially no moving the damp, heavy soil those beds contained. Spring, which had seemed within arms reach a few days before, was now delayed by three weeks.

In early May, I took down the entire electric fencing system, the aging snow fence, 50 or so T-posts and as many little garden items that I could haul back without help. Next was the hard part; lifting up and moving our 15 raised beds to the new location, transporting the soil and refilling said beds, then erecting a new fence. I had hoped to get all this done in the month of May, thereby barely slowing down my planting season.

The garden, as it looked after the snow melt and rain dried up, early May.

Beginning the long process of moving, by taking down the fence.

The garden without the fence and the beds, with two raised beds already hauled off.

Then the rains came. Yes, after the snow was gone and the ground began to green a little, we got inch after inch of rain. In fact, there was only about one week in which the ground had enough time to dry before the next storm that I was able to get some garden beds moved and enough soil hauled to fill one of them.

Meanwhile, my started plants, which I’d already transplanted to larger containers once, were hardened off and sitting impatiently on the deck. I began giving summer squash and zucchini, cabbage and green peppers away. Anyone who visited went home with a plant or four. The poor things were becoming root-bound and I had no place to put them.

This spring was a lesson in patience and acceptance for me. Patience with the weather, of course, but also recognizing my own expectations and their limitations. Acceptance and peace with the fact that my grand plans for a garden move were never going to be realized this year. Once I accepted that, it was easy to move forward. In fact, it was almost a relief. Now, instead of a remake of the garden as it sat, I could create landscaping here, near the house, in places that had needed landscaping for years, but were neglected due to the high needs of that cottage garden.

With renewed vigor and hope, and a lot of Andy’s help, we moved six raised beds immediately to the house. Starting from the south end of the deck, we fit five raised beds up against the house.

Thank the Lord for tractors and hydraulics!

We had already placed one on the back of the house, against the south wall where nothing but weeds were growing. Here I planted my ailing peppers, cabbages and remaining summer squash. Given that I had perennials still growing happily in the old garden, started vegetables and flowers sitting on my deck, AND a bunch of freshly purchased seeds packets sitting in the house, I was forced to be creative in my planting.

I dug up most of the perennial border flowers and found homes for them both in the garden beds, but also in areas around our side yard that needed a little pick-me-up.

A wagon of Instant Garden!

By now, we had hit the first week of June. Only once since I’ve been gardening (11 years) have we ever planted this late. It automatically ruled out radishes and peas. I was, however, able to plant several varieties of lettuces and kale because the little garden beds all get afternoon shade. This will keep the hottest part of the sun off them and keep them from bolting so quickly in deep summer.

Now, with my 1/3 sized garden set up and planted, I have far fewer responsibilities than I did before. Last summer, the garden became all-consuming and by August, I was sick of it. Although it was beautiful, and we even hosted two garden parties amidst the bucolic atmosphere, I felt the stress outweighed the sights. With this garden move, I had already planned on reducing the overall size of the garden to cut down on mowing and labor. This solution is even better. We get fresh produce and flowers right next to our house and I am not feeling nearly as tied down to the chore of gardening.

While it wasn’t what I envisioned a few months ago, I’m truly looking forward to our little kitchen cottage garden and what it can produce for us this year. What plans have you had to alter where it turned out better in the end?

Photos property of Becky Sell.

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