As you can see from yesterday’s post, I will be back in Ohio in a few weeks. The place there is not much. It’s a cottage with very little land for a garden. It’s smaller than the Florida place by far, and generally far cooler and often wetter. June in Ohio compares favorably to February in Florida. Yet, during summer the weather will get hotter just like Florida in March through May. In some respects gardening is rather similar in both places.
While in Florida everything was done in lots of sun with pots on an enclosed lanai, in Ohio I’m dealing with 5-6 hours of sunlight max for most of what I’ll plant. Also, I’m completely outside, sharing the spring with lots of rabbits, squirrels, even baby skunks who sometimes think of gardeners as old friends…yikes! They are all looking for something to eat. Their winter food supplies are largely gone and fresh green things coming up out of the ground are fair game, as are tree seeds/nuts that may have sunk into your garden soil. The squirrels will dig up the latter while the rabbits may eat the former down to ground level. The baby skunks won’t eat much of anything as they basically come by to play. I don’t play with them. I just get out of their way. I know it’s cruel, but they will find other playmates. Besides, if I encourage that activity, they will be back for more play. Not a good option.
Thus, out of necessity, I have to protect the garden from critters especially in the early spring. Later, the small critters will tend to ignore the garden, but the birds may swoop down on some plants while racoons will favor certain plants as delicacies. This behavior is, of course, necessary. It’s not an unwillingness to share. I just have to protect plants in the beginning especially if I want any of it to develop. At the same time I can put a few seeds into the ground in unprotected adjacent areas as well as throw in a few nuts the squirrels may have missed in the part of the garden that needs to be protected. The early spring critters will feast on these things as they become available and then will slowly drift away as spring becomes summer and other sources of food become more plentiful. I can then use the unprotected areas increasingly for mulch piles.
In the area behind the back porch there is a cyclone fence about 6-7 feet away from the back step to the back end of the property. Sun shines there from about 9 am until mid afternoon. If I’m lucky, I have about 5-6 hours. It would be nice to have a little more, but that’s sufficient for almost everything I’ll plant. I’m hopeful that I’ll have a little more this year. Three trees, that have been shading some of the later afternoon sun, have been taken out over the winter. They were big ash trees infested with a beetle–unhappily a death sentence. Now the trees are gone and the sun may expand into garden area for another hour or two.
In this area I have two raised beds, one 4′ by 6′ and one 4′ by 8′ separated from each other by a 3′ space where I keep two small circular chicken wire composting bins. The bins are used for the leaf mulch collected the previous fall and then used for mulching early refuse from the garden. Overall, this covers about 17′-18′ of the available back end of the property (about 26′-27′). Eventually, in this side space I have a number of pots I’ll use for tomatoes, pole beans, snow peas, and maybe some trellised cucumbers and squash.
The raised beds are filled with an excellent amended top soil I purchased from a local nursery. I know it sounds like cheating, but the cottage is located relatively near Lake Erie (two short blocks away). The soil is mostly rocky and you have to dig out a large volume of heavy rocks down several feet and rearrange the property a bit in order to find your way to something suitable to garden in. I know because I had to do a bit of rearranging of rocks in order to put in the back porch which goes from the back end of the cottage to where the raised beds are now located. When I did that I think I put most of the extra rocks into the area under the raised beds. Thus, having basically run out of soil, the only strategy available was to buy decent soil. After a lifetime of gardening during which I’d made my way through a lot of tough soils, I felt like I had it coming to me.
When I get back to Ohio in three weeks the first order of business will be to clean up. The two beds have been covered with a large tarp and weighed down with a few fairly large rocks at the ends and in the middle. On top of all that is an enormous pile of leaves that came down in the fall. My neighbors blew in on top of my leaves some extra leaves for their sides. The neighbor on one side chewed up some or all of his leaves with his mower–helps them to rot out more quickly over the fall and early spring before I arrive. The first thing I’ll do on returning is to collect the leaves into piles in the middle and at the sides, and get the tarp folded and back in the shed.
I can then place my chicken wire covering on the two beds. For both the 4′ x 6′ and the 4′ x 8′ beds I have two 4′ x 3′ sections that fit snugly over each end. These look like end boxes that are covered with chicken wire on top and on three sides, but not at the bottom or on the one side that fits over the middle of the bed. The chicken wire frame has one extra section on the 4′ x 8′ bed. The extra section is 2′ long to cover the middle of the bed. These chicken wire frames fit like a large rectangular boxes 15″ high over soil level for each of the beds. Their sufficiently sturdy to keep out small critters and birds. Not sure about a big raccoon determined to get at a delicacy.
At this point the area where the plants will go will be covered with the chicken wire frame so that as soon as I remove and plant, I can put these protections against critters right back to work. The sections are quite light and easy to handle. The edges are made with light furring strips hammered together with nails and stabilized at each of the corners with 90 degree angle brackets screwed into the wood. I’ve wintered them over on the front porch of the cottage with the other lawn furniture so I don’t expect them to be rotted out or in disarray when I return to Ohio. Overall, it should taken me a couple of hours to get cleaned up and get the chicken wire tops back in place. Then I’ll be ready to plant. I’ll plant some of the same things I planted in the Florida garden, but there will be quite a few different items as well. I will be back describing what goes in under the chicken wire a few posts from now.