Gardening when you're gone

by | May 1, 2018 | Journey with Jill in the Garden

I lay my kindle in my lap and stretched, digging my toes into the warm sand. Scanning the blue horizon where only a thin line delineated between sea and sky, I drank in the sights and sounds.
My eyes landed on a dark man with a wide-brimmed hat. He wielded a long knife and sliced the top of a coconut like we open a can of soda. I watched as he plunged a straw inside and offered it to another beachcomber on his island.
For me, palm trees symbolize the beach. For him, they represent his way of life — living off the land, even in this paradise.
My mind fluttered back to my own land, where, though, in a different way, I do the same. I wondered if my tomatoes had begun ripening, if my blueberry harvest had ended. Like parents who leave their children for a week, only to see how they’ve grown upon their return, I looked forward to entering my garden after a week of relaxation two time zones away.
Maintaining a garden and enjoying a summer vacation — at first thought, these two may seem like opposing activities, as if you have to choose one or the other. But as one who values getaways almost as much as I value my garden, I can assure you, it is possible.
To get the most out of both your rest time and your harvest, though, there are some steps you can take to make it all run more smoothly.
Enlist the help of a trusted friend. This may seem obvious, but regardless of the plans you put in place, you will need someone you trust to come check on your garden. You can pay them in money, gift cards, or returning the garden-sitting favor, and you can let them keep what they harvest while you’re gone. And, if you put the following systems into place, this person won’t have to visit more than every two to three days.
Know your harvest peaks and plan accordingly. Regardless of how much you trust the person whom you ask to tend to your garden in your absence, the best way to plan a garden and a vacation is to plan your vacation when as few of your crops are in harvest as possible. Not only will this reduce their work but it will also keep you from missing out on the prime of your harvest that you’ve worked so hard for!
This may take a few seasons of watching when certain crops ripen, but in general, I’ve found an ideal window in the first few weeks of June. Usually the spring crops like lettuce, peas, greens, onions, and potatoes are finished with their production when the hot weather has set in, and your summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and okra haven’t begun their peak harvest yet.
Plan Your Planting Based on Your Vacation Dates. When it’s not possible to plan your vacation between spring and summer harvests, you can delay planting certain crops so they will not ripen completely in your absence. While some crops will produce for weeks on end (like zucchini, peppers, okra, and many tomatoes), others have a narrow window, like corn. Last season our family had to take our vacation in the middle of July, which would have been the prime time to harvest corn. Corn is a unique crop in that it must be harvested in a very short window (two to three days), so I delayed planting for two weeks and harvested corn on the cob the week after we returned. What a great thing to come home to!
Invest in a timed watering system. Depending on how large your garden is, it’s a great idea to purchase a timer to automatically irrigate your garden beds, raised beds, or even containers while you’re gone. This can be done whether you use a sprinkler, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation. Setting this up on a timer will reduce the watering required from whomever will watch over your garden, and it will provide a failsafe if he or she cannot water as frequently as needed.
Mulch your garden heavily before you leave. I recommend mulching your garden anyway, but it’s especially important to do so before a vacation. The last thing you want is coming home to weeds that have taken over your garden in just a week (yes, that can happen!) and you can’t catch up.
Don’t make yourself choose between growing your own fresh produce and enjoying a vacation! Take a few steps ahead of time so you can enjoy both! After all, gardening and vacations — isn’t that what makes summer truly great?

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