Every season I have gardened in Vermont has presented its own set of challenges. The first year I gardened here – the first year I gardened, period – there was a killing frost in early July. Luckily, my garden was very small (10' x 15') and I was able to replant without going broker than I already was. But there was another killing frost in late August, making the total length of the growing season about 45 days. If you garden at all, you know that's not much of a growing season.
For several years, I had a family of groundhogs living just beyond the perimeter of the yard. If you garden at all, you know what a scourge, a pox, and a pestilence they are. Not to mention that they're just plain evil fuckers who know exactly when to attack for maximum psychological damage to the gardener. Just when I was ready to harvest perfect mini-heads of tasty butterhead lettuce, they snuck into the garden mid-day and polished off the entire row. Just when my painstakingly pampered Charentais melons were on the verge of ripening, those bastards wandered in and took a greedy bite out of every single one (I could imagine them thinking “there must be a ripe one in here somewhere...”), ruining any potential for harvest.
I tried everything to thwart them. I put a fence around the garden; they dug under it. I dug a one-and-a-half-foot trench around the base of the fence and lined it with chicken wire; they climbed over the fence. I threw deadly stink bombs down the entry to their lair; they snuck out the back. I put up a high-voltage electric livestock fence; god knows how they circumvented that, but they did. I even hired the services of a kind of witch-doctor to erect a “thought fence”, an invisible energy barrier, to keep them out. And it worked!...until the day when my lisianthus and my crepis rubra were in full gorgeous flower, and those asshats went in and ate off all the flower heads, leaving behind a row of naked green sticks poking up from the foliage.
The year that I added an 85-lb. Kuvasz (aka Big White Dog) to the household, the groundhogs mysteriously disappeared.
This year, I started tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, and cauliflower in my makeshift indoor greenhouse and nursed them into healthy little 4" seedlings, then went away on vacation for 2 weeks, leaving them in the despotic care of a housesitter. I gave instructions that they should be watered sparingly, only when the surface of the dirt started to dry out. Somebody couldn't be arsed to follow instructions, and apparently watered them generously every single day, because I returned home to find them so sodden that I could barely lift the trays they were in; there was moss beginning to grow on the surface of the dirt.
I was able to save the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. It took nearly a week to dry them out; the cauliflower and onions succumbed to root-rot.
And then the wind. Here in my little river valley, the wind has been relentless this spring. When I started trying to harden off the seedlings – by which I would put them outdoors a little at a time, starting with 15 minutes in the shade, gradually acclimating them to sun, wind, heat – when I put them out on the first day, a cold wind came up out of nowhere and scorched all their delicate leaves. Over the next three weeks, there wasn't a day that was calm and warm and sunny in the right combination, but the plants needed to be outside as they were growing weak and leggy indoors. By the time it was warm enough to plant, they were all pretty battered, but I'd staked them all with slender bamboo to keep them at least upright. I planted them with the stakes still in place, and in a week they were looking strong enough to stand alone. But no sooner had I removed all the stakes than the weather turned autumnal, with 40° temps overnight and winds gusting upwards of 30 mph. Several of the plants blew over with snapped stems, but I had extras and replaced the fallen. I finished the last of the planting this week, with a lot of starts from various local nurseries, and very late direct-seeding of beets, carrots, and greens.
My husband built several new bed-boxes for me, so I'm able to have a cutting garden for the first time in 6 years, and I can increase the number of cucumbers I can grow – one of my more popular “products” is a nippy hot dog relish made from pickling cukes and jalapeños from my garden.
The garden is situated along the edge of a hill, and I have previously grown cucurbits (squash and cucumbers) in mounds all along that edge, so that the vines could run rampant down the hill:
Three of the new boxes are long and narrow and terraced into the side of the hill. My husband started on a long-promised series of stone retaining walls and steps to make the hill more stable and more accessible (in the past, it's been a literal slippery slope of loose gravel; tending and harvesting the cucurbits has been a challenge).
I had just finished typing a detailed list of everything growing in the garden and then did something incredibly stupid and lost it all; this is a basic list, which I will expand on later:
Tomatoes (6 varieties), peppers (2 varieties), eggplant (2 varieties), cauliflower, fennel, cilantro, basil, lettuce (4 varieties for heading plus a mix for cutting), arugula, mache, mesclun, carrots, beets (2 varieties), filet beans, cippolini onions, garlic (3 varieties), cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash (2 varieties), watermelon, and two beds full of assorted annual flowers for cutting.