The vegetable garden: and so it begins

We all love spring – but we gardeners, I think, love spring best.  It’s the time of year of the greatest of gardening optimism – we can forget the tangled mess of weeds and bitter vegetables hanging from nitrogen-starved plants that was last year’s vegetable garden “harvest”, and plan this year’s like we know (ha!) what we are doing.

This year I checked out a load of organic gardening books from the local library and have decided to take a novel approach: to actually have an approach to gardening.  I first fell in love with the Square Foot Gardening method, but the idea of creating your own perfect soil entirely from bags of stuff from Home Depot, without any native soil, proved to be too expensive (and was slightly off-putting anyway from a holistic, earth-loving, biodynamic point of view).  I have, though, worked a few of the theories of SFG into my current garden plan: raised beds, measured by the square foot, where I can plant more in my garden with less space (instead of rows).  I’ve incorporated little gems of information from other books in my gardening plan this year as well.

This year I’m going to:

Plant in raised beds.  Raised beds warm the soil more quickly and are easier to manage.  We’ll fill the area around the beds with some mulch of some kind to discourage weeds.  It will be a much more pleasant experience than last year’s weeding through a weed jungle taller than me.

Plant stuff when it actually should be planted.  My old method was just to throw some seed and starter plants down all at once and hope for the best.  As it turns out, different veggies like to grow at different times.  Some cold-loving broccoli, spinach and lettuce are already in the ground.  This year, hopefully, we won’t have pumpkins in July.

Feed and water stuff when it actually should be fed and watered.  Different plants have different needs from the soil, and as a plant grows, it needs different amounts of water and feed at different times of their growth cycle.  Who knew?  I’ll be watering with a hose this year (instead of drip irrigation) so I can control how much water goes into each plant.  I’ll also be feeding some of the more nutrient-intense plants some compost or fish emulsion every few weeks.  This has the added benefit of me actually having to step into the garden each day so I can see how my plants are doing and adjusting my care accordingly.

Plant in succession.   There is no reason to plant a hundred radishes all at once.  Instead I’m planting a few at a time, on a rotation schedule, so that I’ll always have a handful to harvest each week with more in the ground at various stages of life.  My neighbors will be happy to know that I won’t be dumping radishes on them this year.  Most other veggies can be planted this way as well, so we’ll have a constant supply of lettuce for our salads (do you see the completely unabashed and unrealistic optimism here?).  I’ve even planned both spring and fall harvests.

Grow stuff up.  You can make more room in the garden for other stuff if you use a simple garden tool: the trellis.  Peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and even pumpkins (albeit smaller ones) will be growing vertically in my garden this year.

Choose seeds and plants more carefully.  I’ve discovered the thrill of high-end seed catalogs this year.  Instead of standing in front of the wire rack at the garden center and choosing between “bush bean” and “pole bean” I actually get to experience the joy of picking out just the right bean that’s tender and tasty and resistant to bugs.  And they’re all organically grown!  Bonus.

Pick stuff when it is supposed to be picked.  Harvest has usually been whenever we have felt like making a salad or a side vegetable.  Often that has left us with overripe beans and bitter cucumbers.  Now I know that I need to pick vegetables often on many plants to encourage new growth, and usually smaller, younger veggies are the most succulent.

Here are a few pics from the beginning of the garden journey this year:

Putting in the raised beds I designed and Rich built…can I really fit my tushie in between there to plant, weed, harvest and such?  I thought I measured pretty carefully…

…ah, I actually didn’t measure so carefully.  Off by a foot.  Rich scratching his head, deciding what to do.  He looks a little put out in these pictures, but we were actually laughing the whole time.  I made him stand there in that position.

Rich working on fixing my mistake.

Much better!  My 12 foot by 4 foot raised beds are now become 12 foot by 3 foot raised beds.  I can now (barely) fit.  I had to re-arrange my whole planting map, but it’s worth it.  Still, it’s a tight squeeze and will be tough gardening in there…

The beds filled with compost and organic peat moss substitute (which seems to be just mulching bark) over the top of our soil.  Planting seeds and such.  See my nice little measured out one inch squares?  More on the obsessive-compulsive farming method to come…


6 Responses to “The vegetable garden: and so it begins”

  1. 1 Cheeky March 30, 2008 at 9:49 am

    I think that 3′ wide beds are a good idea. I built 4′ beds one year and boy, hunching over to reach the center of the bed for any length of time was somewhat discouraging to the gardening effort. And damn, I wish I’d had whatever that rolling thing is you’re sitting on!

  2. 2 Dan March 31, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Blimey, you’re organised.

    I’m intending to have a real go at doing the veg gardening this year. When I can find time that is.

    There is still risk of frosts here so I’m waiting a few weeks until I plant stuff out. I’ve got my sweetpeas and my tomatoes in pots on the windowsill already though.

  3. 3 DAD March 31, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    I have a remarkably similar approach. I carefully measure the distance between the aisles of produce at Safeway, then I cautiously shove a grocery cart down each, one at a time, selecting legumes and other vegetables, being careful not to bruise the parsley. Repeat in frozen food section. Everything is ripe exactly when needed! Seriously, we look forward to eating some of your resulting produce. Last year’s tomatoes were pretty tasty. And — why not be widely optimistic. IT”S SPRING!

  4. 4 Jen V. March 31, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Kristina – that’s awesome! I hate veggies but I love your veggie garden!

  5. 5 Tiarnna April 1, 2008 at 2:22 am

    Yum…..when do we eat??

    And its funny, this is the first year I skipped the seed catalogs and went to Walmart for instant gratification. ROFL

    I do the SFG meathod and love it!!! Its really a neat idea. I like taking various meathods and making it your own. Can’t wait to see the first harvest!

  6. 6 Peggy Tiffany April 4, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Dear Kristina and Richard, It will be fun to see the results of your farming methods. Afterall,Kristina, you did graduate in Agrricultural economics from WSU. I hope your hose watering is better than the desert garden I watered in front of our Grand Junction home. It became a “wildly – tropical” desert garden form my over nurturing – over watering. I really did like Connor’s 7 foot tall Sunflower that grew in your garden last year.
    I’m sure Connor and Siena will learn a lot about where food comes from and we can all learn to appreciate the farmers of America.
    Love, Mom (Gram)

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