Archive for the 'gardening' Category

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…

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How NOT to grow garden vegetables

(this is an exerpt from an email I sent my SIL last night – as I was writing it, I realized that I wanted to post something about my garden efforts so I’m cutting and pasting with not a lot of heavy editing.  I’ll be updating our garden progress here off and on…I’ll try to go lightly with the garden posts so as not to put you all to sleep…)
Today we started our garden.  We bought organic compost by the bag and tilled it into our existing soil.  I’d like to start a compost bin but need to do further research.  Rich is convinced that it is going to smell, but I’m telling him that there are things you can do to prevent unpleasant odors.  We’ll see who wins that battle.

Last year our entire gardening game plan consisted of:

1) randomly picking out plants
2) sticking them in the ground with absolutely no forethought
3) doing nothing until fruit does or does not show up on the plants (if they even grew!).

As you can imagine, our results SUCKED last year, with only 50% of the plants making it out of their infancy and very little actual vegetables for our “efforts”.  Our garden was technically an organic garden only because we never bothered with any sort of fertilizer, weed killer or insect killer.

This year, besides the organic compost addition to the soil, we are trying a several new things:

1) actually reading a bit on how to care for each of the plants we buy (never thought to do that last year!)
2) buying plants instead of starting from seed as it lessens the chances of failure as they are already half grown. Some of them are already purchased, but for those that are not, I’ll have to do shopping at our farmer’s market that opens next weekend!  At farmer’s markets you sometimes can purchase garden plants that are grown organically.
3) planting in such a way that plants that help each other grow are next to each other (called companion plants)
4) planting crops in a sort of haphazard rotation so they naturally regenerate the nutrients in the soil
5) we’re hoping to actually do some weeding this year since we did almost none last year
6) putting some sort of gate around the garden area because last year Zoe (our dog) ate all our strawberries before they were ripe.  (As it turned out that was a lucky accident – since they were first year plants, we were supposed to be pinching the flowers off anyway.)

I did have two herb plants that are still with us from last year.  We have a robust sage and a thyme plant (both extremely easy to grow, so says the info I’ve actually read this year.  No wonder they survived with little to no care).  I cut them back today (as apparently I am supposed to in the Spring) and Rich and I worked on washing, tying and hanging bunches of herbs to dry up in the attic.  In two weeks we should have enough dry herbs to make poultry and pork for our entire lives.  Obviously we’ll be needing to give most of it away.

Want some?  If you live in my general vacinity, this is your last chance for polite refusal.


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