Some people plant according to the moon, some plant in raised beds, some in rows. Some people garden with a plan, others garden by the season.
Frank and I garden by the seat of our pants.
This will be our fourth year garden. We’re still trying to find some kind of groove, some kind of system. We have our little planting guides and calendars, and we try to keep close — but weather, schedules, spring colds, seed availability — all work against it. We still have that “throw it in the soil and see what happens” approach.
But for the past three years, we’ve been improving our soil. Loads and loads of sand mixed with our red clay for the carrot, radish and beet beds. Loads of horse manure for the hot beds, loads of rotten leaves for the main beds.
We’ve also perfected (and expanded) the fence. The first year we made adjustments for deer, last year we battled a rabbit. This year, the challenge so far, before much has even sprouted, is keeping the chickens out.
We’ve also gotten a little more experienced with tomato stakes and cages, and this year I was happy to find some heirloom “bush” varieties after last year’s tomato vine takeover. (Determinate varieties grow bushy, then work on producing fruit. Indeterminate varieties — the vine just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.)
This year, we start the season with enough hose to reach from the spigot to the far end of the garden, and enough jars to put up six months’ worth of tomato creations & green beans. Apparently, you can never have enough jars.
We learned to label our seed trays, because even though you think you can recognize a plant, when you have nine different varieties of tomato, you really need to be specific. We’ve learned to give seed trays 16 hours of light and only 8 hours of dark, and we’ve learned to fend of dampening by watering the just planted trays one time with Chamomile tea.
It seems each year, our expectations get even higher. It could be that we’ve become addicted to gardening.
We feel confident enough to try some new things this year; eggplant, more annual herbs, broccoli. We have high hopes. Even more tomatoes, more beans, more peppers than last year — and last year, I felt buried in them.
But this year, we hope to establish our outdoor canning area, where jars can be cold packed and hot bathed in a washtub over an open fire, and much of the mess of cleaning the harvest can be kept outside, closer to the compost pile, and where the chickens can help themselves to unintentional spills.
This year, I face vegetable processing season with my beloved Squeezo, vintage, all metal, that I got for a heck of a deal on ebay. Oh the hours I would have saved if I had only purchased one sooner. With a Squeezo (aka Victorio Strainer) you can juice tomatoes whole, make applesauce from whole boiled apples. No seeding, no peeling. And, if you get a good one, you can hook the cordless drill up to it and don’t have to crank by hand. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
The more we garden, the more we know. The more we know, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more we have to share and eat! At some point, I’m sure we’ll over do it. I thought we’d reached that point last fall, but it’s hard to remember that feeling in the spring. When Frank first told me he was expanding the garden plot again, I thought he was crazy. But that’s before I came across those eggplant and acorn squash seeds.
This year, we planted early crops early (perhaps too early) because we’ve seen how peas hate heat. We’ve planned for two rounds of short season crops instead of just one. We understand the potential of a winter garden now that we’ve seen how forgotten potatoes and carrots fare over winter.
Perhaps this spring snow was what we needed to hold us back until the time is right, to keep us from sowing too far, too fast. Perhaps the spring snow is what we needed to kill the larvae, bugs and other soil dwelling critters who were turned up when we played in the garden during those warm days weeks ago. I hope so.
I do have this strong feeling though, that when this snow melts, and this chill passes, it will have been winter’s last hoorah. Spring will then arrive in full force, quickly feeling more like summer. It’s just a week, just a few days away.
Surely, just a few days away.
Here’s a preview of my most recent installment of Reading Between Two Lanes coming to The Hur Herald:
Pardon the Plants
Since we started sprouting our own plants for our garden and don’t have a greenhouse, our home goes through a period in late winter / early spring when it is overcome by plant trays. Any flat surface near a window is likely to be covered in flat black trays of soil. Counters, shelves, tables – even the spare bed is blanketed with a heavy plastic tablecloth before being covered end to end in plastic trays of dirt.
Every morning, the trays need to be misted and watered, rotated around the light sources, and coddled. When the process first begins, this is a fairly easy process. But once we get close to 20 trays in four different locations, it becomes a rather time-consuming concept.
By the end of March, the days get warm enough to set the trays outside for some real sunlight and some exposure to outdoor elements. This extends the time consumed by these early sprouts and seeds. In addition to watering and coddling, each tray gets moved outside into the warmth in late morning, and moved back inside in early evening – one by one. In this phase, the trays consume space inside the porch door as well, moved that far inside the house, in assembly line fashion, at the end of each day.
Seed sprouts, even in such controlled conditions, are not guaranteed to survive. Dampening is a common problem, where the sprouts look healthy and fine one day, and fall over dying the next. Dampening is even more of a problem if you recycle seed trays and soil, as we do. But I learned this year that watering newly-planted seeds with strong, tepid Chamomile tea will help prevent it from happening.
In addition, without air movement to strengthen the new little stems, the sprouts can grow weak, and fall over. A fan blowing on them, and the daily rotation to face the light source a different way helps keep the stems sturdy and strong. Low levels of light will cause them to stretch high and lanky, desperate for light, which also makes them top heavy and tall also making them prone to fall over.
Some weak sprouts don’t survive the introduction to outside elements. Too much sun exposure right off the bat can shock them; too much chill can shock them as well. The little seedlings are delicate, fragile new shoots of life, and they have to be eased into the world.
On average, we manage about an 85% success rate with our seeds. It’s my fault really. After having trays all over the house and under foot for several weeks, I’m anxious to push the seedlings outside. I’ve wiped out entire trays with this one mistake. We cannot rush the growth of new life any more than we can rush the coming of spring.
Let’s hope I have the patience this year to let both happen in their own sweet time.