Sunday, April 4, 2010

Garden 101

Now that the ground is thawed and the risk of getting a major snow is passed, it's time to start our garden.  This is our second year with a garden plot (although this one is new to us and WAY better than the one last year), and we have a much better idea of what we are doing.  So how do you go from this:

to something capable of supporting tasty fruits and vegetables?  I'm planning to go through the process in a series of garden posts, of which this is the first.  

Step 0.5: Plan
This is a step we neglected last year, but realized very quickly how important it is.

You want to draw some kind of schematic so you know what you want to plant where and when you did it.  Plants and weeds look a lot a like in the first few weeks of life, so it's important to have some clue which is which.  Also, you want to spread out planting time sensitive crops like lettuce a couple weeks apart so you have a months' worth of lettuce a few heads a week rather than 20 heads of lettuce that are all going to go bad if they aren't eaten NOW.  Once you have a plan, it's time for the fun to begin.

Step 1: Clearing out all the old stuff, rocks, sticks and weeds
Here's a close up of what the ground actually looks like before you do anything to it.

That's dead corn in the center, and there are some other random rocks, sticks, trash, bushes, and baby weeds hanging out.  While you will never be able to rid your garden of all of them, they don't play nice with the seeds you are planting, so you want as many out of there as possible.  We pulled up all the dead plants and gave the plot a good rake to get the top layer of whatever off before we started the real work.

Step 2: Turning over the garden

This step is exactly what it sounds like.  You take a shovel of dirt.  You turn it over.  You take another shovel of dirt.  You turn it over.  Then you go back over it with a hoe and break up all the dirt clods.  

This exposes all the good soil you want to plant in.  It's also a good opportunity to remove other little weeds and things you didn't get before.

Let me take a little detour here: If you have never done this before, it is a wonderful exercise for your body and mind.  Spend 2 hours turning over a garden plot, and you will have a whole new understanding about the history of civilization, international/racial relations, and the American food production system.  Turning over a garden is also an excellent companion activity to reading a Michael Pollan book.   I don't want to give it away, but this is really really hard work.   

Step 3: Create planting beds

I'm sure there's a better explanation for why you move your dirt around into planting beds, but as far as I can tell it's to help you tell what is a weed and what is a vegetable at the beginning of the growing season.

It's a bit hard to tell from this picture, but those are two long mounds with a rut in the middle for walking between the beds.  Here's the whole plot after we were done making beds.  Because we are still in "cold weather" season (meaning it can and will still freeze at least overnight) we only turned over enough dirt for 4 rows.

Step 4: Fertilizer
This could also be done when you are breaking up the newly turned over soil.  We decided to just fertilize the beds to (hopefully) minimize weed growth in other places.  This is an organic garden so we used organic (read $$$ and hard to find at Menards) fertilizer

And that ended day 1.  The next day we started

Step 5: Planting

Start by digging one or two little ditches in your bed depending on how big you expect your final food plant go get.  These will not get too big (like say a broccoli or tomato plant will) so they go two to a row.  You definitely don't want to go too deep.  Just deep enough that the seeds don't blow away.

Then sprinkle them in.  Technically you are supposed to plant one seed per 1/2 inch, but just try to get one of these little buggers to behave that nicely.  It won't matter that they are close together because some won't germinate, and you'll (break your heart) thin the rest.

Those are carrot seeds.  We also planted some of an onion set, which is just a bunch of little baby onions.

While I was out there, we were also gifted with some strawberry plants someone was tearing out

Which brings our planted list to: carrots, onions, spinach, lettuce, kale, and strawberries.  You should water after you plant, but we knew we were expecting rain so we didn't.  

I'll go back out periodically to pull up major weeds and generally keep an eye on things.  In a few weeks we'll put in more spinach, lettuce, carrots, and onions so they'll mature a little later than this bunch.  More fun stuff like broccoli, tomatoes and peppers go in once it gets warmer.  Stay tuned for the next edition of garden 101.