Late Start in the Garden

We had a super early start to spring this year.  The winter was so mild; it was practically spring all winter.  Me on the other hand? I got a late start.  Usually I like to start seeds in the basement in about March.  I have tea hooks under all the cupboards so I can hang pairs of florescent light fixtures.  I’ve installed electrical outlets close by so I can have the lights, the soil heater (Christmas lights), and a fan all running on timers.  However, during the rest of the year I let instrument building stuff accumulate on the counters, and on the floor in front of the counters.  So when it came time to start seeds, I was already behind because I needed to clean up first.  Well it just so happens, March/April is a super busy time of year at my 9 to 5, which turns into a 9 to 9 or 10 or 12 or 2.  After working 12 to 16 hours, I have a hard time finding the energy (or time) to get my garden started.  This year it just didn’t happen.  I didn’t get the counters cleaned off and I didn’t get my seedlings started.

When April rolled around it was so warm I could have started planting seeds then.  I kept intending to go out and at least broadcast some lettuce seeds.  Perhaps get some spinach, collards or chard started.  Again, it just didn’t happen.  Too many hours at work and too many things going on when I wasn’t at work.  Some nights I would leave work at around 9pm to go see my wife Rachael play a show, and then go back to work when it was done.  On top of that, we were going through this big remodel at work that was making everything even more difficult and time consuming than normal.  There was just no time or energy left for gardening.

Finally at the beginning of May I started preparing my garden beds.  I pulled up the plants from last year, and pulled the weeds that had started coming up (unfortunately I did not find any volunteer plants this year.  I often get tomatoes, lettuce and possibly spinach.  This year, none of that.  I did get my usually onions and garlic (growing from bulbs I missed when I was harvesting) but the rest was all lambs quarter or dandelion (which are both good eating… but I didn’t do any of that either.)

Then I fell behind again.  This last week I re-weeded the gardens I had already weeded, because in the absence of any other plants (or maintenance) the lamb’s quarter had sprouted up everywhere!  However, that at least gave me something to throw in the relatively new bed that needed some filler.  My daughter Esther and I had put together a new bed last year which would be hers.  We didn’t have soil (or want to have it delivered for just one bed) so we did some lasagna gardening.  We filled the bed with a bunch of compostable waste, and mostly finished compost and put some top soil on top of it.  However, by halfway through the season most everything had decomposed and the bed was almost empty.  So this year it needed to be filled again.  I probably put in too many greens because I neglected to save some bags of leaves this fall.  There were a lot of grass clippings, weeds from the garden, and waste from the rhubarb plants.  On top of that I put mostly finished compost.  Then a trip to the store for some soil.  Top soil can be real hit or miss.  Sometimes you get some pretty decent stuff, other times it will be full of gravel and form a hard crust the first time it rains.  However, it’s half the cost of garden soil, doesn’t have additives (like time release fertilizers), and can usually be made to work.  I bought 7 bags.  I think the bags got smaller, I’m pretty sure they used to be 1 cubic foot.  Now they’re 3/4ths of a cubic foot, and at $1.25 a quarter more a bag too.  Those 7 bags were just about perfect. It was enough to get an inch or two over the entire surface of the compostable materials.

I have a bad habit of planting my tomatoes too close to each other pretty much every year.  I always think that I’m giving them enough space, but I always pack them in too close.  They end up growing together into a thick wall of tomato plants.  This makes it tricky to get the tomatoes out, tricky to cage or stake them, and sometimes causes disease problems because they’re not getting enough air circulation to dry them off when they get wet.  This year I didn’t start my own tomato seedlings, so I didn’t have nearly as many tomato plants as I normally do.  I had a couple six packs I’d picked up at Menards and another 6 tomato plants I’d picked up at the coop plant sale.  When I saw the HUGE mortgage lifter plants they were selling for just $2 I had to get a few.  I also had a couple six packs of peppers and a few more from the coop.

I planted the good heirloom plants from the coop in the established beds, making sure to give them more room than I normally do.  I think I might have actually done well this year.  We’ll see as the year progresses if I’ve really given them enough room.  I figure I can fill in around them with greens or something that will get used before the tomatoes actually mature, and take over.

Tomato Plants
(and between the beds… lots of bunny food)

Last year I planted cucumbers behind my tomato plants.  I got the idea because the first time I ever planted cucumbers, I planted them in the shade of a tree, and they did REALLY well.  I’ve never had a crop like that first one that was planted under the tree.  It seemed like as soon as it got hot the plants would quit producing anything and dry up.  It’s not that I wasn’t watering them, it just seemed like the hot part of the day would do them in.  So I decided to plant them behind (North of) tall plants (a row of tomatoes.)  I got more cucumbers last year than I EVER have.  The heat loving tomatoes seem to regulate the heat for the cucumbers and keep them comfortable and producing.  I didn’t want to buy a bunch of cucumber plants, but I did buy one with 4 plants in it.  I cut it in half and put two plants in the corners of the bed behind the cucumbers.  Then I planted seeds we’d saved from last year’s cucumbers between them.

Cucumber plants and a couple rows of sprouts

We’re not always super technical about our seed saving.  For example, the seeds that I planted had been sitting on a paper plate in the porch since we harvested them.  They weren’t even marked, so I don’t know exactly what type they are…  only that it’s one of the two varieties that did so well last year.  We just scraped the seeds out of a big yellow cuke, set them on a plate to dry, and there they sat on a table in the porch until we used them.  There are some squash seeds out there too, although those we’d actually marked the variety on the paper plate.

Once I’d given all those plants plenty of room (and once I’d finished up this newer bed) I started planting the 6 packs of hybrid tomatoes I’d picked up from Menards.  I didn’t give these as much room.  I just wanted to use them all up.  So I put a bunch of them in the new bed, then gave them cages and stakes.  I put peppers in a thin shallow bed I’d built to take up the extra room in my greenhouse.  Last year I mulched it with a bale of hay that a neighbor had given me.  Apparently it was full of seeds because I spent the whole season trying to keep the weeds under control.  This year I didn’t feed it anything because I put it all in the new bed.  Hopefully they’ll do okay anyway.  Perhaps I’ll feed them poop from our newly rescued pet. (The kids captured a domestic rabbit running around the neighborhood shortly after Easter and gave it a home in our porch.)

New bed with “crowded” tomatoes

The last thing I did was plant some beans and potatoes.  We had a sweet potato that had started growing, so I planted that.  Around that I planted a bunch of russet potatoes that had gotten all shriveled up and grown big eyes.  Then I moved by bean tree from the other garden to the middle of that area and planted rows of beans all around it.  The two are supposed to protect each other from the plant specific pests that sometimes plague them.  This is where I ran into trouble because of my unorthodox seed saving techniques.  When I went to plant my beans, I found that I didn’t have any seeds left.  So I ran to the store and bought a few packets.  Later when I was organizing my seeds, I found a brown lunch bag full of dried beans that I’d neglected to remove the seeds from.  Oh well, I’ll have them for next year I guess.

Sweet Potato Plant

Now I’ve got to get to filling in around the plants and seeding the couple empty plots.  I’ve been sprinkling lettuce and carrot seeds around the tomatoes.  I’m planning to get some zucchini planted over by the compost, where the pumpkins did so well last year.  Hopefully I’m not getting started too late.  This could be an interesting growing season.


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