Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Premeditated Planting

It's that time of year again. Time to begin browsing seed catalogs, looking for nooks in the yard for that fruit tree or bush you've been meaning to plant, that little sunny spot begging for herbs or flowers, or that perfect location for a veggie garden. If you lack yard space look for containers to grow in. But by all means grow!
Here are some notes we made from last year that are helping us plan. Maybe you'll find them useful. But, if you stop reading now remember to PLANT whatever, whenever, wherever you can. Dive in. You'll learn as you go. It's a relatively cheap and rewarding practice enriching home life involving the young and old in a common project, contributing to health through nutrition, offering immersion education in life cycles, plant and animal relationships, heredity, pollination, insect identification, etc. to kids and adults alike. It provides free exercise, a sense of self-sufficiency and the satisfaction that comes with profiting from an investment. It also makes eating less expensive, and eliminates trucking/shipping/profit costs or damage to the environment when practiced without harmful ingredients. The below represents our experience which is small but growing. If you have questions about anything below or something not mentioned, concerns about recommendations, advice, or new ideas about what is working for you please don't hesitate to comment. If there's an idea you'd like to see featured in a future post send us a note.

We will be transplanting much of our garden from seeds sprouted indoors. Cleanliness is imperative. We struggled last year with die-off in our seedlings. Probable causes were using soil from the yard which probably contained fungus or bacteria that thrived in the moist seedling environment. We will purchase "clean" seed-starting soil from the store until we master the art of creating clean soil at home. Also, we didn't clean our planting trays and they may have transferred disease to the soil from previous plantings. This year they are dipped in warm water with a bit of clorox and then rinsed. Water from the bottom as much as possible to keep the surface dry. If seedlings are living indoors keep a fan on them. The extra air movement keeps soil surface dry and strengthens the young plants as they respond to the breeze. Also remember, unless you are setting up a major indoor artificial light system the grow lights sold at the hardware store can't compete with the sun's power. Transferring seedlings outside on suitable days will be much more beneficial and ward off leggy growth.
Don't grow what won't produce. We had a terrible time with corn last year. It's off the list for us. Simply not worth the effort right now. We had a terrible time with squash vine borers. So, we are purchasing netting to grow traditional summer squash and also found Trombone Squash and Butternut Squash to be reputably vine bore resistant. So, we are growing those. An exemption to the recommendation: Tomatoes. We struggled with them but I am hoping that with extra attention to our soil we can grow them successfully. The moral is, if it's your first year and you don't know, consult your cooperative extension and look for seed exchanges that offer varieties acclimated to your environment. Talk to seasoned growers in your area. And, experiment! Otherwise, don't fight your conditions. Look for ways to improve them and grow plants that grow well. Better to grow and learn to enjoy what works then to fight conditions that can't be immediately altered.
Grow more of what grows well. Two notes here. First, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, and beans all produced remarkably well and contributed large amounts of food to our meals. So, we are tilling up extra space and making sure we do more of them. Second, we don't have much horizontal space but plenty of vertical space so we are going to set up more trellises along the house and shed and in the garden to grow more vining plants. Luffa, melons, cucumbers, beans, trombone squash, peas, and others can all be grown in the air with minimal footprint in the garden. That's exciting. So, we are eyeing all the spaces in the yard that might make easy trellis spaces (porches, decks, gable ends, rafter tales). We have a neighbor with a bamboo problem and with their permission we are allowed to cut and take what we like. I have found bamboo to be very easy to work with. It's light, strong, and easy to tie together with cord. So, we make free standing trellises with bamboo. Vining plants can also provide shade for the summer heat to the house or portions of the yard.

Other good producers were basil, eggplant, and lettuce. More of what works.

Plant more flowers and herbs that repel bad insects and attract pollinators. We enjoyed flowers in the garden and inside all summer long last year. They are worth planting in any open nook in the yard. Examples of common garden helpers are Calendula, Zinnia, Nasturtium, and Marigold.

Plant in stages so that the bountiful harvest doesn't all show up at once.

Keep an eye out for free planters. People and businesses are constantly casting out small plastic containers that they purchase plants in. They are great for seed starting and larger bush containers are great for container gardening. Watch the trash for free containers especially near landscaping projects and new subdivisions. There's no shame in picking a neighbors trash is there?
Whether from your local big-box hardware store or online consider integrating a perennial fruiting bush or tree into your landscape. Even one a year would build up the productivity of your yard. Fruiting trees produce showy flowers in Spring and when mature enough wonderful fruit in the summer. It's a small investment with long lasting returns for you or future home owners. A fruit/nut guide from the library or online will help you choose the right plant for your yard and there are important considerations such as maturity size, pollination requirements (self-fertile vs. cross pollinator), zone hardiness, soil type, sun requirements, etc. But its a fun project and rewarding to learn how to make the yard self-productive. So, if you were thinking about sprucing up the yard this year do it with fruits and nuts.

This winter has been experimental. Kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and a few onions struggle along and we excitedly pick what they offer. The drastic changes in temperature, decreased sunlight, overly damp soil have all contributed to the struggle. But we learn as we go.

We are starting to see tiny signs of life on the few perennial fruits that we propagated by digging up suckers or layering limbs last summer and it's exciting to watch how determined, adaptable, and free some garden growth can be. We will plant an extra peach, an extra blueberry, an extra pomegranate (maybe two), 4 small figs, and I was allowed to dig up four small loquats from a college I teach at which I have no clue what to do with. But they are all free! And soon they will begin maturing in ground.
Toward a better spring garden we tilled in (thanks to my neighbor for letting us borrow his tiller which I had the opportunity to learn how to replace the drive belt on :-)) collected leaves, mulch, manure, and now have planted a cover crop of alfalfa and clover. Hopefully it will have some time to develop and enrich the soil before we plant. The seeds were cast out and have germinated easily.

Spread the word. Share seeds. Share stories. Don't be intimidated. Ask questions. Grow!

Here's a picture of our shelf we use to experiment with propagation techniques. Daniel's always got new plants started. Most work, but some don't. Here you can see jade plants which he has been very successful with. There's also rosemary, sage, aloe, thyme, a spider grass, and a pathos plant.


William Kruidenier said...

Nice description of the process -- looking forward to seeing fruitful results in 2009. Great picture of the girls sowing seeds!

Claire said...

happy planning! I am definitely growing vegetables this year but will probably try and find organic starts-when i have tried to start seeds before they became so spindly and hard to take care of...maybe I'm just taking care of too many things:)

Lesley said...

Thanks for the inspiration. I always get sad about spring being soooo far off about this time of year and it is nice to think about all the things that we should/could be doing right now to prepare for it!

I cant believe the girls can dress in such short sleeves in January! So-Car is definitely on the list of places to potentially relocate to next...so yall stay there, ok!?

Anonymous said...

please relocate. There are great houses on our street! And they are cheap right now. And....come on down!