Monday, February 24, 2014

Spring Hopes Eternal

Normally one would say Hope Springs Eternal but when I decide to discuss gardens, vegetable seed starting and it is only late February -- trust me, it is Spring Hopes Eternal.

I have been reading those fabulous fantasy books that were delivered in late December - you've seen them, those notorious seed catalogs and all their promises.  I swore two years ago that I would never, ever attempt to grow another garden.  Last year I maintained that promise - no garden.

Sure I would glance out the window to where the raised bed, empty except for a few weeds daring to grow at its edges, would taunt me.  Skeletons of tomato cages of summers passed haunted one end of the garden. A partially fallen tee-pee of bean poles stood at the other end.  Such a forlorn landscape.  It pained my heart and I knew that come the next summer, I would want to attempt another garden.

I perused the catalogs, checking this variety against that variety to best optimize my garden.  Then I factored in price.  Hmm?  Would I do better with a package of 20 seeds for $1.25 from vendor A - a not too well-known place or a package of 100-250 seeds for $6.95 from vendor B - a very well-known company.  Both vendors were offering me the same variety, let's say Beefsteak tomato or California Wonder bell pepper.

The decision finally was based on need.  My small "planned" garden would be only 16 ft long and either 4 or 6 ft wide.  I will plant a total of maybe five or six tomato plants, maybe three peppers and a variety of other veggies.  Twenty seeds seemed plenty for the need. In fact, if I store them properly, they should work for next year... and maybe the year after that, too.

Now, if I'd been planting a farm garden to sell veggies at the roadside or Farmers' Market in town, perhaps 100 seeds would have been needed.  But, I'm not growing for them - I'm growing for me.

Of course, there are other plans to be considered in the new garden this coming year.  First and foremost is a new location.  I can't grow a garden at its present location since it is only about 15 feet from the woods and every critter from a small chipmunk, medium rabbits, large raccoons and huge deer (plus others) prowl behind my house.  Even the insects get into the game mix attacking my garden.

A couple of years ago I lost a whole crop of sweetcorn in one fell swoop in the dark of night.  I'd watered the corn, the scent was very heady.  If I could smell it, just imagine the enticement to the wildlife - especially the raccoons.  In one night they destroyed over 200 stalks of sweetcorn that had been doused with a hot mix of chili, cayenne, and Tabasco. I'd even sprinkled coyote urine around in hopes of stopping any attack.  I lost.  The following year I had an electric fence around my corn patch but the corn had a miserable year and the best I could hope for was maybe 20 ears of corn.  Even the raccoons weren't interested.

Also, my ground is laced with juglone. There once was a walnut grove on my property. Black walnuts produce a toxic juice called juglone which remains in the ground upwards of twenty years AFTER the walnut tree has been removed.  By removed, I mean, tree AND roots!  If the roots are left, start the twenty year count AFTER they roots have finally rotted away.  Also, the juglone can work itself upwards -- according to what I've read -- at most about 4 or 5 inches.  Even the leaves have that toxic stuff in them but in such small quantities they shouldn't hurt a plant.  So, I'll just have to learn to remove leaves and branches from the garden since many of the trees around my house are black walnuts.

So, my garden must be raised.  I built my raised bed 8 inches high and placed garden fabric down before adding the dirt.  Most of the dirt was brought in while I was building a retaining wall, but my son dug some nice topsoil from the edge of the property - about 20 ft away from 2 beautiful black walnut trees.  Need I say anymore?  I planted a very nice rhubarb plant and used some nice black bagged dirt to help it get settled in.  It grew for almost 40 days before I started to see the leaves start curling and in 3 weeks it was just a black stub, dead.  As the roots reached outward, they finally moved beyond the black dirt into the regular soil and juglone, for rhubarb, is instant death.  Very few plants can survive in juglone laced soil.  Okay, weeds really grow well but...

Therefore the new garden will be located in front of the house on the ground behind the 8 foot retaining wall but just to make sure - it will be raised up 2 feet.  Before any dirt is placed into the new raised bed, a very thick layer of newspaper will be put down THEN the IMPORTED dirt will be added.  The last six inches of soil at the top will be from bags of top soil, sand, peat and moss from a local nursery or store.  It should be very good garden soil and great for the vegetables.

My seeds are ordered and I anxiously await their arrival.  I hope to start many of plants indoors and then place them into the garden.  Of course, things like carrots, beets, and cucumbers will be started in the garden in mid-May.  I won't be growing sweet corn -- I'll buy that during the late summer glut, along with the melons.

Once again Hope Springs Eternal as Spring Hopes Eternal.  We'll see how things are doing come July.

Until next I ramble on...

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