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Today is the third of three straight days of rain. As a gardener, I find I’m suddenly grateful for rainy days. The rain has not been constant, but the air is moist and cool and the ground solidly rain-saturated. The moisture nourishes my little seedlings outside and gives me time to rest and regroup again here inside where I’m warm and dry. And, because I’ve been mulching with pine needles as I’ve planted the seedlings into the garden bed, I’m confident they’ll have plenty to drink for much of the coming week. Weather forecasts for Friday and Saturday are in the high 70s. Grow, garden, grow!
By putting out the last of my peas and the lettuce, I have opened up several flats and space on my sunporch that I can now use for the next batch of seedlings. Three weeks ago I bought several packages of peat pot cells that had been reduced for clearance (30 percent off), and as I’ve moved out the cold-hardy seedlings into our garden plots, I began filling new pots with potting soil and placing them in the empty flats. In the past couple of days, I have planted two varieties of broccoli, muskmelon and a low-growing red nasturtium called Empress of India, adding them to my sunporch filled to the brim with flats of Roma tomatoes, marigolds, leeks and cilantro. A couple of weeks ago, I was beginning to get impatient with the four rows of spinach that I had planted directly into the garden, and I finished off the seed packet by planting what was left in an empty 50-cell flat. As it turned out, the flat seedlings sprouted about a week before their sisters outside. I intend to plant these babies just after I get in my last flat of lettuce mix. I also have begun sowing flats from a large packet of perennial flower mix, and I have infant alyssum, lupine, shasta daily, calendula, coreopsis, dianthus, poppy and Rudbeckia sprouting up all over the place.
I don’t know how much the purchase and use of peat pots, flats and soil mix will speed up and perhaps increase my harvest in the end. But these cheerful little seedlings have been great encouragement for this novice gardener, steady reassurance that perhaps there will be lavish bounty of peas and greens as early as June. In the meantime, while I’m waiting out the rain, I am once again at work filling my flats. Today I sowed the last of them: rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano, basil, and a climbing nasturtium mix (Fordhook Favorites Mix, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.).
Apart from the cold hardy crops that I will finish transplanting later this week, plants from the other flats of seeds and seedlings on my sun porch will wait for transplanting (unless they are bursting out of their pots and can’t wait) until after I have put in the seeds that will be sown directly into the garden after the last spring frost date, which is May 15 in our area. Having these seeds started and growing will make me feel less pressured to get everything out into the garden right away, once mid-May arrives. I’ll be able to spread out the planting over a week or so, which will be much less stressful for these old bones. And, once I’m finished with planting, it will be time to start thinking of taking in some of the lettuce for a great big salad.
I’ve shared many photos of my garden space and sun porch. Let me share a little of the scenery that surrounds us. This photo was taken four days ago at sunrise.
You all may think this subject a little premature, given that the last frost date is still a full month away in my Zone 5 climate. But I can’t resist sharing, as becoming a full-fledged vegetable gardener in my 54th year of life has been one of the richest learning adventures I’ve ever faced. Honestly, it ranks up there with college. Why? Because the fate of living, growing organisms in their own little ecosystem rests in my hands.
Rain was forecasted yesterday morning, but I had 32 cells of peas on my sun porch still needing a place in my garden. And before the rain made it’s appearance, I was outside just after 8 a.m., bundled up in my fleece Tigger pullover and my Mickey Mouse hoodie, my hands protected in work gloves from the chilly air’s bite, furiously punching the dirt with my hand trowel, placing the peas in the holes I’d formed and covering their peat pots with a little hand-held hoe someone gave me years ago. Sleet began falling, preceding what would become a cold rain, and I had to laugh at myself. It was official. I had become a gardening lunatic. What was my motivation for my crazy compulsion? Apart from the fact that the peas in these cells had reached a growth of five inches and their tenacious roots were exploding in all directions through the peat pots, my drive was fueled by the need for the plastic flat and the space it took on my enclosed sun porch. I wanted it so that I get my muskmelon and broccoli started.
Minutes later, warming up inside with a hot cup of chai as I watched the sleet turn into rain and darken the garden soil outside, I reflected on the many gardening truths that have overtaken my mind most of these days. And it occurred to me that I’d better get them down now, while they are fresh in my mind and not supplanted by the thrill of burgeoning vegetable growth later.
(1) Everything you need to know to grow a vegetable garden you can find on the Internet. You do not need a teacher. You do not need a gardening class. You do not need books. All you need is access to a computer and the ability to search for information. I google my garden questions all of the time: how do you prepare a garden bed, how do you test soil, how do you lower soil pH, how do you start peas, when do you start peas, what can you grow in containers, and so forth. I could go on ad nauseum.
(2) Soil is your garden’s foundation. Just as you can not build a house without first giving it a substructure, so too you must pay attention to the soil where your vegetables will take root and grow. The structure of the soil — based on its physical and chemical properties — must be considered and perhaps altered, because it will affect its water-holding capacity, as well as its ability to drain and encourage root development. The soil’s composition — the percentages of inorganic sand, silt and clay to humus (decaying dead organic material) and living microorganisms — also all work together to support, sustain and nurture the vegetables, from seed to seedling to harvest-bearing adult plant. Additionally, there is the basic chemistry of the soil’s pH, which will affect the solubility of certain nutrients in the soil and control their availability to the vegetables growing there. Soil, in my opinion, is a lot of chemistry and physics.
(3) From day to day, nature sets the gardener’s agenda. You can not harness the weather. The temperature, the sun’s path in the sky, rain, wind, sleet, snow and frost are all outside our control. Creation’s rhythms are our guiding light. If it’s to be sunny one day, that may be the day chosen for soil preparation. If rain is expected tomorrow, then today we may plant or transplant, hoping to glean the propagating advantage moisture will bring.
(4) There certainly is a lift of spirit that comes when witnessing the merry sprouting of seedlings while snow still covers the ground outside. I invested a fair amount of money into empty flats this year, and I very much believe the peat pots and potting mix have been extremely beneficial in speeding up the germination process, although I reserve judgment still on the plastic flats themselves. I have had nearly zero seed failure by making use of these products, and I’m hoping that in the end my investment will bring a more prolific harvest as well.
(5) Sun porches are ingenious inventions for gardeners. We are in our first months living in this home, which was once a farmhouse but now sits among other newer homes on a somewhat heavily traveled road near a shopping district. And I am delighted that my old fashioned, unheated sun porch seems to have been designed with gardening in mind. The shelves that line the windows are just the right width for my flats, and I have been able increase my seedling capacity by stacking crates around the periphery of the porch and topping them with more flats. Those farmers knew what they were doing when they built this place.
(6) And lastly, if there is any chance there may be roots in your garden, when you sit on the ground to plant your seedlings and lean over the soil to see better what you dig, keep your mouth shut. Roots are very springy, and inevitably they will throw a portion of dirt right into your face the moment you forget. And, should your mouth be found agape, it isn’t a particularly pleasant gardening experience.