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Over the past weekend I sowed several flats of snow peas. I used larger 2.5-inch biodegradable pots for these seeds, rather than the smaller 1.75-inch pots that I used for the previous flats: the lettuce mix, the Roma tomatoes and the leeks.

I also sowed a 50-cell flat of marigolds in the smaller cells, as I had read that marigolds make very good companion plants for almost all vegetables, particularly tomatoes. Marigolds are said to repel nematodes, whiteflies, mexican bean beetles, and tomato hornworms. I’ve never been a big fan of marigolds as flowers, but if they will keep pests out of my garden, then I will begin to regard them as botanical guardian angels.

The seed packet of the variety of marigold that I selected it Snowdrift (W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). Snowdrift says that it will grow to a height of 22 inches, with 3 to 4-inch cream-colored blooms. The lighter color appeals to me, and it occurs to me that this larger variety will need to be planted farther apart, which means I will not need so many to line the periphery of my garden, as is my intention.

Well, here’s the exciting news: my lettuce seeds have sprouted. And so have my marigolds. I am such a worry wart. Should I be concerned that the marigolds sprouted a mere four days after planting. The lettuce, which sprouted exactly seven days after planting, is right on target. But what about the Roma tomatoes and the leeks? They still have a couple of days, of course. But what if I did something wrong? I’ve decided maybe I should be taking them inside again at night for a while. While nothing is actually freezing overnight on my sun porch, they may need a little more warmth to coax them into showing their faces.

More wonderful news: My sons’ father Tim also has taken an interest in our garden, and he was able to borrow a rototiller. Leave it to guys to go crazy over any tool with an engine, particularly one that digs through dirt. Zac and Jacob had that sod mulched and then the soil fully plowed in one evening. (And Jacob also plowed our neighbor’s smaller garden the next afternoon.) I expected to be digging daily until May. So hurray for rototillers! Our garden measures roughly 12 by 60 feet, and then there is another patch farther in the back of the lot that we prepared for crops that can tolerate a little less direct sun. This plot measures about 15 by 15 feet. I know that sounds like a lot of garden, but when you consider how many hands we have involved now (who will likely be reaping the benefits as we start to harvest), maybe it’s just about the right size.

I have a couple of additional flats that I will be sowing today. Here’s a photo of one section of our garden.

Our garden is taking shape.

Our garden is taking shape.

Let me also add a brief update regarding the soil pH: I was able to treat the soil yesterday with aluminum sulfate, which is supposed to lower the pH immediately. I put down roughly what the package directed in order to lower the pH one full point. That should get us down around 6.5.

But storms were forecasted yesterday, and I could hear thunder in the distance as I prepared to treat the soil. So I made the decision to scatter the aluminum sulfate on top of the soil — yes, I wore gloves and used an old colander as a spreader. The package directions said to mix with water and then pour, but that was assuming that it would be used to lower the pH around established hydrangeas (which need highly acidic soil to get those deep blue blooms). I figured that, since I had nothing planted yet, I could save time by raking it into the top soil and allow the rain to distribute it further.

So, you guessed it. We had lots of thunder but not one drop of rain. The problem can be easily solved with a garden hose, but we have none. At least, not yet. We lived in an apartment for the year between leaving our last house and moving here, so I gave all of our old hoses away. I expect I will get one before the day’s end. I am truly grateful that we are so close to Home Depot, Menards and Target, as well as the higher end garden center where I bought the aluminum sulfate. I expect there will be many things that I’ll need as I learn more how to do this thing called gardening.

 

My little plot of land.

My little plot of land.

Here it is, everyone. My little plot of land. It doesn’t look like much, does it?  It’s only March here, and temperatures went down into the single digits last night, so it’s hard to envision what this piece of land will look like in a few months.  We have a piece of land that measures about 15 by 60 feet that is sunny, flat, and evidently fertile.  We’re told that a garden once sat on this very same site, so that’s reassuring.  

There also is another 15 by 20 feet available behind the garage and tree in the photo that could be used to grow vegetables needing less sunshine, such as the spinach crop I have planned.  We will have to dig that site right away, as the seed can be sown on frozen soil for early harvest.  What will grow there later in the season I haven’t yet figured out.

Today, the temperatures are above 40 degrees, and it is quite bright and sunny.  So I have returned my previously planted flats to the sun porch, and I planted another today:  leeks.  Again, one flat of 50 cells.  It is not supposed to dip below freezing this weekend, so I won’t have to move the flats in and out, which makes me very happy.  I need to find someone who can tell me how much cold my sprouting seeds and seedlings can tolerate overnight in their enclosed but unheated space.  

We are expecting sunny days in the 50s over the weekend, and my sons and I will be starting to dig.  The spinach patch will be our first priority, so that we can get the seed in right away.  We’ve purchased a bag of peat moss to mix into the soil for the spinach patch.  I have no experience with this, and I don’t know how many bags of peat I will need in total for the entire garden.  I’ve decided to buy one bag at a time.  The first bag, purchased at a garden center about one mile from our house, was $8.99.  It’s very heavy, so I expect it has been compressed a great deal, given that — in my experience, at least — peat moss is not particularly dense.  It may be also that in time I’ll find a better price.  

I just did a soil test with a little kit that I purchased at the same garden center for $1.19.  It turns out that our soil is very alkaline — I’m guessing close to pH 8.0.  As I said in my last post, we have ten large trees on our property, and as best as I can tell now (given that they have no leaves at present), I believe they are all oak trees.  So the alkaline soil is to be expected.  Tonight I’ll be researching my options on how to get that pH down between 6.0 and 7.0, which evidently is where most vegetables like their dirt.

The snow has melted here in Indiana, and I am making plans for my very first vegetable garden of my own.  I am living in my fourth house, and this is the first one where planting a garden makes any sense at all.  The land is flat, unlike the lot that my last home sat upon.  I’ll have to work around the ten large trees on the property, but there is enough space along the southern side of the garage and extending west along the drive for a medium sized vegetable garden.

I’m not exactly a stranger to gardens.  When we lived in my second house, from 1985 to 1995, I kept an herb garden and a strawberry patch going the whole time we were there.  Oh, and we had volunteer cherry tomatoes that returned every year, a remnant from the previous owners.  But the house was right in town, with very little yard and less full sun.  There wasn’t much to work with, and having two children who needed a little grass and a sandbox, I didn’t fight to expand.

My first house, on the other hand, had ideal space for a backyard garden. But we lived there so briefly that I never had the chance to dig in and get dirty.  We moved in in the late fall and by the next spring, we were making plans to move out.  The move was right, but leaving that big yard behind has been a regret ever since.

So here we are now.  My children are grown or nearly grown, and I find myself in a little farmhouse on the edge of town with plenty of space, fertile ground, and one very sunny strip along the south side of the property.  This is where we’ll put the garden.

The act of digging up the sod and preparing the soil is perhaps the most daunting.  I’m energetic in spirit, but sometimes my body doesn’t live up to my mind’s expectations.  Thankfully, I have two adult sons who live nearby and who have offered to help.

My oldest son Zac, who works in nearby Elkhart County (which is currently experiencing an 18 percent unemployment rate), is worried about the economic climate.  With a small family of his own to support, he too thinks the garden is a good idea.  And my daughter-in-law Jenni is perhaps this garden’s greatest advocate.  We spent some time together yesterday alternately looking through seed packets at Walmart’s garden center and chasing down Jaxon, my grandson, who is nearly two.

This garden exists largely in my mind right now.  But I have sown two small flats of 50 cells: one with Roma tomato seeds and the other with a lettuce mix (Summerlong Gourmet Mix, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.).  My modest little farmhouse has an enclosed front sunporch with a shelf along the windows on all three sides, the perfect place for my trays to bask in the sunshine and soak up the rays.  Unfortunately, the weather has turned cold here today (now down to 25 degrees F as I write this just before noon), so I’m bringing the trays inside to my kitchen counters until it warms above freezing, a small sacrifice if it’s a difference between sprouting and not sprouting.

Here’s a photo of my flats, taken right before I brought them inside from the sun porch.

 

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