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I’ve been so busy putting my cold-tolerant seedlings into the garden that I haven’t had a chance to brag about the veggies I sowed during the winter in containers and have been enjoying for several months.

Greens grow very well in containers, and many greens, such as this spinach do thrive in cool temperatures. I started this spinach and cilantro in December, it sprouted early in January, and grew quite well under lights until I moved it to my sun porch in early March. On warm days, I moved it outside. On the few nights of hard freeze, it came inside into my living room. Today, in late April, it sits virtually every day and night outside on my front steps.

By mid-March, I began harvesting a couple of times a week — not much, but enough to add to omelets here or soup there. Now it’s all I can do to keep up with what I’ve planted. It’s been lovely, and next year I intend to plant several containers — of lettuce, Swiss chard, arugula, cress, and, yes, spinach.

Greens don’t need much root space. My spinach is growing in a plastic sweater box. I recommend using prepared potting soil, to avoid aphids, and of course you must be careful not to overwater. But it is a very inexpensive project that anyone can do with little special equipment. Once the seeds have sprouted, fluorescent lighting is required and should be only a few inches from the green seedlings. A desk lamp or two with a couple of those energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs are all you need for this. A sunny spot is useful, but not necessary. (Mine grew in my basement.)

I can’t wait to try this again for this fall. Perhaps I can keep a box of greens or two going all winter long.

This is the second year that I have started seeds early inside to plant in my garden later. Last year, I’m very proud to say, I grew about 50 Roma tomato plants from seed, transplanted them to my garden in May, and harvested enough tomatoes to freeze 38 quarts of tomato sauce, a supply we are still eating from to this day.

I learned a lot last year about starting seeds, which I did largely by following the directions on the seed packages and those that come with the seed starting medium and the little trays holding the peat pots. I won’t lie – I made a lot of mistakes. But with my experience came some knowledge that they don’t tell you when you buy these products. For one thing, I learned that you really don’t need the plastic trays. You just need something to hold the little pots of sprouting seeds until you can plant them in the soil. (Some people say you don’t need the peat pots too, but I’ve decided that I do, even if they don’t.) This year I am using plastic sweater boxes (without the lids) and shallow cardboard boxes, in addition to the trays I purchased last year.


I still consider myself a novice gardener, but right now most of my seedlings are growing heartily for the coming season. Yesterday I started a flat of bok choy, a vegetable I am planting for the first time this year. It occurred to me that many people might benefit from these inexpensive and fail-safe methods I have learned for starting seeds myself.

(1) Begin with a shallow cardboard box, the kind that canned goods and beverages are shipped in. I used a small plastic wastebasket liner to line the box, making it leak free. I stapled the plastic in place at the top edges of the cardboard.

(2) Place in the box medium-sized peat pots. For this project, I am using 12 pots 3 inches in diameter. These pots hold roughly 1 cup of soil or seed starting medium. I like this size when I am starting my plants 2 months before planting, because there is enough room for root growth until I need to transplant to my garden in May. If I use anything much smaller, I have found that most of my plants don’t have enough room to grow good root balls to keep them alive those full two months, and then I have to transplant to a larger size if I don’t want them to die. There are some plants that require less space — like lettuce — but yesterday I was starting a plant related to cabbage and in the brassica/crucifer family. These are not small plants. This is the size of peat pot that I used successfully last year for broccoli, a bok choy relative. Earlier this month, I also used these or similar pots to start cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. These pots were two dollars for 22 pots at Walmart. Of course, I only used twelve to plant this small flat, roughly $1.10 worth. I expect that I’ll also add another planting in late summer for a fall harvest.

(3) Fill the bottom of the pots (only half up) with potting soil. I have found that in these larger pots, I can use regular potting soil in the bottom, saving the top half of the pot for seed starting medium, which is a little more expensive (I’m told you can make your own seed starting medium, but my self confidence isn’t there yet for that project.) If you are using the smallest 50-cell to a flat pots, don’t use the potting soil, as these have barely enough room for the starting medium.

(4) After filling the peat pots half full with potting soil, add enough water to make the soil very wet. For my project, I used a quart of water for the twelve pots.

(5) Over the wet potting soil, fill the remainder of the peat pots with seed starting medium. This stuff is funny. Water doesn’t soak into it right away. It just runs through it. That’s why putting the wet potting soil on the bottoms of the pots helps, because it holds onto the water better. In time, the water at the bottom will wick up into the seed starting medium, which contains a high percentage of peat moss. But for a while, the medium kind of floats around on the water.

(6) Slowly add more water into the pots (another quart for my project). As I said, most of it runs through the starting medium, but some water will get absorbed. The rest will be soaked up later. At this point there will be about a half inch of water standing in the bottom of my cardboard tray. This will quickly be absorbed into the soil and seed starting medium in the next few days, and it was no cause for concern.

(7) Smooth out the surface of the seed starting medium with a spoon, and then mist the medium with water again. This allows moisture to be retained up at the top, where the seeds will be. Water signals the seeds to start growing, and they won’t grow until they make contact with the water.

(8) Place a single seed on the top of the seed starting medium in each pot. I use tweezers (which need to be dry or the seeds will stick), and I plant only one seed per pot, as I have nearly 100 percent sprouting success by using this method. If one seed should fail to sprout, I can use the pot again, either for a later planting of the same vegetable or another plant. (I waste nothing.)

(9) Mist heavily again. This way we can be certain the seeds are getting the moisture they need to activate germination. This also gives the soil starting medium one more chance to hold in a bit of water right there next to the seed.

(10) Cover the seed with the amount specified by the seed packet. (Bok choy and most other brassicas/crucifers need another 1/4 inch.) Then mist heavily again. Most of the directions I used last year warn against over-watering. I have found that slight overwatering (not flooding, but plenty of moisture) seems to give me my best results. By following these directions, I am making sure that the seed has initial moisture, as well as moisture for about one week, which is when I usually see sprouts for most (but not all) vegetables.

Initially, with this strategy it will look as if the pots have been filled to the very brim, but after about a week, once the water has soaked more fully into the starting medium, it all condenses some, so that I will have pots with soil about a half inch from the top of the pots in the end.

Then, finally, label every pot. You don’t have to be fancy. I use cut-up pieces of index cards taped to toothpicks. I also use a waterproof pen, as water will definitely come into contact with these labels, and they are going to look a little weary and waterlogged before the seedlings make it into the garden. In addition to the name of the vegetable, I also make note of the day they were planted. This information is helpful for future reference.

I have calculated that these twelve pots, fully filled and planted with seed, cost me less than two dollars. This is nowhere near what seedlings cost when purchased from a nursery, and I very much enjoy the satisfaction I get from doing it all myself. Initially, my potted seeds will spend about a week in my basement until they start to sprout. Then I will move them to a nice little sun porch on the west side of my house for my seedlings to stay while they are taking root and growing strongly in preparation for planting about mid-May. My crucifers, by the way, once planted also will have ground covers to protect them from insect infestation. But that’s another story, isn’t it?

My garden blog was inactive over the winter. I hadn’t intended it to be. I had wanted to post occasionally about the many, many dishes we enjoyed during the winter months from vegetables I had frozen last fall. Instead, I took a well-deserved break. Maybe next year, right?

But now it’s time to begin again. In fact, my 2010 garden actually started taking shape in 2009, when I decided to experiment with growing greens inside. That was largely a failure — the lettuce got aphids and ended up feeding our little rabbit instead of us. EXCEPT, the spinach was quite successful. In December, just after Christmas, when I disposed of the aphid-infested lettuce, I planted in its place baby spinach, which is ready to eat right now. I didn’t plant a lot, given that it was essentially an experiment and I only had a little seed left from my spring and summer gardens, but it’s nice to know now what works and what doesn’t.

This spinach was sprouted and grown a few inches under the most full-spectrum shop lights I could find. (You'll notice there is a bit of cilantro thrown in as well, an effort to thwart the aphids.) It's now outside on my front porch awaiting consumption.

In January I bought garden seeds the very instant they started showing up on store shelves. In mid-February, I began planting, starting first by planting left-over herb seeds from last year. I was completely hopeless successfully starting herbs from seed last summer and ended up buying plants later from the nursery. But I learned a lot in my effort, and I decided to give it another go this year. So far I have thyme, lavender and oregano growing great-guns. They’re still very, very small and tender. They grow in peat pots filled with seed starting medium, and I mist them daily to keep them hydrated. Still, I had a lot of failure, but the ones that have made it this far seem to be on the road to success. I’ll report in later with full results. Just this week, I also started basil and more cilantro. The cilantro has never given me any difficulty before. We’ll see how the basil does.

In late February, I started three varieties of tomato: Roma for making sauce, Beefsteak for sliced tomatoes, and cherry for the kids. I was very successful last year with about 50 plants that I started from seed during the winter producing 38 quarts of frozen tomato sauce. I lost about 20 percent of my harvest at the end of September to late blight — I had been aiming for 50 quarts as I thought we would average one quart a week. The 38 quarts turned out to be plenty, but I’m glad I aimed high because of the loss we incurred.

I plan to keep the tomato sprouts inside under the grow lights for another few weeks before I move them to my sun porch. Last year my tomatoes seemed to thrive on that porch before planting outside in mid-May.


After I had the tomatoes off and running, I started the crucifers/brassicas. These plants can be put outside as soon as the ground is warm enough to work. I planted them in larger peat pots and will probably keep them inside as long as their pots are adequate for their growing roots. I had beautiful broccoli last year that I started from seed, which gave me the confidence to grow more varieties of crucifers this year. I have planted cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, which have all sprouted.

The broccoli and cauliflower have been rotated out to the sun porch from the growing lights to make room for more recently sprouted Brussel sprouts, cabbage and kohlrabi.

I have a kind of assembly-line rotating system in place this year to make the most of my available space and limited resources. Once the seeds are planted in their peat pots and seed starting medium, I bring their trays down to the basement to await sprouting. The very first day they pop their little heads out of the soil, they get moved into a room where they will sit under flourescent lights inches from the growing surface. As new sprouts from other varieties move into the light room, the larger or more cold-hardy vegetables go out to my sunporch on the west side of our house.

Newly planted seeds don't require light until they actually sprout. These flats wait side-by-side in my basement laundry area. The second I see that they've surfaced (and I check twice a day) they get moved to soak in full-spectrum light.

I knew last year, my first year ever as a vegetable gardener, that I was hooked on starting my vegetables from seed. I can’t tell you how proud I am of those 38 quarts of tomato sauce that I grew from a two dollar pack of seeds (plus another twenty dollars invested in starting trays, peat pots and seed starting medium). This year the trays are being reused, and the experience I gained last year with my failures will keep my expenses down even more.

The irony of writing a blog about gardening is that when there is the most activity going on in the actual garden, the blog suffers from lack of attention. The past three weeks have been hectic and back-breaking, as I made the push to get as much of my garden planted as early as possible once the last frost day (May 15) had passed.

I started a few days before the actual last frost date, on May 12, as there was no forecast of frost for the days ahead. First, I planted the eight 2-inch tall filet bean bush-style plants (Haricot Verts, Plantation Products) that I had started the month before in a flat on my sun porch. The flat was a little experiment to see if I could get an earlier harvest for a row of beans, which are a family favorite. I was not able to get any other beans planted until May 23, so I have to conclude that the experiment seems to have paid off. I now have one row of foot-tall bean plants while the others are only today sprouting out of the soil and into the world.

After putting in that first row of filet beans, I next planted two rows of broccoli plants (Barbados Hybrid, Ferry-Morse Seed Co.) that I had started in flats about the same time as the beans. Later in the week I had to be away for four days. In my absence, marked by an unusual late frost the first night (May 18th) followed by four days of hot sunshine and no rain, all but one of those infant broccoli plants shriveled up and died. Did the frost kill them? Or was it the lack of rain? Maybe cutworms were the culprits. Who knows? But thankfully, I had another flat of broccoli that I had planned to put in upon my return on the 22nd, and those filled the gaps left behind by their dead siblings. (One thing that I have learned up front about gardening is that it pays to have lots of back-up plants ready and waiting should something else prove to fail.)

Also planted that first week were four hills of patty pan squash, three rows of zucchini (Burpee’s Fordhook Zucchini, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), three rows of yellow squash (Early Prolific Straightneck, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), and two rows of carrots (Petite ‘n Sweet, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). It doesn’t sound like much for six days of planting, but keep in mind that we rototilled the garden plot way back in March, and in the time since weeds have taken over the tilled soil. Additionally, given my experience with the peas, I was on a careful lookout for cutworms as I turned over the soil once again to ready it for planting. You might be interested to know that I averaged about one cutworm per spade full of soil. (I threw the round larvae out onto the driveway for the birds to eat. I made an abundance of feathered friends during the course of the week, to be sure.)

Additionally, I have radishes everywhere. I planted an entire package, putting in a few seeds into every row between the various squashes. One thing I remember watching my grandmother garden when I was a child is that she always alternated ever seed with a radish seed. The radishes sprout first — here in three or four days — and are ready to eat after three to four weeks. (Which is right now, in case you are curious.) So, while I am waiting for the rest of the seeds to sprout and then grow, I can pull out the ready-to-harvest radishes to make room for them. This summer, I will eat many radishes in memory of my Grandma Benson.

Old and regrettably damaged photo of Grandma Benson holding baby me

Old and regrettably damaged photo of Grandma Benson holding baby me

Here I have to point out another fact that I have learned this year as a novice gardener. Digging in the garden is a real pain in the butt. Literally. With exercise like this, who needs a gym? I may not have the perfect figure, but this summer I have glutes to die for. Women half my age should be so lucky.

When I resumed planting in my garden on May 23rd, returning after a five-day absence, I planted four hills of cucumbers (two of Early Pride Hybrid and two of Lemon, both from W. Atlee Burpee & Co.) 30 pole bean seeds (Kentucky Wonder, W. Atlee & Co.), and another 15 filet beans. Then, in a new plot along the sunny side of our house, I turned over the sod and put in sunflowers and four o’clocks (all now sprouting) against the house and in front of these 39 Roma tomatoes plants that I started from seed and grew on my sun porch. In front of the tomatoes are six hills of pumpkins just sprouting today (Jack-O’-Lantern, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). For those who care to know, that’s 30 pumpkin seeds, a full 4-gram package.

And, if that isn’t enough, I put another 18 tomatoes in the back garden plot with the lettuce and baby spinach. Additionally, I have planted the excess 50-plus tomato plants (the back-ups) in every container I could find, and what I don’t use I’ll soon give away to family, friends and just about anyone else who will take them. And, yes, all of these are Roma tomatoes, every single one of them. We aren’t big for fresh tomatoes in this family, but we do like tomato sauce, and hopefully I’ll be putting away plenty of tomato sauce for the winter. Okay, admittedly I went a little overboard on the tomatoes, but like I said earlier, the one gardening rule I have learned to count on is to have plenty of back-ups.

I still have a 10 by 15 foot plot left to turn over on the far east side of my large garden plot. This section of my garden only gets direct sun after about 1:30 p.m., so I haven’t entirely decided what I should plant here. I have a 12-foot row of peas doing very nicely along one end, so this may be where I put in my fall crop of peas. I have plenty of baby spinach and lettuce seeds left also, and given that the soil in this section is a little rooty due to large trees a little bit away on the east and south, this site might be best dedicated to more greens. I’ll gladly take suggestions from anyone who can offer some.

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.

The view from my lettuce patch at sunrise.

The view from my lettuce patch at sunrise.

I’ve been inspired by Joe Lamp’l’s attempt to start seeds on the cheap. (See Joe’s blog here and The $25 Victory Garden Facebook group here.) I wish I had thought to do this before I spent $24 on empty seed flats earlier this spring.

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At first, I thought I would like the milk bottle starter best on top right, as it has a flat side. To open, with a utility knife, I cut three sides of a rectangle on the milk bottle’s side facing the top, leaving the last side of the rectangle uncut so that it can act as a hinge. Inside the bottle I layered 2 c. water topped by 3 c. potting soil formulated for seed starting. Last, I scattered spearmint seed over the soil, then used my fingers to cover it up just a bit. I taped the whole thing shut along the cut lines with packing tape.

However, the two-liter soda bottle (pictured bottom left) ended up being my preferred starter. After removing the label, I used packing tape to attach two wine bottle corks to one side about three inches apart. This is a very nice solution to keeping the bottle from rolling about. Then, as I did on the milk bottle, laying the bottle on it’s side, I used a utility knife to cut three sides of a rectangle on what is now the top side of the bottle, leaving the last side to serve as a hinge to fill the bottle with water (1 c.), potting soil (1-1/2 c.) & some seed (I used oregano) scattered on top and lightly worked in with a finger tip. I sealed the bottle shut with packing tape.

I think the two-liter bottle is the superior choice. It’s more slender and will fit on many window sills. It also is more transparent, allowing for better sun. Ironically, I believe it is more sturdy than many of the purchased seed-starting flats. When the seedlings are ready to transplant into the garden, take off the tape and the seeds then can be easily scooped up and replanted.

Yesterday (Saturday) I planted the first seeds into my garden — spinach seeds, which I’ve read can actually be broadcast on frozen ground if the ground has been prepared in the fall. That wasn’t necessary, as it’s been pretty warm most days for about a week now. However, we live in northern Indiana, and we can still get overnight frost into the first part of May. The weather, from the middle of March through the end of April, can vary widely. We may yet have large amounts of snow. Or it may be quite warm, even into the 80s. Most likely, we will have a little of both. But I’ve been assured that spinach can handle it.

I have decided to plant many cold-tolerant plants, such as spinach and lettuce, in the plot that we prepared last in the far southeast corner of yard. The pH level there is a bit less alkaline, somewhere between 6.5 and 7.0, so we can work on lowering the pH throughout the season and worry less about getting plants to grow at all. The nitrogen levels there, while still low, are at least measurable. I will water between the rows today with a very mild solution of aluminum sulfate, which will lower the pH immediately. I don’t want to lower it a full point, as in the other plot, but I would like to get it down below 6.5. After the seeds sprout, I will mulch between the rows with pine needles.

This garden plot, in addition to having somewhat better soil, also is likely to get a bit of shade, as there are trees close by, although not directly overhead. I’m hoping it won’t be too shady, as this is where I’d like to put the tomatoes, but I won’t know for certain until the trees’ leaves come in. (They are starting to bud now, so it won’t be very long until I have a clue.) The hardest part about putting in this garden is doing it on land that I haven’t lived with for a while. We have only lived here since the beginning of the year, so the only season I have experienced with this particular land is the winter. I don’t know it’s history, apart from having been told it was once part of a farm, and I don’t have a really good feel for the sun and shade through the seasons or the pests that I might expect. (Although I can tell we have moles. That’s obvious.)

In preparing the soil, the rototiller pulled apart the sod, returning it as organic matter into the ground. Yesterday, I turned over the soil again for about one-third of the most northern end, and then I hoed and raked until I felt the soil would be hospitable for the seeds. I put in four 12-foot rows rather close together, about 12 inches apart.

When I opened the seed package (Baby’s Leaf Hybrid, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), I was surprised that they were somewhat larger than I expected. I was expecting seeds more like the small flat lettuce seeds that I planted nearly two weeks ago in a flat. Those are now growing heartily on my sun porch, and I expect I will be transplanting them into the garden next sometime within the next week. Spinach seeds are rounder and goldish-tan in color. They look a little bit like grape seeds, I think.

This is what spinach seeds look like.  These are what is leftover from the packet I started yesterday.

This is what spinach seeds look like. These are what is leftover from the packet I started yesterday.

I think it’s odd that the seed packet directions say to thin the rows when the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall so that the plants are six inches apart. Why not simply plant the seeds six inches apart to begin with? After all, I’ve noticed that with the flats I have already started nearly every seed sprouts successfully. So that’s what I did. If there is significant seed failure, I figure I can put in new seeds in the spots where the previous seeds did not sprout. I hate to waste seed, and I have plenty of garden space. I hope this is a reasonable strategy, but I suppose I’ll learn in time what works best for me.

Putting in the rows of seeds yesterday reminded me quite a bit of helping my parents when they planted our family garden years ago. I don’t suppose I’ve sown a row of vegetables in 40 years, but I still knew how to take the hoe and drag it across the earth so that it barely scratched the surface. (Spinach seeds, say the package, should be planted about 1/2 inch beneath the soil.) I dropped the seeds in about six inches apart. I’m not so anal as to use a yard stick or tape measure for this. My hand stretches about 8 inches from thumb tip to the tip of my little finger, so the seeds are planted slightly closer together than that. Once the seeds were in their place, I used the hoe once again to push the right amount of soil over them. Finally, I tamped the soil down lightly with the end of the hoe so that the seeds were securely tucked into their bed.

My father always used kite string stretched across the width of the garden to mark out the rows. I didn’t, but now I’m feeling guilty about my decision. I did shove sticks into the ends of the rows, but I didn’t tie them together with string. We’ll see if this is enough. Once everything was in place, I watered the soil lightly, taking care to direct the spray up and allow gravity to pull the water down, my best effort at mimicking a light rain.

Here's where I planted the spinach.  I'm unhappy that my garden doesn't look more tidy.  Next year, after I've been able to add more organic matter, I'd like to put in a somewhat raised wood border.

Here's where I planted the spinach. I'm unhappy that my garden doesn't look more tidy. Next year, after I've been able to add more organic matter, I'd like to put in a somewhat raised wood border.

Our first pest concern is going to be rabbits. I have wire farm fencing that was left behind in the garage, but I’m not sure the fence gauge is fine enough to keep out rabbits. It might better serve us as a trellis for all of the peas I have planned (snow peas and snap peas), and then maybe later in the season to support the tomatoes. I expect I’m going to need chicken wire instead. I’ll have to get that within the week and get started fencing off this little patch.

My plan is to use the remaining 10 by 12 feet of this plot for lettuce and a later planting of what I have left in spinach seed. I’ll separate the four close rows (12 inches apart) by a larger 24-inch space for tending to my plants, weeding and harvesting. I’m also thinking I might be able to squeeze in rows of radishes, carrots and even onions between the spinach rows and the lettuce rows. I’ll have to see whether or not that works. I’m definitely pushing the use of this space quite a bit already. I’ve already mentioned that I’d like to use the plot for our tomatoes as these crops taper off by early June. We are not big tomato lovers, but there are a few who enjoy sliced tomatoes, and almost everyone (except me and my daughter Allison) likes cherry tomatoes. However, we do consume a hefty amount of tomato sauce, so I expect to plant a full packet of Roma tomatoes, which I started in flats nearly two weeks ago and — hurray — finally sprouted after I brought the flats inside from the sun porch, which still can get quite cool at night. I want to start another flat today and hopefully polish off that packet of seed. I intend to sow another flat of the mixed variety of lettuce also. I’m not entirely certain where it will all go, but we have so much garden available, and it seems like a good idea to try plantings in several locations, to see which area is best suited for each plant.

Additionally, in that back plot (the one with the spinach already in), I intend to border the whole thing with marigolds, which are said to be particularly beneficial for tomatoes, as they help to repel tomato hornworms. Keep in mind that I’m getting all of my information from the Internet, not from personal knowledge, so my opinions of what plants should be planted together may indeed change over time. But I feel very much in debt to all of those generous gardeners who share on line from their body of knowledge. As it turns out, marigolds also are beneficial for beans and peas, which I’m told are not compatible at all with tomatoes. So today I also will be starting another flat of marigolds to use up that packet of seed. The marigolds that I started a week ago have all sprouted and are thriving on my sun porch, despite the cool nights. I intend to bring them in on nights when hard freezes are expected, but I think they’ll be fine with anything warmer than that.

Every available square inch of my rather small sun porch is being put to use. I’m hoping soon to be able to get the peas in place out in the large garden plot that runs along the south side of my garage and drive. I’ve been waiting on that a little while in an effort to get the soil pH down somewhat. I haven’t measured the pH since the day I applied the aluminum sulfate there. Since it never rained, I expect I should sprinkle it with water, at the very least to help the chemical better absorb into the soil. Once that happens, I will start moving the peas outside. They will get even better sun in the garden, and they are already accustomed to the cool nights.

The peas, by the way, are today starting to sprout. These seeds were soaked overnight, and then I tried something I found recommended on the Internet by a successful pea grower. After the overnight soak, drain the pea seeds and rinse and drain again. Cover the glass container with plastic and allow the moist seeds to sit another day or two, rinsing and draining again every 12 hours or so. When you see a little root begin to grow — botanists call this a radicula (radical, don’t you think? It’s really just Latin for “root.”) –then you plant.

These peas have had me feeling so foolish. First, I misunderstood the directions and I didn’t drain the seeds after rinsing them on the second and subsequent days. Well, the directions I read didn’t exactly say to drain. They said to rinse. Well, I drowned the poor things. The little root sprouted right away, but then never grew. After that, I realized what I had done wrong, bought new seed, and the little peas are simply rooting away.

But then I realized how desperately alkaline my soil here is. The lack of nitrogen evidently isn’t a concern, since the peas pull nitrogen out of the air and then deposit the excess back into the soil. That’s great for me. That’s why I’m intending to put them in the large garden plot along my drive and garage. That soil appears to have no nitrogen. But then there’s the pH problem.

So I bought myself some time by putting the rooting pea seeds into peat pots with potting formulated mix. That was a little expensive, but I just wanted to keep them alive until I could get my garden soil’s pH down where it should be. (I already was suffering a fair amount of guilt for killing the first batch.) I applied the aluminum sulfate several days ago, as I knew a heavy rain was forecasted, by sprinkling it over the prepared soil and then raking it just below the surface. But, then, no rain. So I’ll be making my own rain today (with the garden hose, of course) and then I’ll plant the peas. Since they’ve been in the peat pots for such a short time, I’ll simply reuse them again with other crops. In the end, the whole ordeal will cost me about $3.49 for the potting mix that I used for them. I guess that’s not too bad to rescue four packages of snap peas and snow peas. Let’s hope I haven’t caused any damage, anyway. At this point, I’m wondering if I would have been better off taking my chances with the high pH soil.

The peas will be planted on the garden’s periphery. That way the afore-mentioned aluminum fence can double as a support fence for the peas, as well as protect the entire inside garden from the many pests residing nearby. Once we get into May, I’ll plant marigolds on the outside of the fence, as they are said to be beneficial for most garden plants for the pest-repelling qualities.

Okay, those are my plans. Keep your fingers crossed that it all works out. Gardens do take work, and I’m going to be very disappointed if there isn’t a big pay-off in the end.

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