Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring, and the Beginning of the Gardening Season

All seasons are sensory, but spring, for me, is the one that strikes the deepest chord. The sight of the first tiny tendrils of green on the bare branches gives me an indescribable thrill. I love the feeling of waking up to a room that is streaming with sunshine, and opening the window to a chorus of birdsong. Although I am not a huge fan of rain, knowing how important it is for the growing things (and for avoiding a droughty summer and a hefty water ban) I've learned to welcome it, too. The smell of rain, the smell of earthworms, seeing that first bumblebee hovering around my bleeding hearts, the excitement of thunderstorms - all part of the rich experience that is spring.

Gardening Time

And with spring comes...The Gardening Season! This is a joy I had looked forward to for years. When we bought our house, besides the excitement of simply having a house, the thing I looked forward to the most was being able to create our own gardens.

The front yard wasn't a problem. We simply dug a garden bed right in front of the house and planted a climbing rose bush, a regular rose bush, a bleeding heart, and a clematis. Of course, this has expanded year by year to include a large plot of annuals (which I start indoors every year), a strip on the other side of the garage with heliopsis, and a circle bed under the tree with zebrinas and more annuals.

The back garden, however, was a different story because, of course, we couldn't put a garden in until a fence was up.

We wanted a fence for two reasons; one, as lovers of dogs, a fence is pretty important. Two, we wanted a large vegetable and fruit garden. It took two years for us and our neighbors to finally collaborate and get a fence up. Before the posts even went in, I was on my hands and knees digging up turf. We realized that it would be much easier to dig up grass before having an obstruction like a wooden board in the way.

We dug up the entire perimeter of our yard, three feet deep.

Those first years were definitely a lesson in progress. I began by planting my vegetables and flowers way early in February. My husband (who is always on the lookout for things I might like or need) discovered these wonderful wooden mini greenhouses that move on wheels, have a plastic zippered cover, and can be folded up when not in use.

So, armed with greenhouses, I set to work by planting hundreds upon hundreds of seeds, and growing hundreds upon hundreds of plants.

It's been a few years since that initial one, and here's what I've learned in the interim:

1. There's no need to germinate the entire seed packet at one go.
Not sure why, but when I first started I felt that it was somehow necessary for me to use up the entire package of seeds. Needless to say, I ended up with way, way, way too many plants.

2. Start germinating seeds early, but not as early as February.
We live in a cooler climate area, where winter truly sets in at around the middle of December and releases its grip very reluctantly in the spring. For that reason, it isn't safe to plant seedlings outdoors until mid June or so.
I now start my flower at the beginning of March, so that by the time I set them out in June, some will have already begun to bud. Vegetables are started in April, so that they don't get too big for the greenhouse before it's time to transplant.

3. Don't waste money buying tons and tons of pots
This doesn't matter as much if it's only a few pots, but if, like me, it's hundreds of plants being grown, then buying pots is just a method of throwing money away.
Styrofoam cups are much more time and cost efficient. They have the downside of being non-recyclable in terms of the blue bin, but they can be reused year after year. Easy to label, easy to poke holes in the bottom to allow water to drain. And easy to get.
Plastic picnic cups are also great, especially if the plants need a bigger pot. Empty yogurt and cottage cheese containers, plastic ice cream and whipped topping boxes are also wonderful indoor plant homes.
Empty egg cartons are great for starting seed, and are fully recyclable. Their downside is that, being so small, the plants will need to be transplanted to a larger pot fairly quickly.

4. Label the containers
This I knew right from the get-go also. It is extremely important to label each plant, at least until such time as the ability to recognize each individual seedling develops. I had a mishap this year while transferring seedlings from Styrofoam cups to larger plastic ones. I was doing this outside, and a huge gust of wind blew in and knocked down my greenhouse and everything in it. I was three quarters of the way down, and over two hundred flowers were on those shelves. Needless to say, plants got knocked out of their carefully labeled containers. I felt (on a very, very small and much less important scale) like I was searching for earthquake survivors as I sifted through the debris to try to recover as many seedlings as possible. I think I lost about twenty. Thankfully, since I've been gardening for quite a few years now, I've developed the ability to recognize my seedlings on sight, including the ones that are new for the year.

5. Keep the seed packets
Even if they're empty, the seed packets can come in very useful. Most of them have information on the back like when to plant, where to plant, how far apart to plant and how high the plant will grow. When planning out a flower bed, especially, height is crucial. It wouldn't do to have a plant that is two feet tall in front of a ground cover one, for example.

6. Stagger
If planting an entire flower and vegetable garden (which is what I do each year), the process if definitely a long and involved one. Since most of us have crazy hectic schedules, it's best not to do everything at one go. This year I designated one day out of the week as my official gardening day, and it's the day we've done most of our garden clean-up, weeding, carpeting etc... When I started planting my seeds this year, I spent a couple of hours each day until all the seedlings had been sown. It beats sitting down and labeling, filling and sowing hundreds of containers and seeds at one go. As long as there's a schedule and it's stuck to, things will be done in short order.

7. Enjoy!
This is important one. Gardening is a lot of work, but the results can be spectacular. Enjoy the journey, and enjoy the destination!


Wander to the Wayside said...

Lovely post with excellent information for the virgin gardener!

MWebster said...

Thank you :) Hoping to put my "trial and error" episodes to good use *lol*

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