Gearing up for Gardening

SeedlingLast fall, I wrote about the wonderful harvest we had from our front yard garden. A couple of years back we dug up our lawn and decided to plant food. We are now beginning our third season of home grown organic veggies and it’s a time of eager expectations, but the seasons must be honored. We are certainly not experts and mostly just figure it out as we go along. It’s an evolving process, but experimentation is half the fun. Since last year was better than the first, and we’re getting a good head start this year, I think we’re going to do even better this time around.

As a gardener, this is the time of year which is the most exciting for me, yet most exasperating. The days are getting a little bit longer, the air isn’t quite as chilly and you can hear the birds and squirrels venturing out to play. Gather up the seeds and start plotting out the garden map! But, don’t get too enthusiastic just yet because as soon as you get too comfortable, the temperature plummets.

Starting seeds in pots inside is a good beginning to the season. It’s a wonderful feeling to get the dirt on my hands and to anticipate spending time lovingly caring for the new seedlings. The hardest part in my house is finding sunny windows with enough room for all of them, especially to grow an entire front yard’s worth. If you’ve got a nice big south facing window, take advantage of that.

We started by making lists of everything we wanted to grow and then figuring out which ones can be started in pots and which would have to wait. I’m really bummed that parsnips are not indoor friendly, but curly kale is, and that makes me happy. Reading the seed packages can be a little daunting, though, because some want you to start them up to six weeks before the last frost, and some want you to wait until after all danger has passed. The Farmer’s Almanac is a terrific resource for frost dates and you can find it online. This is where a calendar that you can write on comes in handy. You’ll start seeds at different times, and you’ll want to know when the last potential frost dates are so you can plan ahead for outdoor planting, as well as planning when to harvest them and possibly plant a second batch at that time.

Since we’re not big fans of weeding, we kept our outdoor planting area covered in black plastic for the winter. We pulled it back during January’s dry spell to mix in some additional nutrient dense soil and the last of our dead leaves. Then, we covered it back up again to keep it warm, which makes the worms very happy, stops it from becoming a mud pit and stifles any attempts by weeds to get a head start. We hold the plastic down by using recycled milk jugs filled with water as weights all around the perimeter. Even on windy, stormy days, it works very well. It’s not particularly pretty, but it looks like something special is waiting to happen.

Two days after we finished, we got hit by the big snowstorm. Talk about great timing! Even before the snow melted, we had already lined up recycled yogurt cups and filled them with dirt we had saved in a wheelbarrow. We then got the leafy greens planted. We’ve got some on our window sill and some we transferred to the little lean-to greenhouse we have up against the back of the house. It’s not great, but it’s warm and does increase our space for early starts.

Last year, we planted a sea of buckwheat in late winter as a form of “green manure,” to enrich the soil. It worked so well that a crop grew to full height, was turned under and grew again before the official planting season was in full swing. This year, we’re hoping that we’ve sufficiently enriched the soil with compost and fall leaves that we can go straight into planting the little starts once they get tall enough and the frost is gone. Kale, we’ve learned over the winter is surprisingly hardy, so that might be the first thing that gets planted out on the edge of the yard. Signs of green life, even before spring is fully under way, create a lot of smiles in passers by, and from ourselves. If you’re growing peas, you canplant their seeds directly outside. “Peas on President’s Day” is a way to remember how early they can be planted.

People are starting to go out for walks more and more often as the weather clears up. They stop and check out the goings on and, if we’re outside, will ask endless questions. The whole neighborhood seems eager to see what will appear in the garden this year. Of course we’ll have tomatoes, but fewer of them. Last year we ended up with literally hundreds of tiny volunteers which we ended up giving away to Marion Polk Food Share. I don’t think we’ll even need to purchase any starts this year.

The leafy greens, such as kales, collards, chard, spinach and a variety of lettuces are a must. They are our favorite and there are so many different kinds which are super easy to freeze or dehydrate for future use. Plus, we have pet bunnies, and they sure do appreciate them. This year, we’re going to try some new things as well. We want to get into root veggies such as parsnips, rutabagas, turnips and different kinds of beets. Turnip and beet greens make these veggies even more versatile.

We have two goals this year. The first is to see how much green we can keep going late into the year. Being able to make a stir fry from fresh greens in November is wonderful treat. Being able to store root veggies and onions in a cool garage through the winter is our second goal this year.

Not everyone wants to turn their entire yard into a food garden, but everyone can plant lovely edibles all season long. Many edible plants are decorative, too. Herbs and tomatoes can be planted in pots and hanging baskets to decorate walkways. Pole beans and peas can be trellised over archways. The fluffy, fern-like greens from carrots are very pretty along the edges of the yard, and rainbow chard brings bright reds, yellows and greens to the yard all season long.

You don’t have to know a lot to benefit from front yard gardening. The only thing required is an adventurous spirit and a little notebook to write down the dozens of new things you’ll discover on your adventure. Kids are terrific assistants. Encourage them to join in. The looks on their faces when they see their food coming out of the ground is priceless. Have fun!


Photo courtesy of Kate Ter Haar

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