13 February 2017

Getting into a gardening frame of mind

Temperatures are warming up, 20 degrees above 0 on Monday instead of the 20 degrees below 0 that we had all weekend. Heatwave! Kind of. We were laughing a little ruefully today about being so accustomed to cold weather that temperatures that are still below freezing feel nice and warm.

While I know intellectually that planting weather is still a long way off, this warming trend set me thinking about our garden for the coming summer. I'm in the middle of a grocery budgeting course right now, which has had me looking critically at everything we spend on food as it is, and I've come to the unfortunate conclusions that I really do already make a lot more things from scratch than most people do, and we really don't buy a lot of expensive or unnecessary food items, so we'll have to take some more dramatic steps to cinch our food spending. One of those steps is going to be planting a big enough vegetable garden that we can put up more food for next winter than we did this year.

We moved to this house at the beginning of August, so we really haven't seen a summer here yet. That lack of knowledge is niggling at me as I try to make plans for planting: where should we put which vegetables? What are the cold spots, the places where we'll still have snow and frozen ground well into May? What will the sun be like in different spots around the yard as the summer progresses?I guess this will be something of a trial year for us.

The original owners planted a large bed of perennial flowers (day lilies, irises, trolius, columbine, peonies, delphiniums) wrapping around the east and south sides of our house, and the owner between them and us allowed the plants to pretty much run riot, so we have some very well-established plants out there; I spent more than a week cleaning out the bed this fall. That collection happens to include most of my favorite flowers, and I'm sure it's gorgeous come midsummer, but... I'm kind of thinking of tearing them all out and filling the bed with beans and broccoli and spinach and other edibles. Is that terrible? I do feel kind of terrible for even thinking of doing it. Beauty is important! But not as important as food, if it comes down to one or the other, and I'm having trouble justifying the idea of leaving the best garden-area that's currently available filled with flowers and trying to find other spots to stick our vegetables around the yard.

Some things can't go there; I'm concerned that planting root vegetables right up next to the house might be unwise, possibly encouraging voles to tunnel there. Our tomatoes went wild on the deck last year -- we moved them in their half-barrel planters, and despite losing at least a third of the green tomatoes that were on the vine in the moving process, the plants had more than doubled their loads by harvest time. Since they liked it so much, we're putting them back on the deck!

The current hazy, tentative plan has us putting in beans, peas, spinach, komatsuna, broccoli, and summer squash in the border bed; carrots, salad turnips, and tomatoes in barrels on the deck; herbs in little pots all over, until I find a spot for a permanent herb garden; and potatoes in the two old raised beds that the previous owner regretfully informed me would have to be moved, because they stay cold longer than other areas and don't get as much sun. We're not moving them this year, so we shall see what happens there! At least they're raised, so the soil will warm faster than the ground around it, and I started a compost pile when we moved in last summer so there might be some halfway-decent humus that I can add to the beds to help the potatoes out a little.

I had so much fun paging through seed catalogs, and I love the idea of starting everything from seed, but we're just not set up for that at this point. Our growing season is so short here! You can't plant in the ground before late May, and the harvest had better be ready by early September or you risk a hard frost, so many longer-growing crops have to be started under grow lights indoors in February or March. Maybe some day we'll be able to have a setup like that. For now, I had to split our list into plants I'll have to get from the farmer's market or a nursery (broccoli, tomatoes, squash, seed potatoes, herbs) and those I'll be able to seed directly into the ground (everything else). If we can find some, we'd also like to transplant some rhubarb and start a patch of that for ourselves; I grew up adding rhubarb to pies, jams, kuchens, cakes, pretty much every kind of sweet thing that came out of our kitchen, and I'd love to pass that on to our kids.

If you garden, what do you grow? How does where you live affect the type of things that you can plant? I know that Alaska is different, but I've never actually tried to garden anywhere else, so I'd be interested to hear about what some of the differences are.


  1. We pretty much just do container gardening because of lack of space to put in a garden. John built an herb planter a few years back, so that is full of thyme, rosemary, mint, parsley, and oregano. On the top layer I have garlic. We grow tomatoes and zucchini in large pots near our shed, so they don't get too much burning sun. We put them on the south side of the shed one year, and I couldn't keep up with how much they needed to be watered there. We had much better results on the west side! We also have several pots of basil in our sunroom.

    1. Do you keep the basil inside to give it extra heat, or to protect it from too much heat? I tried to grow basil last year and it did not work at all, but I don't know what went wrong.

    2. Our goal was to keep bugs out of it. We plant a lot for making pesto, and I was hoping to avoid having to wash it! It got morning sun, but not afternoon. We moved it this year to get more of th morning sun to help it grow more, and it worked. Also watering. Plant food.

  2. I really ought to throw some containers out on the balcony so my 3yo can have some fun playing in the dirt. :) We're hoping to buy a house this summer, but by the time that happens it'll probably be too late to start a garden.

    1. Containers are the way to go, then! Last summer it worked really well for us to bring our pots of plants with us when we moved. Make sure you stuck to containers small enough that you'll be able to move them, though—our tomatoes in big half-barrels were so big and heavy, it took Matt, my dad, my brother, *and* a hand truck to move them!

  3. I am still pretty bad at gardening, and our tiny plot of dirt only gets an hour or two of sun during the summer. Last summer we attempted to grow tomatoes in pots, but we only got three cherry tomatoes. They got flooded early on and the pots didn't drain correctly and the roots molded. We'll try again this year.

    We currently have a healthy potted rosemary plant, a basil plant that is surviving the winter just to show me it could, some limp green onions in a pot (I planted them after we used up the green parts from a bunch from the store, but I think they've regenerated themselves 4 times and just want to die), and a dead mint plant in the ground outside. There's some sort of flower bulb we planted last year in the ground outside and it has already sprouted!

    We both would love a huge garden when we have a house someday, but I'm not sure how that is going to happen. My black thumb is very persistent. Joey waters the potted plants as needed when he gets home from work, but big gardens require more time than he will be able to give them. Maybe Tommy will be good at gardening! ;-) That might be my only hope.