Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Overcoming the Black Thumb

That time of year has rolled around again. Time to dust off the shovels, sharpen the spades, dig the gloves out from the bottom of whatever drawer they got tossed into. Spring is finally here and I am ready. I know what some of you are thinking. Spring?!? It's still snowing! Well, not where I live. It was in the 70's today, but for the last few nights, we've had frost on the ground. Go figure. That's SC weather for you.
This will be our third summer in this house. We have done a garden every year since we moved in. Not very successfully, but we have tried.

The first summer we went all out. Spending hour upon hour out in the back yard digging beds and planting seeds. Spreading compost, kelp, bone meal, blood meal, just about anything we could get our hands on that we knew would help the plants. Even with all that work, we still didn't get a lot of return. We have had a few crops that do well here (or that we do well with, I guess I should say). Garlic, rosemary, mint, and chives. Not saying we didn't harvest anything from our previous ventures, but it wasn't near enough to compensate for all the money we spent and time we put in.

This year we are doing things a little differently. First of all, I am in charge of the garden this year. In the past, it has been a joint effort, but this year it is up to me. I do the seed ordering, read the books, work the beds; hubby and the kids help out (sometimes it more like hubby is helping out with the kids while I work on the garden).

We finally got the first seeds in the ground today. I have been wanting to do this for a while. I got the itch the day I opened the mailbox to find my yearly catalog from Baker Creek Seed Co. I absolutely love their catalogs, and their seeds are excellent quality (plus they always throw in at least 1 free pack). If you are looking for rare and/or heirloom seeds, they are the people to go to. There are other companies you could order from, some are good, some are not. For reviews of garden suppliers, check out Dave's Garden.

As I was saying, we got some seeds in the ground today. But I am getting ahead of myself. I started thinking about the garden when I was ordering my seeds. The first thing I did was go through and see what seeds I had left from previous years. Boy that was a surprise. I could not believe how many packets of seeds we had left. I felt good and guilty at the same time. Good because I knew we hadn't wasted all the money from previous years because we had seed left over, and guilty because we had spent all that money on seeds/supplies and not used them. So I thinned out my order from Baker Creek (actually managed to cut it in half, just by deleting duplicates of stuff I already had), and I waited. Then the seeds arrived...followed by what seemed like an eternity of rain. Our front yard was one giant mud hole for weeks. But, like the movie said, it can't rain all the time.

It finally started to dry out this weekend, so outside we went. The previous years garden spot is so overgrown there are plants taller than me, the blueberries are being choked out by grass, and the old bed by the fence was nothing but bare spots and some random weeds. The latter is where I decided to start. It would be easy (I thought) to just turn over that bed, turn in some compost, and get things a'growin'. Well, it wasn't as easy as I remembered.

I haven't picked up a shovel since last summer, and the ground was still technically too wet to be worked. But, that's not going to stop me. I have so much stubborn in my blood I could win an argument with a hurricane. So I spent WAY more time that would have been necessary prepping that bed. Had I waited a couple more days, I probably could have gotten it done in half the time, but who wants to wait (and besides, I could use the exercise). First things first. Turn over the bed. I started with removing the big pieces of sod and patches of weeds. That stuff got tossed into the "in use" compost bin. Next, turning the bed. This is the part that would have been much easier had I waited a few days. Wet dirt is heavy dirt, hence it requires more energy to move it (or flip it over). I spent about an hour working the bed. It was low 60's outside, and by the time I was done I was sweating.

Day 2, go back out. The ground is a little dryer than before, so another round of turning is in order. Also, it's time to add the amendments. We live in swamp land, so the soil here is a (bad) combination of sand, heavy clay, and gumbo. My choice this year, since this bed has been used in the past and has had multiple applications of natural amendments already added to it, was to do something simple. The only 2 things I added were bio-char and compost. Bio-char is partially burned organic matter. This adds carbon to the soil, helping to keep things in balance. We made this by partially burning some small pieces of seasoned wood and a huge wheel-barrow load of brush from the old garden. The compost came from the "finished" bin. (we have 2 compost bins, 1 "in use' bin and 1 "cooking/finished" bin). I added about a wheel-barrow full of that as well. These were turned into the bed and left to sit (and dry) for another night.

Day 3, finally time to plant! I get so excited when it's time to plant. So much work goes into prepping the beds, this is one of my favorite steps (my most favorite is the harvesting part). I decided to try peas, which we have never grown before. Those went along the fence all the way down. I think I counted 35 plants. In front of the peas, in perpendicular rows went lettuce, radishes, carrots, and beets. I will sow successive plantings of the peas, lettuce, radishes, and carrots. Not sure on the beets, because I have never grown them before and I have no idea how long they take to mature or really what kind of weather they need. This is a beginner's mistake, but you can't always get everything right. :)

That's about it for now. I will keep everyone posted on this little project. Hopefully the third time will be the charm. Also to come, some posts on gardening with children. The girls and I are going to start our (my) medicinal herb garden in pots on the porch, so I will definitely make note of how that turns out.
Happy gardening everyone.