Sunday, April 27, 2008

Building the Basics

By February I had a pretty good plan, or at least I thought so and had my wish list at Burpee all set up. But I needed the raised beds and that was a bit intimidating.

I really struggled with getting started building the beds. Because I really have no experience with, well, anything related to gardening, I second guessed myself right into inactivity for quite some time.

First off, this isn't my last home and because I could get transferred as early as next year, though hopefully not for 2 years after that, I didn't want to do something I couldn't undo when the house goes to market. I also got terrified of all the warnings from every source about contaminants in building materials that get into food crops grown in it. I also didn't like the look of so many that have pictures posted, with their sagging unkempt boards or tacky plastic decorative borders.
I wanted something that looked clean, neat and was not going to be impossible to either afford, source or build with. Sure...right...

After about a month of trying to get actual eco-lumber, which is made from recycled plastics but is not the stuff used on decks, I had to chuck that idea. Using the deck stuff is easier to source locally, but it does bend quite a bit and for many of them there are some issues with the edges in our blistering heat. Getting the actual lumber required special orders, vague delivery promises and considerable price differences from standard lumber.

Ditto with the the fancy natural lumber that is fairly resistent to any termite activity.

So, I went with untreated 2 x 6's and felt happy to finally make the decision. Building them was actually really easy in terms of engineering it and my niece and I had a good afternoon getting them built. We got a system down and it went like an assembly line after a while.

And here is Vanna working on putting in screws on the first layer.

I let them sit outside near the house to swell and shrink as they liked for a couple of weeks while I waited for my dirt delivery. I calculated that I had approximately 41 cubic feet, or 1 yd 14 ft, of space within the boxes to fill, but I would need considerably more to level them out and then have a bit left over to put a fresh inch on my front shrub beds. I got the minimum order of 3 cubic yards set for delivery in March.

Meanwhile, like most people who are planning their garden, whether novice like me or vastly experienced, I simply couldn't wait to start things off. Some of my seed orders had come in and I had done some early purchases of the more common varieties here locally. I also had bought 3 different kinds of seed starting systems so I could compare them. Hmm....sounds like I was ready, doesn't it?

I filled up those seed starting trays with so much stuff it was ridiculous. The Burpee Ultimate Seed Starter is pretty cool because it has a mat that wicks the water up from the resevior into the plants, encouraging root growth. It is lower maintenance for sure. I also got the cheap stand by, Jiffy and a good standard Morse that uses expanding peat pellets.

While this drama of seedlings is playing out right to this day, I do have some feedback after 2 months for all of these.

Bottom line, I like using the empty Beneful Prepared Meals containers better than all of them.

Why? It seemed to me that unless I was planting all the cells with the same kind of plant, there was no way to ensure success. Putting the tray into the light as soon as you get sprouts can kill some of the more tender ones and still not be enough for some of the light hungry ones.

For the peat pellet brand, I found the density of the swollen out peat to be simply too hard for some rootlets to get through and they didn't do nearly as well as the Beneful container ones. With this one, it also holds water exceptionally well and too well for some types of plants. The first ones I did were onion seeds because I wanted to see if I could grow some from seed as well as sets purchased later. They did well at first but the peat was simply too wet for them and very few survivied long enough to be bedded down.

The cheap Jiffy one did okay simply because I controlled the mix that went into it. It has the same problem of needing to have the same or very similar plants seeded into it so sunlight consistency wouldn't be an issue, but by creating my own mix of loose peat, vermiculite and a bit of miracle grow potting mix I did get a soil that was loose enough for delicate roots and held moisture at just the right level for the right amount of time.

For other novices out there though, just use old butter tubs and the like and save yourself $100.

Yes, I did spend that much on that stuff. I did read another exceptionally brilliant idea on the forum. (I apologize to whoever had this idea that I'm not using your name but I can't find it again now.) He gets those smaller clear salad containers from his local grocery salad bar, stacks them up and, since it is charged by weight, simply has those weighed under that code and gets the perfect starters for a few cents. Brilliant! I will definitely be using that one next year.

Friday, April 25, 2008

My First Garden...I Hope!

A new blog for a new adventure!

I've been writing the entries for this new adventure for quite some time, but somehow it didn't seem right to add them to a blog used for ranting about things like politics or the news. Like so many, I like to have my gardening read in a vacuum. A joy for it's own sake, so to speak.

Not that I know much about gardening, but I do like to read about it.

Why in the world would a 41 year old city dweller usually more concerned about working longer and a perfect Starbucks mocha suddenly decide to garden for food? Good question. The answer is that I've always wanted to. I'm a competitive city dweller under protest, though I admit to being a devout follower of Starbucks coffee. I love the stuff...but on to other things.

I do the work I do because my plan, from childhood, was to live out in the middle of nowhere and do almost everything I can do by myself. My lifestyle and work have citified me quite a bit and I've lost some of my edge and bravado, but I've never given up the dream.

In just a few years I should be retiring, though that is a relative term since I'll still need to earn a supplemental income, but I'll be dropping out of the rat race for sure. During the years I've learned lots of the handy skills I should have, but gardening wasn't possible except for a few pathetic container plants I always wound up killing.

So now is the time. The rapid increases in prices for fresh fruits and vegetables did play a role in this decision since that makes up the bulk of my diet. On top of that, I make 50% of the food my dogs eat out of chicken and fresh veggies (the kids love it..we call it Beagle stew) and that was costing me a fortune.

And here is a nice pic of Boscoe, my cauliflower eating Beagle of Love.

So, experiment time! I spent my time from November to early February just reading book after book to find out the best way for me, on my property, to garden. I finally settled on Square Foot Gardening as the potentially perfect system for me. My home sits near the river and drains poorly in some areas and is plagued with invasive plants so this raised bed system was just the ticket.

I'll post all the things I've written up since then, with all the pictures of us building, moving dirt and planting and even the plants that are now coming up in short order and then you can all get caught up.

At this point, I'm still really encouraged. There have been casualties, yes. At times, I feel like a serial plant murderer. There are also some really cool successes and a great many positive side effects of having this first garden. I hope you enjoy the trip with me.....Christy