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Garden Planting: First Seeds!

A photo of the Sell family December 2009This year our garden plans have really become ambitious. Like, REALLY ambitious. We are taking up the entire acre available to us and planning (Lord willing) to market a bunch of it.

Last week, in March, we planted our first row of crops. This is amazing for our climate, and our soil. Earlier, Rita and the kids came out and helped mark out six wide bed rows. We chose 3-foot wide beds in order to take advantage of growing space and utilize companion planting more thoroughly than last year. We look forward to the results of our efforts.

Yesterday we planted peas, radishes, beets, lettuce, mesclun, spinach, and cilantro. The children were a big help, with Isaac, Isaiah, and Gerret offering their planting and stick marking talents for the better part of two hours.

Below is a photo journey of yesterday’s endeavor. Here they are planting Wando and Golden Pod peas along the pea fence. (We learned shortly thereafter that the fence should have been more in the middle as reaching across three feet for the rest of the crops will prove taxing.)

Planting Wando and Golden Pod peas along the pea fence

Row marker is about 40 feet long.

One of the row markers. Each row is about 40 feet long. When the crops are fully established, we will probably move the twine and fence posts.

Below, Isaac and Gerret plant the last of the peas.

Isaac and Gerret plant the last of the peas

Rita covers the seeds under the fence.

Above, Rita follows and covers the seeds under the fence.

Andy and Bret deliver straw bales

Here, Andy and Bret deliver straw bales from several of the farm buildings. We had used them as winter insulation, but now they will be used for walkway mulch. This will cut down on weeds and soil erosion ... hopefully!

Planting spinach in between our butterhead lettuces.

Planting spinach

Hopefully today we will get started on a second 40-foot row.

Here are a bunch of questions we needed to have answered before we started planting and planning. We asked two friends of ours who run CSAs and do farm stands for a living. Hopefully those of you who live in Zone 4 or 5 will benefit from these tips.

From our friend Tracy

Raised beds? No, we do not do them. They are a good idea if you are staying pretty small, however, since we are planting a huge amount of each item and constantly rotating from year to year it does not work for us. 

Row covers? Yes, we do use them. Not as much as we should, however. We get ours from Jordan Seeds out of Minnesota. They are pretty fair on prices. Not great on service but I have always gotten what I order.

Mulch? We use plastic for the most part, but for perennials we use wood chips. Plastic mulch is great for weed control and such. Very labor intensive.

Irrigation? We use drip irrigation. I do not recommend using overhead. You will end up with a lot of disease. Plants need water at the roots, not on their leaves.

When to plant what? It all depends on what your intention is. If markets, the earlier the better; for a stand, when ever as people are coming to you regardless; for yourself, it depends when you want things and how many times during the year you want them. If you give me more of an idea what you are looking to do, I can give you a better idea of when to start each thing.

From our friend Danielle

Raised beds? Raised beds are wonderful, though they are a lot of work. We have about 1/2 an acre in raised beds, with one small section of the growing space just cultivated earth where we put in corn last year. Many of the beds were double dug and some were single dug, but they were all done by hand. This link gives you a blow-by-blow on how to do it. We did not do all of this in one season. We did them over the course of three seasons. The first year we did the first section, which includes 15 65-foot rows. The second year we did section two which slightly more than doubled this. The third year we added the last 2 sections, but changed the layout of the beds. There are many benefits to growing in this way. It is much easier to pull weeds (thus we stay on top of them). The aisles provide a place to walk so that soil compaction is reduced in the actual growing space, and roots can spread out and thrive. It is easy to apply compost in a concentrated area. It is easier to work in the garden because the raised beds are conducive to squatting, and the list goes on. I rotate food crops in the beds every season or with successions throughout the growing season. I do this based on Biodynamic guidelines, which recommend the following sequence: root, leaf, flower, seed and back to root. So where last year’s lettuce was growing (leaf), I will put broccoli this year (flower). Where coriander was growing last year (seed), I will plant onions or shallots (root). Following this succession helps deter pests and avoids draining the soil of plant-specific nutrients.

Raised beds take time, but they are worth it.

Row covers? We do use floating row covers. You can get them by the yard at some well-equipped hardware stores or you can order them. I think we ordered ours from Glacier – a Wisconsin business that we get our CSA boxes from. These row covers do help with some pests for sure, but what we are figuring out above all is that the healthier the soil, the less likely plants are to succumb to the pests. Compost is the best preventative medicine. If we do spray, we use Pyola  (aka Monterey Garden Spray) which is derived from chrysanthemums. Fish emulsion is also another good food for the plants. Dramm is a company out of Manitowoc that produces this. They sell it at Stein’s and Jung’s.

Irrigation? We use drip irrigation and have it set up on a timer system. This works well, but we do need to supplement with overhead watering during really dry spells. The drip tape is great in raised beds.

Mulch? We mulch with straw for most things and plastic for squash and melons. Just be careful that your straw is free (or mostly free) of weed seeds. We’ve made that mistake before! Wood chips are okay for the aisles, but there is some debate about whether it is the preferred mulch for vegetables. Because in our climate it takes the wood chips a while to break down, they have a tendency to tie up nitrogen. You might consider using them on the aisles but straw or leaf mold on the beds.

Hope that helps. As for my planting schedule, I could go over that with you. I also recommend taking a look at Fedco’s planting guide. You can print it off and use it (I do, and it is super helpful).

Happy planting everyone!

Becky and co-gardener Rita

Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .