I’m getting started on my garden by working on garden boxes. This one is 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. All of my previous garden boxes are 4x4, but this one is specifically for a group of blueberry bushes and needs to be bigger. I'm building it out of 2x8" lumber and fastening the corners together with coated deck screws. I'm using untreated lumber to prevent the "treatment" from leeching into the soil in which I'm growing our food.
Once the box is built I lug it out to the area I'll be expanding our garden into. This is normally the simple part: Just tack some weed cloth on the bottom and flop it down on top of the grass. But we live on a mountain and have to do things a bit differently. To prevent all the special soil from washing out of the box in a heavy rain (which we get often here) I have to dig the box down into the dirt to level it up
I start by going around the outside of the box with a pick to mark the location. Then I use the broad blade of the pick axe to dig a trench into which the rails of the box will sit. I can set the box in place every now and then, check it with a level and know where I need to dig more out.
Here I'm almost done, I just need to remove the rest of the grass and dirt from inside the box, use some of it to build up around the downhill side and toss the rest into the garden cart to be hauled away. I dig in the upper side, build up the lower side. If I were to dig it in completely the high corner would need to be dug in about 16" deep. That’s just silly.
As it is I'll need to add a second run of lumber along the upper two sides to make sure water running down the hill won't wash out my fancy dirt and fill the box with grass, leaves and mud.
Over the next couple of weeks I need to build another 4x8 box and 10 more 4x4 boxes. We're going to be raising produce for selling at the local farmer's market this year; that's one of the way's I'm replacing the lost income from flat-lined furniture sales.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve also been starting seedlings for the crops that will go out earliest. Of course I still have lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, garlic and carrots in the garden that I’ve been harvesting all winter long because of the nifty hoop houses I built to go over the beds. But I’ve talked about those before.
I started my spring seed run by ordering good quality seed for the plants I want to be growing this year. This company put the names in a strange place, so I write the contents on the flap edge where they will be easily visible as I check the order in.
I keep my seed packets in a sealed plastic bin, which I keep in the refrigerator in my office. When I get products packed with desiccant packets I toss those in the bin too – this helps keep the moisture down. The cool temperature keeps the seed viable longer. Some claim that it also simulates winter and helps the seed decide that it’s spring when it is placed into nice warm soil. Maybe.
I use peat pellets as a seed starting medium, mostly because they fit into my mini greenhouse and give the seeds a kick-start on germination. I call it The Germinator. The pellets come as hard packed pucks, to make them usable they need to be soaked in water so they expand. This can be done in the greenhouse – if something else isn’t already in there. In this case something else is in there so I’ll hydrate the pellets in baking dishes and transfer them to the green house later.
It’s amazing how much water these things soak up, and how much they expand.
Once expanded the pellets can be moved to the greenhouse tray. I open up the top of the mesh that holds the pellet together if I’m going to plant more than one seed per pellet. A lot of things will get planted two (or three) to a pellet, then when I transplant them to small pots I’ll divide the pellet. The mesh casing is supposed to be biodegradable, but it’s not – at least not in a two year period – so whether I will transplant to a pot or directly into the garden I strip the mesh off as I plant.
To keep track of what’s what I make little flags out of paperclips and masking tape; straighten one turn of the clip, write the label on the tape, cut it off the roll and wrap the tape around the clip.
It’s a simple, cheap, reusable system of identifying what was planted in each pellet. I don’t put one in each pellet though, just enough to delineate the blocks of seeds. The Germinator goes on top of the fridge (it’s warm there) because sunlight is not needed to germinate.
But once they sprout I move the pellets into plastic or aluminum pans (8x8 aluminum cake pans work great, don’t rust and are super-cheap at a Dollar Store) and set them into a window where they will get some sunshine. Don’t let them get too hot; 75° to 80° is tops for most seedlings. But lots of light prevents them from getting “leggy” and being difficult to manage.
Once the sprouts get some size to them I move them either to the garden (if they’re cold tolerant) or to pots. If pots, I also take them outside for a while each day to “harden them off” so that when it’s time to put them in the garden they will be accustomed to full sunshine. I use the Grit Garden Planner software on Square Foot Garden mode to plan my garden. This has very handy notes on planting directions, companion plants and of course a great bar-graph schedule of what plants need to be started when and when to harvest them. It will even send you reminders via e-mail of what plants in your garden plan need special attention. It’s a great tool for a rookie like me, but I suspect even pros will enjoy the convenience it offers. Want to see my garden plan for this year? Click: 2012 Garden Plan