Monday, May 24, 2010

Here's the dirt

With a forecasted high of 88º F yesterday, I couldn't pass up the chance to get my hands/arms/feet/legs dirty and plant our vegetable garden.

I started bright and early Sunday morning (don't ask me how I naturally woke up at 7:50 a.m.) and the first thing I did was scope out the location. My plan was to use the same space that I planted in the previous year, which produced mounds of tomatoes and plenty of other delicious goods.

However, it didn't look like the picture above, but instead was looking tired and weathered as you can see in the photo below.

Most gardeners till their soil before planting because it breaks up hard clumps of dirt, kills weed roots, and, at the same time, aerates the soil, but since our garden plot is a measly 14x3 feet, I opted out of professional tilling for a few reasons: 1) I didn't want to wait until someone could come and do it, 2) I didn't want to pay someone money to simply mix up 42 square feet of dirt, and 3) I knew I could do it myself. Last year, when I was picking up the tools I needed to start my garden, an associate at Menards recommended an inexpensive handheld tool that he said did the job just the same as a tiller but with a little more sweat and sore muscles, enter the action hoe.

An action hoe looks similar to a regular hoe, but is a ring of metal rather than one flat piece. By digging this into the dirt, you are able to chop the clumps, tear the weeds, and push and pull the soil, aerating as you go. Oh, and did I tell you that it only cost $12? That's what I call DIY!

So, while I ran to the store to pick up the plant items I needed for the garden (more details below), Justin contributed to the project and tackled the dirt with the action hoe. When I got back, we mixed a few bags of garden soil in and the dirt was prime for planting.

Before I go any further, it wasn't as simple as saying "yeah, we mixed up the dirt and popped some plants in the ground." Oh no, there was some strategic planning that went into it long before digging in.

In order to delegate space for each plant I wanted to grow, I had to plan according to how much space and sun each one would need, and just like any other project, I whipped up a layout of the area (see below). Are you wondering why I didn't put the lettuce in front of the onions so that I had a neat grid? Although the majority of my garden is in full sun, the far left side is right next to our air conditioning unit, which at times blocks the sun. Since lettuce requires full sun, I had to go against my design gut and move them to the far right, out of alignment but in full sun.

After settling on a plan, I wrote up my shopping list accordingly. It included a bag of onion sets, green bean seeds, half a dozen tomato plants, some pepper plants (hot and sweet), and a few lettuce plants. One tip that my mom showed me when she helped me plant my garden last year, was to look for plants that are doubled up in their pots. If you get lucky and find some like this, you can separate them once you get home, getting more bang for your buck.

It may seem scary to divide them once you're home, but it really isn't. All you do is remove the soil ball from the pot it came in and soak it in a bucket of water. This will wash away the soil and you'll be able to carefully pull the two apart and plant as usual. For the first week or so, they might look small compared to other plants, but once they've established themselves in the ground, they'll flourish.

Back to the project: Once you have your dirt ready, place your plants where you are going to drop them in. By leaving them in their pots until ready to go into the dirt, you can play around with spacing to make sure each has enough room to grow.

It only takes a few minutes to plant each seedling and soon enough you will have a good-looking garden ready to produce some home-grown sustenance.

Out of the 100 pack of white onion sets that I snagged at Menards for $1, I was able to drop in about 60 of them. This year, I took the time to organize them in rows, just to make it look more uniform.

And just like last year, I planted a row of green beans along the front of the plot so I can access them easily when we need some veggies for dinner.

In addition to buying plants, I grabbed a bag of plant markers for $2 so I was able to label each plant.

The markers will come in handy, especially when harvesting our peppers since some are sweet and some are hot. I don't want to mix them up!

After making sure the tomatoes were leaning on their wire cages and ensuring the onion sets were facing up, I doused the whole thing with a good drink of water, thanks to my soaker hose, another one of my mom's recommendations. This morning, before racing off to the train, I ran outside to make sure they made it through the night. I look forward to virtually sharing the fruits of my labor with you all in the coming months.

Did anyone else have a productive day enjoying the nice weather?

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