I have great aspirations for both shade flower gardens and a huge vegetable garden this upcoming growing season. Join me in all the trials and tribulations of fickle Wisconsin weather, destructive wildlife and enough Missouri Gooseberry to make this poor punctured gardener anemic. And if the husband crumples the garden fence with the ATV again this year, there will be hell to pay.
Step One: The Diary
I am trying several different brands of seeds; from Dollar Stores, hardware stores and big chain stores. Pictured above are Mortgage Lifter seeds purchased from the local Co-op. (Note the soda can as a reference. HUGE maters and no blossom rot.) So far Burpee brand is my overall favorite for quality and quantity of seeds per packet. Olds brand green beans are also the bomb. I also track the weather to remind me of late frosts and the unpredictability of WI weather.
I keep a seperate calendar on the frig just for planting and harvesting. I have a tendency to plant too soon. Mother Nature has slapped my hand more than once by forcing me to cover plants hurriedly in my pajamas. Nothing sucks more than watching your poor seedlings shrivel and die from frostbite. My grandfather, a dairy farmer, told me more than once to not plant before Memorial Day.
I also track the quality of the produce in order to not make the same mistakes. Last year I grew a Dollar Store tomato that I couldn't can properly because they were IMPOSSIBLE to peel and were all seedy. Who needs the headache of a bountiful crop of crap? In fairness, the Dollar Store zucchini seeds produced quality and bountiful fruit. Trial and error, folks.
Step Two: The Greenhouses
I had such success with starting seeds in the indoor greenhouse last year, I expanded my seed starting to the outdoors as well.
This greenhouse, purchased from Farm & Fleet for around $40 - $50, is not heavy duty. It is suitable for keeping curious cats out and holding the heat in (which is essentially all I require).
Seedlings apparently like warm soil - go figure. With a little help from Pinterest, I discovered that rope lights are a safe and inexpensive way to warm greenhouse soil for the little seedlings until Mother Nature gets around to the rest of the dirt. I thought why not give the perennials a head start with some rope light lovin'?
I recycled some metal shelving chucked from the latest closet renovation and duct taped the rope down. The plastic trays sit directly on top of the rope lights. I am careful when watering (misting, really) to keep the water away from the electrical connections.
Check out this site to see someone who has taken the rope light idea to a whole new level. They really do work!
NOTE: Do not leave any rope lights wound up on a spool. They must lay flat and be spread out. My rope lights on the spool caught fire and decimated my seedlings. Thankfully, the house is still standing, but my peppers plants did not fare as well.
Step Three: Planning and Planting
I jotted notes. I took special care to document the best way to plant each seed. And then I threw the tossed the stupid seeds in the ground ignoring all my research and throwing caution to the wind like I always do. I generally end up replanting a lot.
One cool idea I found online is newspaper pots. When your seedlings need to be seperated or placed in a larger container but the soil is still too cold for planting, this is a perfect money saving solution. All you need is a wine bottle and newspaper. Or grocery bags, which are a bit stiff but do the trick in a pinch. I put my green beans in the ground newspaper and all. I think the newspaper is helping keep the roots moist, and boy, do they need it when a drought hits.
See how lovely my pumpkins, cucumbers and watermelon look here? Yeah. This photo was taken at the high point of the vine garden shortly after planting. The wire enclosures kept out the critters great and I will use them again. Full sun? Check. Watered regularly? Double-check. But how do you fight the black walnut poisoning the ground and the severe drought of 2012? This is an example of a great idea in theory that fell flat on it's face. This garden produced N-O-T-H-I-N-G with the exception of a bumper crop of crab grass.
Raised beds with purchased soil? Chop down all the walnut trees and dance naked around the bonfire? Trade eggs and chicken poop for other's successful vine-grown treasures? The jury is still out on this dilemma.
Step Four: Fertilizing, Weeding and Watering
The one thing about keeping chickens is that they come with built-in fertilizer. I have used Miracle-Gro in the past but, frankly, I figure there's already enough chemicals in the food we eat. Gonna try to be 100% organic going forward.
Weeding? Ha. What's that? That part where I sweat and curse for a week at the interloping invasives and continually fight a losing battle against them? Face it folks, crab grass is far more tenacious than I am. I'd rather have weeds than a bunch more chemicals on my food so I'll share my garden.
Step Five: Harvesting, Freezing and Canning
A kitchen appliance no gardener should be without: the Roma Food Strainer. I have a similar model that Farm & Fleet carries. I am still randomly grabbing my husband and peppering him with kisses for buying this for me. It is a life saver.
I also have purchased the Presto 16 quart Aluminum Pressure Canner, again, from Farm & Fleet. At the time of this update, it is mitten-makin' season and the tomatoes remain in deep freeze until I can play with momma's new toy canner. Hints, tips, mistakes and explosion photos will be added at a later date.