Reluctant Entertainer Spring Garden Update
Starting now, my husband and I start living and breathing “garden,” so I’m happy to share my spring garden update with you today! Right now is the season to prepare, plan, and plant for the plentiful months ahead. And it’s a great time to get out there. The ground is soft (true, sometimes muddy) and the air is cool–the right time for turning, relocating and spreading soil.
A few tricks of the trade are posted here, because almost 9 years of cultivating raised beds in our backyard city lot in southern Oregon, hast turned our vegetable garden into more than we’ve dreamed of.
We keep straw, not hay, on our raised beds year round for a few great reasons. The biggest is weed control. For some reason we’re beseiged by crab grass in some areas. We try not to use chemicals if possible, so we’ve learned to outsmart it: smother it and don’t give it sun. We use 2 inches of well-spread straw (unlike hay it doesn’t have seed heads), which pretty much ensures it won’t spread.
The straw also looks great after it has weathered a year. It keeps tons of moisture in the ground, so much so that when plants are established in the summer, we don’t need to water everyday.
We just part the straw where we need to, put the plant in, then push the straw back around the plant.
New fork and row cloth.
Put the shovel away at first. If you are going to turn your soil, use a fork instead. It’s so much easier to use and breaks up the soil better.
We use row cloth on plants that we know insects love, such as lettuce. So far we can’t find an insect man enough to bother our kale. Sure, there’s a bite here or there, but not enough to worry about; certainly not enough to use chemicals to kill.
Farm to table dinners.
Fresh produce is not only great for your family, but your dinner guests will LOVE coming to your home to enjoy a true “farm to table” experience.
We like to give our guests a small tour through the garden before dinner, to show them where their food came from. Most people really enjoy this and even ask to do so, even though they may have been our guests before. It’s fun to see what’s growing, and what new projects we’ve been working on.
The sunshine is one element that we love about a vegetable garden. (And when the sun comes out, our animals come and join us in the garden – every time!)
We’ve been known to move beds around because of sunshine. You need to really plan out how the sun hits the beds during different times of the day. For instance, we recently moved our herb garden to a new place that will get more sunshine. Last year we moved the entire tomato bed to a spot where the sun beats on the bed. Tomatoes need tons of sun! (Stay tuned for a tomato post. We’ll be planting starts in about 10 days!)
And like introverts, tomatoes enjoy their space. So give them room to breathe and eventually ripen.
We put in a new trellis this year for our beans and armenian cucumbers. We used what we had in past years, mainly an old soccer net, but now for little money we bought this simple trellis at the Grange, a little more appealing! This is placed in the back of the garden so the tall plants can grow up it, and it won’t block our view of the garden from our back patio. You definitely want tall in the back!
Keep a journal of what and when to plant. Read up on your zone, the best season to plant. For example, we’ve already planted kale, butter crunch lettuce, and snow peas! We plant a new plant as soon as the crop has been harvested.
Pea gravel paths.
By far the best improvement we’ve made in our Weed War is to move away from decomposed granite (it’s cheap and attractive if you have time to groom and weed, even when using a weed inhibitor like Preen) to pea gravel, which may not be as attractive (personal preference here), but is way less hospitable to seed growth.
Our boys spread 9 yards in one day last summer, and it has cut our weeding down by at least 90 percent.
Did you read my post a few weeks ago about our new Lowe’s Home Improvements greenhouse? Right now it’s bursting with starts and lots of activity inside. :)
Sweet potato slips.
Starting slips for sweet potatoes (in Mason jars)–which looks like a mad scientist experiment with schrunken heads suspended by long wooden stakes–this is our first year to try this process.
We decided to make our own slips instead of buying them, as they’re expensive, and to also try something new that’s not too labor intensive. So far we’ve had a few casualties, but mostly progress. In all my years of gardening, we’ve only had one good yield of sweet potatoes.
Now’s the time in our weather zone to really cook compost, with plenty of green from lawn clippings and brown from the straw. We’d love to have our own tumbler, but that is down the road. We’ve been looking for a deal for a used one from Craig’s List but so far, no luck. Anyone want to donate one to “the cause?!”
Turn if you can. Use a fork, not shovel, because it’s much less surface area to create tension, and just superior in other ways. Here’s a picture of ours that we recently purchased new for $12. We also use a Ryobi rototiller (cultivator) that is fantastic for turning the soil. The soil is so soft, it’s amazing how this tool works!
Every few years you need to pull out old strawberries and plant new. This year was the year for us, as we planted 5 tri-star strawberries. We took out the raised beds, put down pavers (easy for maneuvering through the beds while picking), and mounded the beds.
It should be easier to pick this year, as well as creating greater yield.
We also pruned out dead raspberry canes, so live ones can spread and express themselves. Which they are taking off (above)! By far, raspberries are our favorite berry to grow: great taste, clean, easy to pick!
Did I mention how cool lights look int he garden? We have a strand that runs from one side of the garden to the other. Love the ambience!
We moved our herb trough to a sunnier spot. Can’t wait for basil, thyme, chives, and rosemary to take off!
There’s nothing quite like this time of year. Warm days, rainy days, hot sunny days, everything’s growing so quickly. We’re enjoying our lettuce and fresh herbs, which are always the FIRST of the garden love that comes our way each year.
Are you planting a garden this year? What are you most excited for?