I have loved gardening since I can remember. When I was little my dad would plant a yearly vegetable garden; I remember eating apples from our backyard tree while watching him till up the dirt in the spring. As a teenager, I kept a garden for several years and had reasonable success with tomatoes, beets, squash, and pumpkins (including a lovely, huge volunteer pumpkin patch that sprang up on our compost pile!).
But I have never gardened on the grand scale that Charles and I are embarking on this year. We live on 45 acres of land, with abundant manure compost available thanks to our horse and chickens. Our ultimate goal is to grow 90% or more of the vegetables and fruit we eat, plus enough to sell a decent amount of produce each year. For that, we will need lots of garden beds and good systems for raising seedlings, watering, weeding, protecting from pests and predators, harvesting, cooking, and preserving.
We have lots to learn, so this year we have jumped in with both feet to see how all this can be done.
Our first year of experimental gardening has begun!
In March, just as the weather started thinking about feeling like spring, Charles and I received a gigantic envelope of seeds in the mail. For weeks we had been scheming and scanning our Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, which is an education and a drool-worthy picture book in itself. We made a long list of all our dream plants, then whittled it down (a bit!) to what we thought we could do this year.
When they AAAALLLL arrived, we spread them out and read the back of each little packet, and put them in a box in order by planting date. We were already behind on some of them, which were supposed to be started indoors several weeks before the last frost.
So we got busy. Charles had discovered a cool contraption called a soil blocker, which replaces peat pots with your own soil/compost mixture formed into cubes. You plant the seeds in the top, and you can watch them actually open up and sprout.
We planted umpteen dozen cute little blocks. Then we set up a grow light rig in our work room, brought the soil blocks in on container lids, and watered them diligently.
We had two sizes of blocks, the tiny ones for tiny seeds and the bigger ones for bigger seeds. We had two entire containers full of corn of three varieties: Cherokee White Eagle, Oaxacan, and Glass Gem popcorn (so beautiful in the catalog pictures! I can’t wait to see our ears of it in real life!).
We began this experimental gardening year with four beds for corn, squash, radishes, beans, melons, pumpkins, and okra, plus two long straw bale rows for tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, New Zealand spinach, and more beans and radishes. All but one of those beds are new, built this spring by yours truly and the visionary I married. We want to add at least one new bed every year until our designated garden spaces are filled (! More pictures to come of how big those spaces are!).
We nurtured the seeds in their soil blocks for over a month. We watered diligently, battled fungus, hauled containers outside for hardening off, and raced against time to finish building our beds so we could plant the rapidly-growing seedlings in their new homes.
Some of the seedlings died, but most took off with gusto. We planted them as we finished the beds, and all are now established (minus a few that we lost to transplant shock ~ mostly tomatoes, peppers, and carrots). Most of them are now happy, healthy, and huge ~ growing “like gangbusters,” to quote Charles’s mom.
Stay tuned for the next post, in which our plants begin to flourish and we ponder the pros and cons of straw bales versus hugel-style raised beds versus composted soil beds prepared with the help of chickens!