So! Let’s begin at the beginning. When we first moved in, the enormous front yard was entirely grass. I don’t really care for lawns, and would much rather fill it with things I could eat, so I turned it into a garden. How does one turn a lawn into a vegetable production patch, you ask? Well, it’s easier than you’d think, and mainly just requires time and physical labor. The best way to do it without chemicals is to just order a bunch of compost and save a lot of newspapers. Once you have a generous amount of those, in early spring/late winter (I did it in the beginning of March last year), lay a sheet of newspaper over the grass and cover it with about 2-3 inches of compost. Repeat this until the entire lawn is covered. Now wait about 6 to 8 weeks. During this time, the grass is suffocated and dies and actually begins decomposing under the compost, giving nutrients back to the soil, and the compost leeches nutrients into the soil, too. Once you’re ready to start planting in the soil, then you rototill it to chop up all the chunky dead grass clumps and mix the compost and dead grass back into the soil, making it soft. I learned all this from my friend Mindy, who has the most amazing flower garden ever. Thanks Mindy!
Since we already had the soil all ready this year, things were a bit easier. Once the threat of frost had passed and it was officially ‘spring-y’, I went around the yard and pulled all the weeds, dead branches, and any other stuff that the insane winter winds had blown into my garden over the past few months. This filled up at least a couple yard debris bins and took a day or two wandering around the front and back of the house. Then I got my compost delivered (I use Eric Kosher fertilizer in Portland, it’s all natural, fully composted manure that works wonders with veggie productivity). My vegetable garden is about 700 square feet so I got 4 cubic yards of compost delivered, and still had extra compost to add to the raised flower beds in the backyard, too. I spread the compost around the garden with a shovel, wheelbarrow, and a rake until everything is covered, then I let it rest for a few weeks.
|Sweet Pea Flowers (seedlings)
So after the compost is laid down and before the drip watering system is set up, I start my seeds. The time depends on the type of plant, I start peppers, eggplants, and melons in mid to late April since I can’t transplant them until it’s actually warm outside because they don’t do well in the cold at all. With tomatoes, broccoli, and herbs, I can start them around March and they’ll do fine. I do the majority of my seed ordering from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and Victory Seeds. Seed Savers Exchange is actually a non-profit that’s dedicated to preserving rare and near-extinct varieties of heirloom fruits, vegetables, and other plants, I’m a member and highly recommend joining if you’re interested in all this stuff. If you want start seeds, I have a seed starting guide you can read through. And I mention it in the post, but I also suggest using a heat mat to increase the germination rate and speed of your seedlings. This is the one I have and it’s totally waterproof and works like a charm.
|David Austin Rose
|Snap Peas & Peony
Once it’s a bit deeper into spring and closer to when I’m ready to transplant my sprouts into the garden, my parents come over and help me do another round of weeding, my dad rototills the soil with his handy rototiller, and helps set up the drip watering system for the veggies. This is DIY-ed from PVC pipe, flexible rubber tubes, and attached to one of the outdoor faucets in the front yard. I tech-ed it up a bit and bought this automatic timer that I used all last summer, so that the drip watering system would automatically go on and off at certain times of the day for certain intervals, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about manually turning the system on and off each day. The drip watering system saves you time, but it also saves water and makes for a much stronger healthier plant. If you just water with a watering can, a lot of the water just stays near the top of the soil so the plants roots never have to grow deep to find moisture, since it’s always close to the surface. And when it’s hot, a lot of the surface water evaporates rapidly so you end up wasting a ton of water, too. With drip watering, the steady trickle of water goes much deeper into the soil and encourages the roots of the plant to grow deep and strong, and since it’s just in one tiny area on the surface, you’re not loosing much to evaporation on hot days. Highly recommend setting one up if you’re looking to grow a large vegetable garden. Also, as far as watering with a hose goes, I also recommend getting a really good nozzle. This is the one I have and I usually have it on the ‘shower’ setting when watering my plants. It’s nice and gentle, and the ‘mist’ setting is great for delicate seedlings, too.
With all the physical work going into keeping the garden running this time of year, I get pretty tired and pretty hungry, and when I get hungry out there, I get reallllly hungry, (like ‘I haven’t eaten in two days-hungry’, even though I ate like 3 hours ago (I think it’s because I’m surrounded by food-based plants that aren’t producing yet so I can’t snack on them, so it’s a constant reminder of eating)). When I’m out working and covered in dirt, I’m always looking for something healthy to eat that I can take out with me in the morning and hold onto until I’m hungry so I don’t have to track dirt back into the house, either. The kind folks at Kashi sponsored this blog post (thanks guys!) and sent me some of their new GoLean plant-powered bars bars to try, they come in a few different flavors and are all gluten-free, non-GMO, and 3 of the 4 flavors are vegan. I’ll be honest, when a box of about 36 bars arrived on my doorstep a month ago, I thought that might have been excessive…..but now there are only 3 bars left. And I haven’t let Jeremy eat any because I ‘needed them for shooting’. They are super, ridiculously good, you guys. Still trying to figure out my favorite flavor and I think it’s salted dark chocolate & nuts, but honey pecan baklava is a close second! Aside from the taste, I especially like snacking on them because they’re packed with superfoods like chia seeds, almonds, and cacao, and give me to fuel I need to keep on digging. It’s an all-around win as an active on-the-go snack for me.
|Rhododendron + Sequoia
Once mid-spring comes around, it’s time to start putting my fall bulbs in the ground. Basically any bulb that is going to bloom in late summer or early fall needs to be planted in the spring, which for me meant dahlias, lilies, daylilies, and irises going in the ground. I tilled up a portion of the lawn in the backyard to make a flower bed, but about 6 inches down it was a bed of rocks, so I had to amend it with a ton of compost, sand, and a sprinkling of bone meal and blood meal. It took me about 12 hours spread out over 3 days to get all the rocks out and get the soil in good condition, so I’m hoping it will be worth it this fall once the flowers come in.
That’s the thing with gardening, it requires a lot of work for something you’re never quite sure will work out until weeks (and sometimes even years) later. I guess you could look at it from the perspective that waiting 4 months for a flower to bloom requires patience, but you see the plant growing the whole time with new leaves, branches, a sturdy thickening stem, and eventually little buds that turn into flowers, and to me just watching the whole growth process is as exciting as the blooming flower itself. It’s weird because in normal non-gardening life, I am incredibly impatient. I drive fast, I move around my kitchen like a tiny tornado, and I plow through house projects. But with gardening, I can wait for years to be able to eat a stalk of rhubarb or see a peony blossom and be totally okay with that. In fact, I kinda like it. I feel like my rhubarb tastes better to me than the stuff at the store precisely because I had to nurture it for a few years and wait so long for it. It might not actually taste better to someone else, but it does to me because I appreciate it and enjoy it more. Watching the growing process itself is just as much of a reward to me as the actual fruits of my labor, you get to see the miracle of nature happen right in front of you, every season, and I’m looking forward to sharing what the summer holds with you.