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The Perfect Time is NOW!

May 18, 2010

Boise Gardeners –

The weather forecast for the next week or so is to be cool and rainy. This is the PERFECT time to plant seeds for lettuce, spinach, peas, carrots and radishes. The wet weather will help the seeds stay moist while they sprout, and the cooler temperatures are exactly what these cool weather plants thrive on. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is supposed to be pretty nice weather, and then 5 days of rain. Plant some seeds tomorrow. The timing is perfect!

The overcast weather also makes a good time to move or transplant cool tolerant plants. Low temps are threatening 36degrees. But if you’re willing to live a bit on the edge – the overcast weather gives petunias, marigolds or any other flowering annuals you may want to transplant into your yard a chance to get over the shock of transplant before the sun hits them full force. This would be a great time to plant those as well.

Happy planting!

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It’s Not To Late!

May 6, 2010

Just a quick post because many people have said something like this to me recently:  I haven’t planted anything yet – am I to late!?

The answer is NO!  You are NOT to late.  Especially with the weather as cold as it has been here the last several weeks.  Even the things in my garden that I started a month ago are not growing quickly because the temperatures are so cold.  Therefore, go get seeds, start planting, and don’t worry about being to late!

You still have plenty of time to plant some of the easy cool weather crops like peas, lettuce & spinach.

It’s not warm enough to plant warm weather crops yet, so you’re definitely not behind on them.

About Peas

April 30, 2010

Today’s Action Steps:

  • Plant Peas.
  • Decide on and create/purchase trellis material

Peas are one of my favorite garden crops.  There are basically two kinds of peas:  shelling peas or snap peas.

Shelling Peas are the “old fashioned” peas.  These are the kind you find in frozen bags at the grocery store.  The pods have been removed, and you only actually eat the round peas that are inside the pod.  These are delicious, but also a fair amount of work.  If you’ve never shelled peas before and don’t know what I’m talking about, or if you just love this type of pea – by all means, grow shelling peas and give it a try.

Snap peas (or Sugar Snap Peas) are peas that you can eat pod and all.  These are my absolute favorite – crunch, sweet… The first year I had a garden I grew 4 feet worth of peas.  I’m not sure Brian ever got one because I’d munch on them while I worked in the garden and before I knew it, I would have eaten them all!  I now grow 12 feet worth of peas.  This produces a bit more than Brian and I usually eat individually, but I’ve never had any trouble finding appreciative recipients for any left overs.

The guidelines for planting both types of peas is the same.

Because peas need to be grown with a trellis, or something they can climb, it’s easiest to plant peas in a semi row.  So, I plant peas along one whole edge of my garden square.

Plant your peas with 8 per square, 4 on either side of your trellis (see diagram for how that works).  Peas should be planted 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep (or whatever the seed packet says).

Peas plants are light weight, so they don’t need heavy duty support.  I use two, 6 ft lengths of re-bar pounded into the ground (because re-bar is cheap!).  I then run twine between the poles.  Fence posts, sturdy sticks, etc. will all work just fine for this.

Pea Spacing Diagram

Peas are right behind broccoli as one of the first crops you can plant in the spring.  A local “old timer” taught me that it is tradition to plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day.  This works fine, but they usually don’t come up until it warms up a bit more anyway, so planting them now is just fine.  Happy planting!

Broccoli

April 29, 2010

Today’s Action Step:

Start a couple squares of broccoli

Broccoli is one of the first plants the gardener can put into the dirt.  Broccoli seeds can be started inside here as early as February and put outside as early as mid March.  I think broccoli plants are just neat looking.  To me they look like something slightly paleolithic, and ancient.

Broccoli plants are big.  Each broccoli plant needs it’s own square foot of space – so plant it in the middle of it’s own square.

Broccoli seeds should be planted about 1/4 inch deep (or whatever your seed packet says.)  Keep in mind that 1/4 inch isn’t very deep!

If you’d like, start your broccoli seeds inside.  They will germinate (sprout) faster in the warmth of your house, which will give you a bit of a head start.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors is pretty straight forward.  My favorite method for doing this is the small peat pellets like what you see here.  When put in water, these pellets expand to be about an inch tall.  They have the advantage of being “cleaner” than soil, less messy and very easy to use.  You simply put the pellet in water to expand it, then put seed into the pellet, keep the pellet moist, and let the plant grow.  When the roots start to poke out the side of the pellet, plant the whole thing.

D&B supply sells these pellets in bulk for about 10 cents each.  (Or at least they did last year – haven’t checked this year.)  This allows you to only purchase as many as you will use, and it’s the best price I’ve found.

WARNING:  Don’t get to excited!

A word of caution.  Right now, your garden probably looks huge, and empty.  You are probably imagining growing way more than you acctualy have space for.  Yes, yes, I know.  Trust me.  It’s a normal gardening disease.  It affects us all, and some of us still get “sick” each year, despite past years experiance.

So, be conservative about how many seeds you start.  If your family doesn’t eat broccoli, it’d be silly to start 10 plants.  (To give you an idea – I have a pretty large garden, 18×7 feet so… about 126 squares.  My husband and I eat broccoli about 3 times a week normally.  I have started 6 broccoli plants.  I’ll start 6 more in a couple weeks.)

That said, get some seeds in the dirt!  Happy Planting!

Purchase Seeds

April 27, 2010

Today’s Action Step:

Purchase seeds for the cool weather crops of your choice:

  • Peas (both shelling peas and snap peas)
  • Lettuce (most varieties)
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Swiss Chard

Purchase seeds for the warm weather crops of your choice:

  • Beans (both bush and pole)
  • Tomatoes (or plan to purchase starts – which is much easier)
  • Peppers (jalapeno, sweet peppers, etc.)
  • Basil
  • Corn
  • Summer Squash (zucchini, and lots of other varieties)
  • Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.)
  • Cucumbers

So you’ve got your soil ready right?  And now it’s time for the exciting part – PLANT!

One of the first big questions new gardeners ask is:  What can I grow?

The answer is, an awful lot.  But for now, I’m going to focus on the basics.

For those of us who garden in Idaho, plants can be generally divided into two broad categories:  Cool weather and warm weather

Cool Weather Plants
Cool Weather plants are tough, they will sprout while the ground is still cold and damp, and in fact they prefer it that way.  A light freeze won’t hurt them.  Cool weather plants can be planted when there is still danger of freezing temperatures.

Some of the easiest cool weather plants are:

  • Peas (both shelling peas and snap peas)
  • Lettuce (most varieties)
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Swiss Chard

In the next few posts I will give you more information about each of these crops, how to plant them, space them, etc.

Warm Weather Plants

More about these in future posts, but warm weather plants are the ones that only do well once summer has started to heat up.  Freezing temperatures would kill them, and they don’t like to have their roots in soil that’s still to cold.  Some of the easiest warm weather crops are:

  • Beans (both bush and pole)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Basil
  • Corn
  • Summer Squash (zucchini, and lots of other varieties)
  • Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.)
  • Cucumbers

General Planting Advice

Square Foot gardening offers some real advantages.  One advantage is that you don’t have to plant everything all at once.  You can plant a square here, a square there, etc. as you have time.  The advantage of doing this, and not planting everything at once, is that your harvest doesn’t come all at once.

For example:  Imagine if you took the entire packet of radish seeds (probably about 100 or more) and planted them all right now.  In about 25 days, you’d have 100 radishes ready to harvest.  I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to use 100 radishes in just a few days!

So, there is a better way.  Plant one square of a crop at a time, and spread out your planting.  Plant one square of radishes now.  One square in another couple weeks, etc.  Then you’ll end up with 16 radishes at a time.  A much more manageable and usable number.  See what I mean?

So, in the upcoming posts, don’t feel like you have to plant a lot of everything all at once.  Plant a few things here and there to stagger your harvest.  It makes gardening (and eating!) more fun.

Getting into the DIRT!

March 26, 2010

Today’s Action Steps –

1 – Decide where you will garden
(Container Gardeners – Purchase containers)

2 – Loosen the soil in your soon to be garden and add peat moss & compost
(Container Gardeners – Purchase good quality potting Soil)

When you break it all the way to the most simple factors, all a garden really requires is three things:

  • Soil
  • Water
  • Plants/Seeds

In this article I’m going to talk about soil.  Where is it that you are actually going to put your garden?  How do you get the soil to be reasonable for gardening in?

Where do I put my Garden?

Ideally your garden should get as much sun as possible.  It should have easy access to water (a hose or sprinkler system, more on this latter).  You want to select a garden site that is pretty flat (you don’t want water to run off) and not the lowest spot around (you don’t want water to puddle there either).  Really – that’s all there is to it.

There are a lot of “niceties” you can add – raised beds, drip irrigation system… as you might imagine this can get really elaborate.  But I recommend starting simple.  After a year of gardening, you’ll have a better idea what you’d like to add.

Container Gardening
This part is easy – where are you going to put your container(s)?  A corner of your patio?  Along the back fence?  Anywhere that gets sun for a good part of the day, and you can reach a hose to easily will work great.

All About Soil

Soil is one of the most important factors in your garden.  This is where your plants get their nutrients and their water.  It is important to realize that unless you live in a home where someone has previously been gardening and improving the soil for years, you probably don’t have “perfect” soil.  That’s ok, no one does.  And really – it takes time to get the perfect soil.  That’s ok too.

Unfortunately, most of us around the Treasure Valley have very clay like soils.  Clay has some advantages – it holds water well and tends to contain more nutrients than sand.  It also has some disadvantages.  Because it is such a dense soil, it tends to pack together making it hard for roots to grow through it.  It is usually very low in organic matter.

You can take steps to evaluate the kind of soil you have, but really, that’s not critical.  Why?  Because almost no matter what your soil problems are, the answer is the same:  Add organic matter.

Organic matter is the key to great garden soil.  It provides nutrients to your plants, feeds all the good critters in the soil (worms and helpful bacteria), holds just the right amount of water, helps keep clay soil from getting to stuck together, helps sandy soil hold more water, and generally helps improve everything.  You can learn more about this, or if you prefer, just skip the details and jump right to improving your soil.

Learning about Soil Details

Rather than going into great detail about soil here, suffice to say that the science of soil can actually get quite elaborate.  If you’d like to learn more about soil – what makes it good, how to make it better – I’d encourage you to read some web articles.  Some good ones to check out are:

http://gardening.about.com/od/soil/a/GardenSoil.htm

http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/HG_H_01.pdf

Articles like this often talk about soil ph.  I can see how that could be important, but in all honesty, I’ve gardened quite successfully and have never worried about the ph of my soil.

Improving Your Soil

The easiest way to improve your soil is to go the local hardware or garden supply store and purchase compost and peat moss.  Both these products come in bags that are ready for you to put in your garden.

WARNING about bagged compost:  When you purchase compost, ask to look at what is in the bags.  It should look a bit like potting soil – black with bits of stuff in it.  It should NOT look wood chips.  If it looks like wood chips, look for a higher quality compost.  You want organic matter, but you are paying to have AGED organic matter – it should already be broken down to look more like dirt.

Peat Moss comes in bags of PACKED peat moss – it fluffs up a great deal once you spread it, so the amounts are a bit deceiving.  Make sure you read the bag to figure out how much you need.

Measure the square footage of your garden area and then look at the bags of peat moss and compost – they will have numbers on them about how much area they cover and to what depth.  Purchase enough peat moss to spread a layer 2 to 3 inches thick on top of your gardening area.  Purchase enough compost for at least a 2 inch layer as well.  Feel free to get more as your budget may allow – when it comes to compost in your garden, it’s impossible to add to much.

DO NOT DIG TO EARLY!!

WARNING!!!  Remember throwing dirt clods as a kid?  (Come on… I know you all did this too).  Remember how hard they were?  As you might imagine, dirt clods make for lousy gardens.  Dirt clods are created when clay soils are turned over when they are very wet.  The wet clay forms clumps, which then dry out into the hard little dirt clods.

Make SURE to test your soil for moisture before you dig in it!  Here’s how to tell when it’s safe to dig.  Take one handful of dirt from about 3inches below the surface (yes, you will have to dig a little bit for this test).  Squish the dirt in your hand to form a ball.  Now drop the ball on a hard surface (like cement.)  If the ball splats, or does anything other than break apart into mostly loose bits of dirt, your soil is still to wet to dig in.  You MUST let it dry out more!

Mixing in your Peat and Compost

If you have tested your soil, and it’s try enough to dig in, spread your peat moss and compost over the top, then use your shovel to start to mix the dirt, compost and peat moss together.  You want the soil to be loose, and mixed together to a depth of 8 to 12  inches.  This is a fair amount of work!  The good news is – you only have to do this once.  I gets easier from here.

Congratulations!  After you have finished these steps, you are well on your way to the fun part… planting seeds!

The Tools You Need

March 26, 2010

Today’s Action Steps:
Make sure you have –

  • Full size shovel (spade end, NOT flat)
  • Small hand trowel
  • Option for water (a hose and a nozzle is enough to start)
One of the nice things about gardening, like many other hobbies, is that you can get started with very minimal equipment.  Yet, also like many other hobbies, you can get a great deal more elaborate from there!  In this post I am going to discuss some of the equipment that is associated with gardening – what’s essential, and what’s not.

Container Gardeners:  Ignore most of the list below.  All you need is a hand trowel & watering option.

Essentials (Make sure you have these)

Shovel/Spade (Full Size)
This is what you will use when you are getting your garden started.  You use it to loosen the soil for the first time and to mix in any compost or other soil improvements you are going to add.  (If you are planning to start a large garden from scratch, and you have the clay soil typical to most of the Tressure Valley – I would recommend looking into renting a small rototiller for the initial soil loosening if your situation allows it.)

Hand Trowel
These are the typical gardening trowels you see sold in the gardening center.  This is what you will use for marking out planting spacing, turning over individual garden squares as you plant during the year, and generally most of your work in the garden.

Watering Options
The first 2 years of my garden I watered by hand with simply a hose and a water wand.  This is a fine option for smaller gardens, or an area where you do not already have a sprinkler or other system in place.  How elaborate you get with the watering system your garden is up to you.  To start though, just make sure you have SOME way to water your garden!

Other Tools I Like, But Not Essential

HoeDag
I sound like a walking commercial every time I talk about this, and I promise you I don’t get a commission or anything (starting to wish I did!) but the HoeDag (www.hoedag.com) has quickly become my all time favorite, go to gardening tool.  This is the first tool I grab for just about everything – digging, tilling, weeding, hoeing, planting…  The versatility and ease of use of this little tool is simply amazing.  They are made locally (Lewiston, ID) by a family business.  If I was allowed to keep only one gardening tool, this would be my choice.  You can order them online from their website.

Pitch Fork
I use a pitch fork primarily for turning my compost pile.  I also use it early in the season to loosen the soil in existing gardening beds without actually turning the soil over.  If you’re a fisherman, this tool provides an easy way to gather night crawlers as bait.  Ask me about that sometime.  Handy tool to have around, by no means essential to most gardeners.

Metal Rake
Especially helpful in establishing your garden the first time, and in seasonal maintenance each year.  A metal rake helps to smooth out the surface of the soil, remove rocks, and generally help get your soil ready to plant.  Again, may be handy to have depending on your situation, not essential to buy.

Other Options You may See

Small Hand Rake
This is also in the gardening section, usually next to the trowels.  They look cool, but for the most part I haven’t found much use for this tool in my garden.

Weeding Tools
These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.  May be called “Weeding Knife” or other names.  I find these helpful in my lawn and flower beds sometimes, but not very often in my garden.

Gizmos

This broad category includes all the other garden “gizmos” designed to improve you gardening experience – bulb planters, seed spacers, garden claw…  Some of them may be helpful, many are downright unhelpful, most are helpful only in specific situations.  When you begin a garden, don’t be seduced by the gizmos.  You don’t need them to get started.

There you have it – an introduction to garden tools.  Please post your questions and comments, I’d love to hear from you!