Friday, January 30, 2015

Of Soil and Seeds

I have had more gardening failures than successes, and once again, I find myself perusing seed catalogs, researching companion planting, and digging through the county extension office’s gardening webpage. 

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying, but it seems I cannot resist the gardening urge. I've asked questions of local nursery employees and chatted with local gardeners in the grocery line. I tell myself “One of these days, I WILL be a Gardener!” -as if there is a specific level of success that allows me to use the title.

This year, for the first time, I realized that I have arrived. In fact, I ‘arrived’ a long time ago. I am a Gardener. It has nothing to do with my success at gardening, and everything to do with my drive to keep trying. So this year I will build on my successes and learn from my failures and do better than I did last year. 

 Philosophical ramblings aside, I will tell you what that means for me this season. Last year, I used four 4 by 8 foot garden beds and only planted basic summer crops. Here is what I did wrong:
  •          I stuffed everything I could into those beds with no regard for nutrient requirements or root space.
  •   I used a mixture of topsoil and compost, but filled and mixed these the same day I planted my seed.
  •  I accidentally left water on all night the day I planted. All of the compost washed to the bottom of my sandy topsoil and compacted in a thick layer and was not accessible for roots.

What I did right:
  •   I bought good seed.
  •  I kept weeds under control.
  •  I managed pests fairly well. 

After reviewing last year’s garden and my records from previous gardens, I have made some changes.

  • First, we are testing the soil. We bought a simple kit and we are testing soil Ph, and Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium levels. In addition, we researched the best Ph levels and nutrient levels for each plant we are planning to grow. To the best of our ability, we are working to increase or decrease soil nutrient levels to provide our plants with the best growing medium.
  • Second, we are researching companion planting. Maggie and I studied charts and created graphs showing which plants complement or harm other plants we intend to grow. Our gardens are planned based on these charts.
  • Third, we are starting earlier. We have already tilled the spot for the summer gardens, and have prepared the raised beds for early, cool weather plantings.
  • Fourth, we are going bigger. I only planted a few of each seed last year and we never produced enough for a whole meal. This year we are planting more vegetables, more herbs, and more flowers. The goal is to have enough to eat and some to share!

  • Finally, we are doing it ‘by the book’. We are reading the seed packets, following suggested planting dates, and sowing seeds on a weekly basis instead of all in one weekend. I bought a grow lamp and actual seed starting medium (instead of potting soil) and I am starting my own seeds this year.

Basically, I am doing everything I can to have a successful garden - I am learning, working, and persevering. And that, I think, is what makes me a Gardener.

What are you doing in your garden this year?