Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Next Generation of Garden Pitfalls

Every year, despite my claim from the previous year that 'Next year will be different', our garden ventures seem to hit the same pitfalls. Actually, I can't really call them pitfalls as the the largest 'garden issues' are the result of grandchildren. Specifically the increase in the number of grandchildren we have. Let's see how the 2015 garden saga is playing out.

As usual, I started getting the 'itch' in early January. The Rare Seeds catalog arrived in the mail from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. Even though I had a supply of seeds that I saved from last year's garden, along with seeds I had received from friends, I began perusing the catalog and their web site for new varieties I wanted to add to the gardens this year. I had plans to add a new garden area and was excited to expand the types of produce we would be harvesting this year.

Based on my notes from last year's garden, I knew I wanted to start my seeds earlier this year - both those I started indoors like tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage and those that started directly in the garden like beans, onions and carrots. Since our annual addition to our grandchildren was due in May I decided I better make up a timeline to make sure everything was in the garden before we headed to Kansas City in mid-May for the birth of grandbaby #5. My planting scheduled looked like this:

The Location for the Newest Garden
(aka the Bottom Garden)
Early March - begin start seeds indoors
Early April - have all indoor seeds started
Mid April - Prepare the new garden area (designated the Bottom Garden)  and start bringing in loads of garden mix soil for the new containers as well as the raised beds in the North Garden that did not get filled last year due to 2014 'garden pitfalls' (i.e. the birth of grandbaby #4). This will include moving the tires I used in the South Garden down to the new growing space and re-arranging the South Garden to include more containers for tomatoes as well as some additional pallet beds and wading pool beds. I plant my luffa gourds and squash in the tires and let them trellis on the feed lot panels that surround the garden. Since we recently moved the solar panels into the South Garden I need to make some changes to make sure no tall or vining plants will cast shade on the panels.
Hardening Off the Young Plants
Mid to Late April - 'Harden off' indoor plants by placing them outdoors several hours a day and direct sow remaining seeds in the various raised beds in the North Garden.
Early May - Transplant all indoor plants to gardens and set containers in wading pools as a watering system for while we are in Kansas City.

Well, that was the plan... I had it all scheduled out to work around the annual garden pitfall who was due to be born on May 16th. As the daughter who was this year's provider of the new grandchild tends to pop them out a week early, I also had plans to bump my garden schedule up a bit just in case we needed to make the trip the first week in May. I had this covered with a contingency plan. Well, that was the plan...

The First Load of Dirt for 2015
Everything is going as planned and we're even a bit ahead of schedule. The Bottom Garden has been cleared of rocks and small trees, the landscape fabric is covering the entire garden area and the feed lot panels are in place. Some of the plants that were ready  have been transplanted to the containers in the South Garden and we have brought in our first load of dirt for the year. I am anxious to finish out the Bottom Garden so this first 2 cubic yards of dirt is used to fill the containers, tires and raised beds in the Bottom Garden. Last year we learned that a pick-up load of dirt does not go as far as you think it will. It seems to be never ending as you shovel it into 5 gallon buckets and then lug said buckets into the garden and dump the contents into the various containers and beds, but after what seems to be hundreds of such trips, your truck bed is finally empty yet many of your new garden planters are still empty as well.

I am also experimenting with growing
ginger this year. I bought ginger root
at the grocery store and it is growing!
My thought process at this point is to transplant as many seedlings as I can so that none get left in their little starter beds should we need to leave earlier in May (the contingency plan). So, while we still need to get another load of dirt, if I am honest with myself I know it will be at least 2 more loads of dirt, to complete the Bottom Garden and finish out the North Garden from last year, I make the decision to hold off on bringing in another load until after I plant all I can with the load we just finished hauling. The dirt that was still needed was mostly for the direct sown seeds like beans and cow peas and I could plant them later on if need be, after the impending garden pitfall arrived. OK, more honesty, I was probably using that as an excuse so as not to have to move more dirt around for a few days.

I quickly filled all the available containers and beds with my transplanted seedlings. I still needed to fill some containers in the Bottom Garden to fit in the last of my starter plants so I started stealing dirt from the raised beds in the North Garden that I had used last years for beans and cow peas. Since bringing in more dirt for that garden was the next thing on my list, I would just re-fill those beds at the same time. Yes, I was procrastinating once more on going to get more dirt, but this was a quick solution to finish getting my plants into the ground.

No more putting it off, time to go get another load of dirt. It's April 23rd and we have over three weeks before we head to Kansas City or maybe more like two weeks if this baby decides to follow in his brothers' footsteps and come a week early. We will go get more dirt today. Well, that was the plan...

Weyland Sage
(aka Garden Pitfall 2015)
That morning our daughter calls us from the hospital, the sonogram she had that morning showed there was not enough amniotic fluid around the baby and the doctor said they would be inducing labor immediately as the baby was at risk.We quickly pack and leave the garden to fend for itself.

Baby Weyland was born a preemie, one day short of what is considered full term, but all was well. We stayed in Kansas City for a week or so and then it was time to head back home to see what was left of the garden. We were pleasantly surprised to find everything had survived , we were thankful that there had been enough rain while we were gone to keep everything watered.

With the annual garden pitfall's safe arrival, we can now get back on track with our garden plans. The advantage of the early arrival is that we are back to the property earlier than expected. In fact, we arrive back home about the time my schedule shows us heading to Kansas City. Now, to get that second load of dirt and fill up all the raised beds in the North Garden. Well, after the rain stops, we didn't want to haul and shovel mud....

Well, after the rain stops....

Well, after the rain stops....
You can refer to my last blog post, Better Build an Arky-Arky to read about our unprecedented rainy season this spring. Oh, and we also had an unexpected trip in May. One Sunday morning in May we get a call from our oldest grandson in Kansas City - big brother to Baby Weyland. I answer the phone to hear Zeke's plea of "Grandma, we need help!". It turns out that Weyland was not allowing Mom & Dad to get any sleep and they decided it was time to call in some reinforcements - Hammy & Poppa could watch the two older brothers so that Mama could catch some sleep during the day when Weyland was asleep, then she could get up at night more and give Daddy a chance to get more sleep as well. The plan worked great and we got to spend another week playing with the grandsons - always a treat.

The candy roaster squash starting to
trellis on the feed lot panel.
We return to the property, but it is still raining. At this point, I start rethinking my plans for the North Garden. What had been my 'showcase' garden last year was now my dilapidated after-thought of unused beds, beds that had their dirt stolen from them and a few beds with odds and ends planted in them - plants that had still needed a home after I ran out of room in the South and Bottom Gardens.

I told myself that the Bottom Garden was a great success, that it and the South Garden were well stocked, and I managed to convince myself to let the North Garden languish this year, to not plant the seeds I had planned for these beds, to wait until fall to get more dirt. In a month we would be heading to Kentucky to help our daughter with her annual sales event and then heading from Kentucky straight back to Kansas City to watch the two oldest grandsons for a week. That, along with the fact it was still raining and getting very hot made it easier to decide to abandon some of garden plans this year.

Instead I focused on the two gardens that were flourishing. Knowing we would be gone for two weeks in July, I kept up with the weeding and fed everyone healthy doses of the worm juice my worm farm has been producing.

One of the wading pools set up
to keep some of the containers watered.
Mid July
Once again we must prepare the gardens for our absence. As I was putting our smallest planters into the wading pools for self-watering I had an idea on how to do something similar with my larger planters. With the wading pools, I place an inch or so of water in them and then set my smaller pots in the pools. Besides the water I pumped in, the pools will also collect any rain water while we are gone.

I had been picking up gardening supplies on clearance to set aside for next year's planting - seed starter flats, potting soil, etc. One of the items I bought were a dozen or so very large planters for $5 each. When I realized these new planters did not have any drain holes yet, I decided to use them like the wading pools. I placed my large containers which hold tomato plants into the even larger clearance planters, thus creating a reservoir for watering my larger plants while we were gone as well.

The dill did not survive, but the
Honeydew Sage is making a come-back
Late July
As we returned home from our two weeks of 'vacation', I was anxious to see the state of our gardens. Would anything be ready to harvest? When we had left there had been small green tomatoes. Would anything have died? We have been having a heat wave this summer.

As we pulled up our driveway I saw bright red tomatoes hanging in the Bottom Garden. As soon as the truck stopped, I hopped out and did my rounds to all the gardens and was pleased with the state of almost everything. A few of the herbs had died, along with my cabbages, which I have yet to successfully grow to completion. The three types of ground berries I had planted were also in a pitiful state, but that was because I thought I would give them a head start by starting them indoors only to later learn that they do not transplant well. It is best to just scatter their seeds directly on the soil. We will try those again next year, item one to order from Baker Seeds next January.

The South Garden on our return
On the bright side, I had over a dozen tomatoes ready to be picked and only one that was over-ripe as well as some huge candy roaster squash that should be ripe in a few weeks. I have since picked another 2 to 3 dozen tomatoes and am in the process of cooking down and canning tomato soup. So far, these have all been my German Strawberry tomatoes, that Amish Paste tomatoes are just starting to ripen now.

So, in conclusion of this garden saga, I would say this has been the best garden season yet in our Ozarks adventure. The season is not over, the harvest is just beginning, but the next generation of garden pitfalls did not wreak havoc despite his early arrival. On second thought, maybe I should change the title to "Garden Pitfalls - The Growing Generation". I wonder if there will be another new little garden pitfall next year?

The Growing Generation of  Annual Garden Pitfalls
From Left to Right: 2014 (Connor), 2012 (Hanna), 2015 (Weyland), 2011 (Ezekiel) and 2013 (Ellison)