Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 15th: We get down to business

It is now a tradition in our homes to go somewhere cool in April. In 2011, we took the final Grand Tour of China, making sure to get over there before my language skills went down the drain. Last year, Spain with a week in Valencia and a week in Madrid. This year Spain again, although later than last year and so a bit of a problem in terms of getting our garden going. As it turned out, we had two hard freezes in April, bad enough to kill the buds on the Mulberry and Locust trees and so had we begun to plant when we did in 2012, everything would have been lost.

Each year we debate about what kind of plants to buy and where to buy them. We know in our hearts that the best tomato plant ever was found at Lowe's in June in a pot. But still we try to be more selective and to try interesting cultivars even if every heirloom tomato we've purchased from some hippie stand has given up the ghost after producing one red-purple marbled fruit. I hate to say it, but the big box stores have the best plants. This year we mixed it up a bit, picking up plants from Home Depot and three local nurseries - Osuna, Jericho and Alameda. All were purchased in the second week of May and in the ground on the 15th and 16th. Mostly regular cultivars - Husky Cherry, Early Girl, Beefsteak. We did brave an inevitable heartbreak with a couple of interesting hybrids from Alameda - heirlooms grafted onto some sort of really macho rootstock. We'll see how those work out. And of course one spindly little orphan Chocolate Cherry that will be the heartwarming tale should it survive. Three different kinds of Eggplant, a first this year - Black Beauty, Japanese and White Globe.

We plant Sunflowers, Zinnias and Cosmos from seeds. My crop of Sunflowers last year was spectacular and so I used seed heads to form the lion's share of this year's plantings along with a couple of packages that were in our stash for who knows how long. Instead of going into the ground, I went with peat pots to start them off. Ground planting works just fine if you wait until after the frost, but it's hard to know what's really going on when half come up quickly, half wait a while and the third half never shows up at all. At least with peat pots, you know what's going on. The Zinnias and Cosmos went straight from the package into the ground because we overplant like crazy. The most amazing thing about these two are the $2.99 packages that have 6 seeds in them as though they were handpicked at a special Greek Orthodox Convent on Mikonos and shipped across the ocean on a 17th century caravel manned by Columbus re-enactors. The cost of these becomes even more amazing when you find a bag of a million seeds for a dollar more at Home Depot all of which sprout faster.

Irrigation and layout are the next concerns. We've evolved from sitting out there hand-watering (Zen-like but time consuming) to using drip hoses. I found the first one under a pile of brush in the front yard, having been purchased years ago with the express purpose of fixing a dead spot in our front pasture. It sat buried out there and yet worked like a charm when given a new job. Hunting for that same hose at the stores though proved fruitless and we ended up with a similar product of a smaller diameter. As last year taught us, these hoses are cheap and don't last more than a month or so. Forget about using them a second time because after a season, they're more patches than hose (they have a tendency to produce gully digging geysers) or more clogged than not. It's now known to be a sure thing that you're going to have to replace them annually, which I suppose is made more palatable by their sub $10 price tag.
 Decent water coverage is what we're after, and in these gardens - 8x4' a 50' hose pretty much does the trick. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to really water deeply and although there are often dry spots on the surface the wicking factor takes care of the roots. The hoses really do work quite well in spite of my hatred of products that don't hold up. Last year I spent a lot of time cursing the Chinese and their shoddy manufacturing before realizing that these hoses and been "Made with Pride in the USA."

The rest of it lies in the details - rows for the seeds, planning who is going to shade whom and little stuff like that. We have gotten smart enough to install tomato cages when the plants go in the ground instead of trying to insert them into an existing jungle.

Oh, and Marigolds - we heard that they were good for repelling Rabbits and Deer. Nix on the Rabbits, I had to wire the garden last year after Dobby the Yard Rabbit clipped off the tops of my Russian Mammoth Sunflowers. This year I opted for a more sturdy, vinyl coated fence instead of the rather cheap and ugly chicken fence I used last time.

Marigolds do work well for Deer though. I can certify we've never had a Deer in our garden (or anywhere else on the place for that matter.)

By the end of Day One and Day Two, we had two of the three gardens planted, screened and irrigated. One more to go. 

Here are the Work In Process shots for our first days of planting -

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