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Friday, February 26, 2010

Tomato plants in the garden.

Prepare: Garden Time Is Just Around The Corner


There may be snow outside, but now is the time to plan your spring garden and get a jump on the competition. Growing your own food is fun, healthy, saves money and will probably save your life.

The weatherman is predicting snow again, tomorrow. Seems like the last batch just melted here, but it gave me time to scope out my planting area and start making plans. There amongst the brown grass and abandoned raised beds I can see overflowing tomato plants, corn shoots, green beans hiding in the leaves, bell peppers and fresh raspberries.

But this all means nothing if I don't get a start now on my spring garden plans. Most will get the "bug" to grow something sometime around April or May when the first warm days kick in. They wait until Saturday and then wander on down to the super garden center and find the best plants, seeds and supplies are long gone. They end up with two plastic pots and a couple of brown tomato plants for their summer bumper crop.

Don't let this happen to you.

It may be too early to start putting tender seedlings into the ground, but there is no reason not to start seed shopping right now. Seeds can be ordered online or at the retail store. There are hybrid (cross bred seeds which do not re-pollinate) or non-hybrid seeds (original or heirloom seeds which can be reclaimed from the fruit and reused the following season).

I generally pick up my seeds at the retail store and get a mix of hybrid and non-hybrid. I always get extra because they are available and I can save them for later. I keep my seeds in their original packets and store those in large coffee cans. They last well for me as I have used seeds I purchased three and four years ago without a problem.

Some advice - pick up extra "big seeds" like corn. There is generally only enough in one packet for a single planting. If you are shopping at the farm supply store and buying 100lb bags of seed, ignore this advice of course.

Lay out the garden on paper how you want it to look but don't plant anything until the danger of frost has passed. Too many gardeners take advantage of an "Indian summer" and plant too early and lose everything when that freak snow shows up.

Planting. Raised beds, pots, or tilling up the ground? What's best? I do all three. For most of my vegetables, I put together raised beds out of bricks, left over lumber and anything else around. I then tear them down at the end of the season. I use pots for herbs on the back patio. I have never had a great harvest growing tomatoes in pots, the ground works better.

I till up a large part of the yard for corn and have several growing areas which I move around.

The more growing space, the bigger the harvest. Take advantage of every corner to grow something edible. I make compost throughout the year. I throw yard and kitchen waste, old potting soil, grass, anything in the compost heap. And I turn it once a week for good effect. I don't water it much as it attracts ants, and even in a drought the heap stays fairly moist.

If rats or mice are a problem in the compost heap, get a couple of inexpensive trash cans with lids and throw the kitchen waste in those things until it breaks down then add them to the big pile.

Other than compost, I don't like to use fertilizers other than soil amendments like green sand, lava sand, earthworm castings. I don't use pesticides at all, but might have to chance that if the garden is life or death. Other than that, attracting birds and hand checking the plants is the natural and best way to get rid of pests.

Save rain water from the down spout. Get trashcans and rig them under the spouts as rain water is always better than hose water for plants. Water when needed but short duration, small waterings as it encourages the roots to grow shallow. Deep roots are the plants best friend.

Like buying food, only plant what you and the family will eat. While growing an Asian mustard plant is interesting, if you hate the taste, don't do it. Also, plant things which will produce a lot and are healthy - like tomatoes.

A garden is healthy for you, a way to save money and most likely will save you and your families' life if things keep going the way they are. Even if we hold the country together, the price of gas alone will make a garden pay for itself is lowered grocery costs and shopping trips.