It’s springtime, and although there is certainly more snow to come, the garden process has begun! Tim is busy clearing the area where we will have our raised-bed fenced garden, and Laurie is busy planning and starting seedlings indoors, under grow lights.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
For the past couple of months, I (Laurie) have been planning what to grow, where to put it, and when to start each plant. For the past few years I have been using the Garden Planner found on GrowVeg.com, which has been a handy tool for planning where I will put each plant each year. After several revisions, our garden plot will look something like this. The empty beds are placemarks for future expansion, and won’t be planted this year. We’re going to call this a “learning year” and try not to go overboard. 🙂
These raised beds will be about 26-28” tall, . Because we need to fence out deer, rabbits, and other roaming critters, the garden will include an additional 4-6′ of fencing starting at the top edge of the perimeter bed and extending upward. Since the garden will be filled with the high, raised beds, we don’t feel we need a terribly tall fence, as the deer won’t want to jump over into a place with such unsure footing.
Each bed will be lined at the bottom with a layer of rocks and gravel (which we have a lot of here in these “rocky” mountains). We believe that this will not only provide some good drainage under the soil, but should also keep these prolific ground squirrels from burrowing up into the beds. They are everywhere around here: digging, burrowing, running across the roads. Some folks call them “picket pens” or “pocket gophers”, we just call them squirrels. We have observed that the squirrels are absent from the area behind our house where there is a lot of this rocky/gravelly stuff, and our assumption is that it’s just too heavy and thick for them to get through. At least, we haven’t seen evidence of them burrowing through it. Our second line of defense against these guys will be a layer of stucco netting, which is a LOT cheaper than the hardware cloth which is often recommended as protection from ground squirrels. Any long roots should still be able to penetrate both the stucco netting and the rocky bottom. Additionally, just to the inside of the perimeter beds, there will be a layer of plastic lining the walkway, to keep both the weeds and the squirrels out.
GARDEN SITE PREP
This is a shot of the garden site, the morning of April 19, 2017. Although we have 40 acres, most of which is pretty flat with no trees, we are placing the garden here, in a protected spot from wind, and where plants may get a little shade in the afternoons. The area gets full sun from the E-SE all morning into early afternoon. We feel this site will be best, to protect them from the full effect of the intense sun at our elevation. It is also relatively close to the water hydrant. Tim has begun clearing the area and is building the raised beds. The garden itself will be 41 x 35 feet in size, a little over 1400 square feet. The actual planting bed space will be 740 square feet. There is some slope on this site, so it will be terraced a bit along that slope. The entrance to the garden will be wide enough for the tractor to fit through, which has been and will continue to be a big help. The beds will be filled with a soil combination of natural soil, well-aged horse manure, used duck bedding, some additional organic matter and compost.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
In addition to planning the physical garden, Tim has put together a potting bench area and grow lights under the house in our crawl space. It’s not real pretty down there, but functional. The sink and potting area are helpful for me to mix and prepare the soil blocks I use to start seedlings. Under these lights, I already have started several things; mostly greens for the cold frame section which will be planted mid-May, onions and a few other things which take a long time to get started. The lights can be raised as the plants grow. If necessary, we have more lights that can be placed on the lower side of this bench. (See more about my soil block approach HERE. Soil blocking supplies can be found at GrowOrganic.com or JohnnySeeds.com.)
Our official “Last Frost Date” is about June 9. The closest listing is for an area about 500 feet lower and 20 miles away, as the birds fly. Our frost date may be a bit later. In the past couple of years our June lows ranged from 33°F (June 14th) to 50°F. Our USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is officially 5a, but I don’t believe it. Most locals say that we are at least in the Zone 4 range, and some suggest not planting anything that can’t survive Zone 3. I’m generally considering we are Zone 4, and that if I want to try warmer season plants, they will need considerable care and protection from the cold. Our highest low temperature the past couple of summers was 50 degrees, and only for a couple of days each summer. Yes, I will try to grow tomatoes! They will be covered EVERY NIGHT and will be surrounded with jugs of water to keep them cozy and bricks around the base for added soil warmth. Almost all the beds will have the ability to be covered, and anything that requires more warmth will be covered most nights. It also hails here, so I will be prepared to provide cover leafy plants from those icy pellets which are sure to descend.
This year I will be planting several things, to see what will grow and what won’t. I’m even planning to try things that may not make it, just to see what happens. I’m sure that cool-season vegetables shouldn’t have a problem. It’s the warm season ones and those that need a longer season that are in question. By starting things indoors ahead of last frost and protecting them against the elements, I am hopeful for success!
Here’s my list: alliums (a variety), beans (bush & pole), beets, brassicas (kale, mustard, cauliflower for now), carrots, herbs (annuals & perennials), corn (a cold-hardy short-season variety), greens (including arugula, lettuces, endive, radicchio, spinach, swiss chard), peas, peppers, rutabagas, squash, tomatoes, asparagus, raspberries, goji berries, and finally, rhubarb, which has been in the ground since late 2014 or early 2015. Later on I may provide a list of the specific varieties I’ve chosen.