Gardening 2012

Cold Frames

2012 cold frame experiment

With the recent abnorminally mild spell, I’ve officially started the 2012 garden.  A few years back, my brother got the jump on me by planting early peas.  I always like to err of the side of caution when planting, but this year, I’ve decided to try to optimize the growing season and be brave.  To that end I have already planted peas, swiss chard, spinach, and arugula.     If you are going to take risks it’s probably useful to do it in an educated manner.  These are crops that are good in cool temps, but that doesn’t mean that they will germinate in the ground this time of year.  I had planned to haul in fresh manure from a horse stable and make hot beds, but the economy being what it is I don’t have money for the gas.  I did however aquire some straw off of Craigslist for $3 a bale and had a good supply.  I checked a germination temperature list and cross checked the weather and decided to be brave.  We had temps in the 60s and 70s last week.  This particular garden area is nestled between my house and the neighbors house.

between the houses garden space

It creates a peculiar microclimate.  There isn’t as much sun in the winter due to the line of light being interupted by the neighbors two story house.   The sun and heat do reflect off of my two story home however and the ground is slow to freeze.  I’m not sure if the ground is warm enough for germination, but it must have been close.  I soaked the seeds ahead of time and went ahead and put them in the ground.  Using conduit pipe as a canopy, we covered the beds in clear plastic with a tarp on top of that for night time.  On days over 65 degrees, I open the whole thing up while the sun is on it to help it warm.  The straw bales and the plastic should provide a perfect cold frame and allow me to get a jump on the growing season.  Keeping it covered also keeps the chickens from nibbling off fresh shoots.  They live in the vegetable garden in the winter and won’t be moved out for a month or two depending on the weather. 
Chickens in the garden?  Yes. They eat bugs and scratch and scratch and poop.  This does some pretty wonderful work on my garden soil and hopefully cuts down on the bugs I will have to deal with in the spring.  Last year I had an amazing quatitiy of potato fleas and crickets.  Neither of them did a great deal of damage, but if I didn’t get to the tomatoes quick enough the crickets were more than happy to feast on them.  Potato fleas seem more like a visual nuisance than an actual nuissance.  I suspect they impact yeilds but I got a lot of potatoes so it was difficult to see any real impact. 
I met my neighbor for the first time last week as well and now have permission to garden in the empty lot across the street.  There is significantly more space there than I expected.  You would think I would have a grasp of it having looked at it for 9 years, but no.  It’s about twice the size that casual glances lead me to believe.
It’s a wonderful flat space in full sun.  Apparently there were multifamily houses on this lot 15 years ago so I have no idea what I will find as I go to double dig.  My plan is to put in 16 eight by twenty beds with the width of my mower in between.    If I dig two beds a week for the next two months I will have them in on time.  I’ve laid out two of the beds with a paint border and started digging but I broke the handle off my shovel.  Such a brute.  I took that as a sign and quit for the day and haven’t gotten back to it this week.  I still have four days.

my garden helper

This is my helper over there.  Dr. Trivia lives upstairs across the street next to this lot and is a big softee when it comes to cats.  As his four family has rotated occupants, he has taken in any abandoned cats. This one is as big as a terrier.  He is awesomely massive.  I haven’t figured out how many live over there, but I figure it’s built in bird and rodent control.  They are a sweet bunch of cats.  One did get in my chicken coop a month ago, but bygones are bygones and he hasn’t come back so hopefully it was a one time thing. 
I used inkscape to draw out my garden beds for both the side yard and the lot across the street.  I’ve planned out what seeds are going in for the Spring/Summer end and then the succession crops for the Summer/Fall end.  Also done is the buying times for when I have to have the seeds for planting them when I want to.  Of particular help to me has been the following books:
These are a fantastic resource and well worth purchasing. 
So, we are currently building our recycled plastic bottle greenhouse, digging the new garden, moving the old compost pile, and planning out when to buy seeds. 
February  garden task recomendations:
  1. Start seeds in cold frames, south facing windows, greenhouses, hot bedes.  Stick with cold weather crops.  Anything in the cabbage family will do well.
  2. Clean and mend your garden tools.  Paint handles, sharpen shovels, clean out storage areas.
  3. Repair raised beds, cold frames, potting benches.
  4. Gather pots into central location.  Sort by size.  Make a mental note of what you have on hand so that you waste less time and money in the busy upcoming months on supplies. 
  5. Sort out your seed stores.  Your envelopes should have a year.  Look up a seed viability table and get rid of seed that are too old.  It’s easy to waste space storing seeds that won’t come up and waste money buying seeds you already have that are perfectly good.  If you don’t want to throw those seeds away try your hand at some crop art!

I’m passionate about food security.  Start a garden and or buy local foods.  There’s a peace and joy to gardening.  If you are a food junkie like I am you will be amazed at the difference locally grown and organic foods can make to your cooking.  So yummy!



One response to “Gardening 2012

  1. Yes! Another gardener who hand-digs and puts in cold frames! 🙂 Your neighbor’s lot looks like it has a lot of potential. Looking forward to see what you do with it!

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