Get your ducks in a row, be ready to plant

Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 3:27pm  |  Updated: Apr 23 2014 - 3:27pm
By: Rosemary Fitzpatrick

This is the very most excellent time of year.
I found myself in the unenviable position of cooling my heels in a waiting room, on a beautiful afternoon no less. No one wants this experience, but there I was. As I settled down to read a time-worn and uninteresting magazine I noticed that the conversation among these strangers was in full swing. And it was all about gardens.  Keep in mind these people had zero connection to each other — except the same waiting room.
The topic was tomatoes and these three people were comparing notes
like crazy. The receptionist chimed in with “what’s your favorite” and everyone had a different “favorite” which led to under different conditions the same tomato will taste different. What works for me may not work for you.
And grass. Good grief, what to do about the dead grass? I could have stayed there for hours.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get gardening. Watch the weather, like a hawk. Last year at this time the temperature was 16 degrees. In mid-May it was snowing and blowing. That was when the tender leaves on the red twigged dogwoods and the Amur chokecherry were burned beyond repair. But that was last year, and I am mentioning it as a cautionary tale. Anything can happen. It may be lovely at this moment, but you cannot trust Weather.
Hence I have put the Brussels sprouts into even larger pots and put them into the cold frame. Lucky me, I have finally figured out how to use that cold frame. Very handy tool indeed. The garlic cloves that have been planted in a flat are all sprouted and looking lively went in there, too. The greenhouse gets too warm for so many of the plants that thrive here in the Far North. The cold frame is an excellent transitional area for these plants: cool, even cold, at night and warm enough in the day (it has a solar vent that does the trick).
All of the cole crops find our growing conditions favorable. These include: broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. I’m leaving something out, but you get the idea.
These are the vegetables I start from seed year after year. There are variations on a theme, i.e. several different kinds of cauliflower in various colors and shapes. The catch is to be ready to move them to a larger container if the weather turns really nasty. If you are taking advantage of our excellent local nurseries (and you should be) these seedlings may be in containers that will crowd their root system if planting out is delayed. A generous pot will make for a generous plant. Keep this in mind.
Peas, radishes, every green you can think of, all of these love it here. They truly want to grow outside in the wind and rain and maybe even sun. Have faith. Potatoes, beets, carrots, onions (lower elevations), garlic — for sure garlic, this should be a cash crop for Homer. Artichokes.
All of these plants will grow outside. You do not need a greenhouse. You yourself will be outside tending said plants. You, too, will be experiencing the elements, and believe me, you will be a better person for it.
My garden is established with raised beds. These are three feet wide by about 12 feet long. I have chosen the three-foot width because I am not very big. The recommended width is four feet but it became obvious that I would not be comfortable reaching the middle of the bed. So figure that out.  
These are constructed from rough cut lumber and a support is spaced every three feet. This conveniently makes for four three-foot beds in each bed. I like to plant in blocks so this is really perfect for me. The first “block” will  contain garlic, the second leeks, the third shallots, the fourth peas with radishes tucked in the corners. Simple, tidy, easy. Now, how many of these beds and how long they will be is up to you.
Do not plant enough food for a village. You are not a commercial grower. Leave that up to the high tunnel people. Go to the Homer Farmers Market and take advantage of what they have to offer. But for you, in your yard, out your door, make a reasonable garden. One that you will enjoy dealing with. One that will not rule your life.
My garden consists of 10 of these 12-foot beauties. But, I am growing enough vegetables to see two people through the winter. Grandchildren come through and graze on a regular basis so enough is planted to compensate for that. And, of course, enough to give away to friends and neighbors. But not the whole town.
Determine where your vegetable plot will go. South facing  and not shaded seems obvious but not if you have never placed a garden before. Look around and see what makes sense. If you are hauling water, think about how far you want to haul it. If you have running water how long will the hose need to be? Buy one that won’t kink.This will cost you money but will save your blood pressure big time.
The soil, if thawed, is too wet to work. Wait until it crumbles in your hand after you make a ball. If it stays in a ball please, please, please, wait until it is dryer. When you work wet soil, it will clump and stay in those clumps until hell freezes over. Wait.
So now you have your site, the rough cut lumber ready to go, now you need floating row cover. And it really does float. There is no need for any kind of support system. Just lay it over your seedlings and secure the edges.
All of this is preparation for the big day when you can actually plant and that day should be somewhere in the last two weeks of May. Get your ducks in a row and be ready to go.
• • •
In the last two days I have removed the spruce boughs that I use for mulch from the perennial beds. Everything looks gorgeous. The peonies are up, I could go on and on.  Now, I just need to cross my fingers that winter won’t decide to get started now, seeing how it was a non-event this year.
The bulbs that I planted last fall are up and blooming, at least the crocus are. Check out the bookstore, their crocus are an excellent show this year, and there are daffodils everywhere. Just look around.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.

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