Winnie’s traveling this week so she has graciously allowed me to play in her sandbox – sam
In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
And in the Spring, an old man’s fancy turns to his yard.
As a boy, I liked playing in the dirt. Making mudpies gave way to Tonka trucks, which led to fighting epic proxy wars with my brother and the neighbor kid, using those little green Army guys (with the occasional firecracker or some lighter fluid to make it interesting), digging out forts in the mounds of dirt pushed up by construction equipment in the vacant lot across the street and having dirt clod fights…. I even enjoyed yardwork (except raking around the magnolias – if you’ve ever done it, you understand) and weeding the garden. Then, as an adult, I started growing tomatoes and a few annuals on the patio and, ultimately, began a garden of my own.
Now, it would be more generous than accurate to refer to myself as a “gardener”. I still like playing in the dirt, and I like plants – especially watching them grow and thrive. Put the two together and you’re gardening. Houseplants, flowering shrubs, perennials, bulbs, vegetables; doesn’t matter.
I’ve had some awesome successes – many of which were accidental, like the beautiful, healthy ficus I started by jamming a snipped branch into a pot of dirt – and some major disappointments, like the loss of 80-some irises last summer. I’ve spent a lot of time online and have even spoken with a couple Master Gardeners from the local County Extension Office to try to figure out what went wrong on that one.
But I digress.
A few years ago, I was given a put-it-together-yo-damn-self greenhouse for my birthday. At the time, my back yard was heavily wooded, so it remained unused, in boxes in the shed collecting dust and some brownish markings, the origins of which I’d rather not ponder. Well, this year brings me a new house with a more suitable back yard, so it went up Tuesday. (Note to manufacturer: four hours, my dimpled fanny)
Anyway, the greenhouse is up, stocked, and ready for action. I’ll start germinating seeds this weekend after this most recent cold wave passes… which brings me to what I planned to write about. I’ve decided to impart some of my hard-earned, tried and true gardening wisdom to you, dear reader.
First, not only is gardening good exercise, but fruit and vegetables (tomatoes come immediately to mind) taste SO much better than those you can find in a store, and growing your own – especially from a pack of seeds – can have a welcome effect on both your psyche and your grocery bill!
For instance, blueberries. At stores around here, you can pick up a pint of the superfood for anywhere between $3 – 5. Or you can plant your own at about the same price for a bare-root bush and never pay for them again. A mature bush (3 years or more) with ample sunlight can yield up to 10 pounds per year. Ka-CHING! And they’re fairly low maintenance, acid-loving bushes, so treat ‘em like you would an azalea: plant in acidic soil about 4-5’ apart, mulch with pine bark or aged straw, and hit ‘em with azalea fertilizer. Unlike azaleas, though, they prefer as much sun as you can give them. And they do cross-pollinate so plant a couple – 1 bush per person is recommended. They’re also attractive, with blossoms in the spring, fruit in summer, and pretty fall foliage. Just remember to pick up some bird netting.
Another favorite of mine – cantaloupe. Again, not cheap at $2.50 – 4.50 each. In the summer I could eat the National Debt in ice-cold cantaloupe! Some people have had tremendous success with seeds harvested from store-bought fruit, but these melons are generally hybrids so it’s a crap shoot whether – and what – they bear. Save yourself the anxiety and just buy a pack of seeds. Cantaloupes, like squash, watermelons, and cucumbers, can take up a lot of space – something like 30 – 40 square feet per plant. But fear not, city gardeners, you can grow all these (well, maybe not watermelons) on trellises, a vertical section of lattice, and all kinds of wonderful space-saving options! The only downside is waiting the 90 days or so from germination to harvest and, since they need warmer soil temps to germinate, you don’t see the fruits of your labor (yeah, I cringed too) until early August.
I guess you can tell that this is a topic dear to my heart, and that I could just go on and on AND ON about it, so a few quick tips and I’ll wrap this up.
- Green (bush) beans – Harvest will only last for about 2-3 weeks, so for a continuous harvest, sow seeds every 2-3 weeks. Soak them for an hour or so before planting, and direct sow, as they really don’t transplant well.
- Whatever you decide to grow, consider marigolds or other companion plants to keep the bugs from doing the harvesting.
- And another great cost saver is to use the
cardboard rolls from toilet paper and paper towels as free, biodegradable starter pots.
Some really useful links:
Burpee growing calendar
North Carolina Cooperative Extension