Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Must Resist Overly-Optimistic Garden Fantasies


Trees are budding, flowers are blooming and as I take it all in, I recall my past tendencies toward naïve optimism regarding impending vegetable and herb gardens. I used to love going to the farm and garden centers to pick out green plants that could eventually produce tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and lots of different herbs. I was always careful to select only the strongest, greenest seedlings. Each little dirt filled cup in my cart added to my soon-to-be-garden fantasy.

Seeds from last year's
beans are quickly becoming
this year's bean seedlings. 
The fantasy included seedlings planted exactly four inches apart in neat, perfectly parallel rows. With no weeds in sight, the newly planted seedlings stood tall, reaching for the sun as they seemed to smile at me for giving them such a fertile home. Fantasy-me always smiled back and gave them plenty of water so they would thrive on my fraction-of-an-acre urban farm.

My future garden was a modern-day Eden. Then I’d get to the front of the check out line, at which point my fantasy would begin to disintegrate. When the cashier gave me the total, I was always knocked abruptly into reality. “Are you sure that total is correct? I mean, $68.29 seems like an awful lot for some itty bitty, wilting seedlings.”
           
“Yes, Ma’am. The total, which also includes your gardening tools, tomato stakes and pre-fertilized soil, is correct. Will that be cash or charge?”
           
After years of letting my fantasies get the best of me while depleting our coffers, I have finally learned a few lessons.

Be Patient. Protect Your Cotton Candy and Roller Coaster Funds.
It is never too late to plant a garden. It can, however, be too early. Trying to extend the growing season by getting an early jump on planting only serves to evoke Jack Frost who will, in return, cause a late-season freeze that will kill everything you just broke your back to plant. I’m convinced garden centers put seedlings out early to give us the opportunity to purchase and plant our gardens twice. This tends to double their profits at the same time we’re dipping into our vacation stashes.

Last year's garden before the plants matured 
and choked each other to death, causing the early 
demise of our dream urban farm season.
Use Last Year’s Crop to Seed This Year’s Garden.
The first seedlings to hatch under my high-humidity dome of saturated peat pellets were the ones I’d saved from last year’s harvest. The store-bought seeds eventually poked through, but they weren’t as lush and hearty. Not only will using seeds money, but drying and storing seeds from the garden will also most likely produce stronger plants than store-bought seeds.

Don’t Over-Exuberantly Over Plant.
While it is entirely possible to fit dozens of four-inch seedlings on a relatively small plot of land, they won’t fit quite as well when they reach a mature size. Don’t be like me and think you can grow enough vegetables to share with the neighborhood if you can only fit one more row of lettuce between the cucumbers and tomatoes. Overcrowding kills. I believe I’ve finally got it through my brain that a sparse spring garden will grow into a lush, productive summer garden.

Maybe this year I’ll finally be one of those people who shows up to every gathering with bags of produce to give away so it won’t, heaven forbid, go to waste.

Micki Bare, mother of three, wife, daughter & writer is the author of Thurston T. Turtle children's books. 

Email: mickibare (at) gmail.com
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