Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ideal Spring: The Gamble of Vegetables in Washington

As previously stated, I managed to pull together a Garden this year, which I haven't been able to do for several years.

I tilled in my compost and planted all of my seeds in the same day, the first weekend after the last frosty morning. There is a calculated risk involved with planting so close to the frost, but most seeds won't be damaged by freezing temperatures, you only have to worry about that after the sprouts actually come up.

Usually to avoid this risk, but still get your garden started in time, you can sprout your vegetables indoors, or in a greenhouse. However, the potential for shock when you transplant your sprouts is high, so it's imperative that you keep the same soil and light conditions in both your sprouting location inside and the future home outside. Some vegetables, such as corn, are temperamental, even with very careful transplants. Others like beans will thrive no matter what condition changes you put them through.

Anyway, this May turned out to be perfect for sprouting seeds, the morning frost disappeared instantly, as it usually does in Western Washington, and we experienced record rainfall in the first two weeks of May. In order to sprout, most seeds need even temperatures above 50 degrees and a lot of moisture. Normally, the moisture of the soil when sprouting occurs is so high that an adult plant of the same species would be unable to survive. After the rain, we had two very warm weeks, with overcast nights, keeping the temperature higher. By Memorial Day, all of my corn, beans, cucumbers and onions had sprouted. Two weeks later, the beets and cucumbers came up too. I haven't seen any pumpkin sprouts yet, and I don't know if I ever will, because the last row, in which I placed the pumpkins, is just a little too shady.

Next year I plan to expand my garden and move it over a few rows to increase the amount of sun I can absorb.

I placed the three rows of corn on the side of the garden that receives the most sun, since corn thrives on bright, hot days, as long as it has an ample water supply. There is a saying to help you track the progress of your corn which goes "Knee High by the Fourth of July" of course, meaning that if your stocks are knee high before the beginning of July, they should mature in time to provide a good crop in the fall. If you don't reach that goal, all is not lost, but you probably won't get much produce before it is too cold in the fall.

A clear indicator of how unusually good our growing season has been this year, is that most of my corn stocks reached knee height in early June, and are continuing to grow. If the moderately warm weather can team up with a few good rainstorms, I hope to be able to get a couple of harvests in before it's too late.

The next row is cut in half, filled with beets and carrots, being tubers, they also like the light and heat. The carrots are doing very well, and the beats are coming along at a fair pace. You can't see the beets in this picture because they are beyond the two rocks at the end of my carrot row.

After that I have my cucumbers and beans, which prefer to have a little cool shade. They all sprouted very quickly, but have not been very fast to grow. I put up some wire fencing to use as a trellis to keep them from trying to take over the whole garden at ground level. The cucumbers are hard to see because they don't start out as leafy as the beans do, so they are currently just leafless stocks, sticking out of the ground.

In addition to the vegetable gardening, I've been sprouting apple trees since sometime last year. I love gala apples (but only before they turn pithy), so I've been germinating and growing their seeds. My yard is more than large enough to hold a large orchard, so I would like to get a few more fruit trees. Not only do they provide fruit, but they provide shade for the grass to grow in and fertilizer, both from the leftover fruit and from the droppings left by the nearby bird population.

Last year I was able to get two prominent seedlings. I placed the larger of the two in the back yard near the garden, and have planted the smaller tree in the front. I have them both protected by tomato cages right now to prevent any accidental damage while they are still in their first year. I have two first year seedlings that I sprouted last winter which I hope to be able to plant next year and I already have a batch of new seeds germinating for next year. If I can pull it off, I'd like to have several in my front yard, because the direct sunlight tends to bake the grass unless I water it a lot. Since I hate to waste potable water on something as vane as a green lawn (as much as I like having a beautiful green lawn) I'd rather avoid doing that, so growing some fruit bearing trees is an ideal way to improve the whole situation.

Since taking this picture, this larger seedling is almost to the top of the pictured tomato cage.

As part of clearing out my garden, I was able to take out a majority of the blackberry bushes that had overgrown that section of my yard. In doing this, I also uncovered the grape vine shown behind me in the first picture. Last year the vine produced a lot of grapes, but because it was so overgrown by blackberry bushes, it did not get enough light to ripen. I'm hoping that the new-found freedom will give it enough light to ripen this year.

Next year I plan to cut it all the way back and tie it up to help it out some more and finish off the last of the blackberries.

For anyone who who hasn't had a garden before, but is thinking about starting one, I know how daunting it seems, but let me assure you that after the initial set up, the two or three hours per week that you give to your garden will yield you the best fruits and vegetables you will have in your life. If I had the time, I would till up most of my backyard just so that I could consume and share more of the fruits of my own labor.

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