Garden planning may be the best part of gardening…

It is January 7, 2010, and we woke this morning to a lovely layer of fluffy snow, and the promise of more to come in the next day. Is this the ideal day to start planning my garden? No! We started that project last fall and had our first official discussion about the direction of the vegetable garden on December 20th! I know when it was because my husband and I were in Chicago and went out to dinner to Leona’s where they have these terrific little trivia cards on the table. I picked one up and said, “Are you ready for the smackdown?” To which my husband replied, “I thought we would talk about the vegetable garden.” He will discuss anything to get out of playing trivia!

So, we started the big discussion, what are we going to do with the north end of the garden? Our vegetable garden is actually located on my parents’ farm, because our yard is too small and shady for the (overly ambitious) vegetable garden that we plant each year. The yard area of the farm has very sandy soil, particularly in the northern end. Our cantaloupes were a disaster, not only did we plant them late, not one of them got large or ripe enough to eat. Surely, a husband and wife who each have a degree in horticulture and my two lifelong farmer parents should be able to make a better effort!

Last year we did add two dump trailers full of composted horse manure to the garden, but I think the north end was missed and we are talking about a garden which measures approximately 30’x80’. So this year, what shall we do? Definitely add more mushroom compost, and I think the melons will get moved farther south into the heavier ground, maybe moving the peppers into the spot of the melons, we know that peppers like it hot and drier.

Here is a neat trick that I saw on the PBS show “Cultivating Life”, we record all episodes on the DVR, I can watch them all year, even if I was at work when it aired. Prepare your soil by hand or roto tilling. Lay out some weed barrier fabric, preferably a heavy one like we sell at Tholens’-Dewitt Pro5. This year I want 2 rows compiled of red, green, and yellow bells and a few hot peppers to make salsa, so I am going to use a 30’ piece of 3’ width. Put the fabric down and use some fabric staples to hold it tight to the ground. Then take a small canister torch and burn a hole every 18”, big enough to set your transplant into. Plant your pepper, and I think I will use some soaker hose along the plants. The black fabric will help the soil heat up faster in the spring (since peppers like lots of heat) and it will make 2 more rows that we don’t have to till between or hoe! That makes me VERY happy!

I am also excited about the success that I had with my green beans last year. When my niece and I planted them, before we lifted the string (so I could remember where the row was located) we laid down and “stapled” some soaker hose along the row. Once a week my husband would turn on the soaker for an hour or so, and we had the nicest beans, with no mildew, or weeds between the rows, because the water was going just where we needed it!

I can’t wait to tell you all about the garden that I envision, and I probably will go on later about the “Tomato Problem” and the beauty of leaf lettuce. I hope that you will read this and you will start to plan your garden too, because I think that half the fun of gardening or maybe the vast majority of the fun is in the planning! Very soon we will receive our new line of organic heirloom seeds from Baker Seeds, which we are very excited about! So stop in the store, we are starting to unpack all our seed starting supplies, fertilizers, etc. We look forward to seeing you!

Naturally yours,

Colleen Nelson

B.S. Ornamental Horticulture, University of Illinois

Gardening Enthusiast

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