One of the best parts of Spring, and even the late weeks of winter, is getting ready for the garden. We have not been gardening for very long, only 1 year, but I love it. We started our garden last year, kind of on a whim, and had some successes and some failures, but I was able to learn from them and this year I took on the monumental task of tripling our garden space. Gardening to me is not just growing some plants, it is feeding my family good wholesome food from our own backyard, it is growing food that I know is free of chemicals, it is non-GMO, and most of all it is fresh. My garden is a constant reminder of why we want to get out of the city and out to the country where we have the space to expand, the room to be free, and most of all we have more time to be together as a family. Our garden, although not perfect, is representative of our dreams.

Onions in Raised Bed Garden
This is our first attempt at growing onions in the 55-gallon barrel bed

                I started planning for this years’ garden before last years garden was even over, and throughout the winter the plans changed, but as I got closer to seed buying time the plans started to solidify, and the rush was on. When I started planning this years’ garden back in June of last year I knew there was a ton of things I was going to need to buy, but I have always been a procrastinator, so here it was February and I had not bought a single thing that I needed for this year yet, and I still don’t have everything, so the buying spree began. There are very few stores I like going to, but the farm store and the home improvement stores are ones that I could go to and spend millions, and they were the 2 stores that I needed to go and buy my stuff. First things first, I needed to be able to start my seeds for the year and after last years failure with leggy plants I knew lights were going to be a necessity, and to go along with those lights I would need shelves and trays to get everything going. Since we are in the process of becoming debt free there was no way I was going to be able to get some HPS lights or anything like that, so I went to Menards and got some cheapo 4’ fluorescent fixtures and bulbs and they also had some plastic shelving on sale for a pretty good price so I filled the cart and off to the house I went. Now, Casey wasn’t really aware of how much I was going to be getting so imagine her surprise when I walked in with enough stuff to fill our whole kitchen, I went into more detail in the last post about the price of things, so if you want to check that out visit the “Gardening is NOT Cheap” post.  All of this leads to my favorite part of the spring gardening season, sowing the seeds to germinate.

                Starting my own seeds not only saves a ton of money over buying plant starts from the store, but it is the most gratifying things to watch. Watching the seedlings emerge from the soil and growing gives me an amazing sense of accomplishment, but it all starts with doing things the right way to begin with. I have done a ton of internet browsing to find the best soil or seed starting mixture to use for my seedlings, but who knows where to really begin with all the different options like peat moss, vermiculite, potting soil, organic, non-organic, compost, and ratios to do, my mind was blown, so I looked into the best commercially available starting mix, and I decided on using Pro Mix Organic to start my seeds in, and it has been amazing for me. I started my seeds in 1801 inserts this year because, as with most city folk, I have a full-time job that takes up a good portion of my day, so transplanting seedlings from plug trays to larger inserts would have been a failure point for me. I reused the trays I bought last year first and then after running out I got online and bought a ton more, only to use 2 inserts from the whole giant order I made, but I got a really good deal on them by buying them in bulk, so I did. Fast forward a couple weeks and I have seedlings germinated, more seeds being planted, and most of my shelves are already full with more plants to start. Since it is warm enough to keep them outside during the day, we started moving them to the greenhouse in the morning.

Greenhouse with Tomatoes and Peppers
Our small greenhouse with Amish Paste Tomatoes, Green Bell Peppers, Jalapenos, and Cayenne Peppers

                If you are serious about gardening and like to start your own seeds a greenhouse is a must have. Our greenhouse is small, meant to be on a patio, but it gets some plants out side and off the kitchen table while we start more inside under the lights. Getting a greenhouse was a scary thought for me at first, but after I watched a couple videos they’re really only as complicated as you make them, and with mine being as small as it is, it’s as simple as rolling the door up during the day so it doesn’t get too hot. If it wasn’t for the greenhouse, I wouldn’t have been able to properly start even half of what we started this year and that, to me, was unacceptable. I aspire to have a full size greenhouse with a radiantly heated floor in the future to be able to start more seedlings with much less stress of bringing them in at night when it gets too cold outside, but we need to have dreams to work toward, and that is a dream I WILL have come true. Our greenhouse is used as early as possible for the cold weather plants like the broccoli and lettuce and I will stop using it as soon as all the plants are in the ground, but it is an invaluable resource to have for any garden. Having the greenhouse empty only means that the plants are in the ground and the season is fully underway.

Ready to plant garden with weed barrier
Our tomato and pepper area of the garden ready to plant, weed barrier prevents weeds from growing around the plants and in the walkways.

                Our garden is not very big by any means, but I am planting very intensively this year to maximize the space that we do have. I am planting nearly everything with 12” spacing, even our tomatoes, which might end up being a huge mistake, but If it is it will be a learning experience. We have some “raised beds”, which are just reused things like an old concrete sink, and a 55-gallon barrel cut in half, but most of the garden is truly in the ground. I planted my broccoli in the ground back in the beginning of April and covered it with a low tunnel to protect it from the frost and the cabbage worms, and it is now May 19th and it is producing crowns already!!! Last year I was completely unsuccessful at growing broccoli because I planted it way too late and it bolted, but this year, after learning that hard lesson, we have broccoli and will reap the benefits of the season. Casey also planted our carrots in April, directly in the ground, and they are doing fairly well so far (I think), but we won’t really know until its time to harvest them. I have tomatoes, green bell peppers, jalapenos, and cayenne peppers that still need to go in the ground, but with all the rain we have been getting I am about 2 weeks behind. I use a secret learned from my favorite YouTube channel, “Living Traditions Homestead”, to get some massive plants right out of the gate. Rabbit manure. It worked so well last year that my tomatoes got twice the size as the ones I gave my parents and they used poison, I mean Miracle Grow, on theirs. The rabbit manure can be directly added to the bottom of the hole and the transplant sat directly on top of it and it releases nitrogen and other nutrients to the plant and the soil throughout the year as it breaks down. I use this for every plant that I put in the ground, and I even mixed some in the soil in the raised beds.

Broccoli Crown Beginning
This is our first Broccoli crown of 2019

                This is as far as we have gotten for this year so far, and there is still a ton of work left to do, but with June approaching the work needs to get done. I will be busy in the garden all week getting the rest of the plants in the ground, the last piece of fence up, and the greenhouse put away, but in the end the exhaustion now will be worth it 100% throughout the summer and fall as we harvest the food we have planted. Through out the summer I will give you some updates on the garden and how we are doing with it, but for now Mother Nature will take it into her hands, with some help from me, to nurture it into a small food paradise.

                Until next time,

                                (we’re lame and haven’t come up with anything still)

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