Since we opened our Wild Birds Unlimited shop in August 2003, my gardening activities have been essentially eliminated. It's amazing how much time a retail store demands. I used to grow vegetables, annuals, and perennials, all started from seed in a nice 8' x 12' hobby greenhouse. The greenhouse was all decked out with a heating mat for seed starting, grow light, and propane-fired mini-stove as a heat source.
I was a square-foot vegetable gardener, with nine 4' x 4' beds carefully planned out each year to produce mostly tomatoes and sweet red peppers, but also lettuce, onions, garlic, shallots, beans, cilantro, and more. Those nine beds are now over grown and weed-filled.
I added perennials to my yard every year and provided bursts of color with annuals in containers all around the deck and in window boxes. Every fall, I'd plant hundreds of spring-blooming bulbs, mostly daffodils, but also crocus (for that super early bloom), grape hyacinth, squill and more.
But I haven't done much (anything?) in years other than buying some annuals and putting them in the window boxes but I wanted to ease myself back into gardening. And I knew I needed to take it slow and not dream bigger than I had time to accomplish it.
I started last fall, getting over 300 bulbs in the ground. I've already enjoyed the low-growing iris I planted and the narcissus mix is still blooming now. I think I've lost some of the others to chipmunks and voles because the tulips and allium have failed to show up.
I also wanted to start a small vegetable garden. Key word: SMALL. Since I was comfortable with the square foot gardening concept, I went in that direction. I started fresh with 2 new black plastic 3' x 3' raised beds from Gardeners Supply Company, and I placed them at the end of the yard, rather than further away in the lower yard as in years passed.
I got on the Gardeners Supply website and used their Kitchen Garden Planting tool to produce a planting map for my 2 new beds. I used to do this on graph paper, but this online tool made it easier. With it, I planned my garden of peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, basil, and cilantro.
I bought the seeds for lettuce, spinach, basil and cilantro, and onion and garlic sets at a local garden center. I also picked up some (unplanned for) shallots. My brother-in-law will be a grateful recipient of the shallot harvest.
Then I ordered pepper and tomato plants from Burpee. I wanted to grow peppers that would mature to sweet red in our shorter growing season, and I had hoped to get grape tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, and tomatoes for salsa. But I had to make some compromises since Burpee only sells plants in groups of 3 (too many for the variety I wanted) so I ended up with one of their "collections". Those plants will arrive later this month for planting in late May (I'm in zone 4 and our last frost date is May 31).
I prepared the beds by digging down about one foot into our sandy sandy soil. It is barely "soil" but almost pure sand, so I removed the sand and backfilled the boxes with 2-3" layers each of compost, manure, peat, and vermiculite. They look gorgeous!
I will install a drip irrigation system from the system that used to water my old raised beds. I haven't gotten around to that yet, but didn't want that to stop me from getting some frost-hardy seeds into the ground.
So yesterday I planted the mesclun mix and spinach as well as the onion, garlic, and shallot sets. I used slats from an old plastic mini-blind to label the squares. And since I have 2-3 cottontails in the yard, I also put a pop-up net over the entire bed.
I'm looking forward to the arrival of my tomato and pepper plants in 2 or 3 weeks and will have to resist the temptation to plant them if they arrive early. After all, it is zone 4 here and I am still running the pellet stove to warm the house during the day!
Check back for periodic updates on my Return to the Garden.