Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seed Catalogs

Some of last year's seed catalogs

January... a cold, icy month that is usually filled with dark, wetly snowy days and nights punctuated with extra quilts. Still, it has two things going for it: my birthday (today!), and the arrival of the annual seed catalogs.

I love going through the catalogs, I admit it. I will soak in hot baths (so hot I look as red as those tomatoes up there!) and pore over the pages, some in color and some in black and white. By my birthday (did I mention that was today?), I have the first draft list of things to go in the garden.

Of course, if I were to go by those first drafts, I'd have to purchase about 25 acres and either a lot of horses and/or mules, or a rather big tractor. And hire some young people to do the work. That first draft is my dream, and I always take at least half of it off my final list. This year, I had to pare it down to a tiny amount, because we no longer have a whole acre for garden (our entire property - which contains circular driveway, garage, 2800+sq.ft. house, and flower garden - is just shy of an acre!). Instead, I am working with an area that is basically 25'x25' in size, and I'm working in raised beds (yet to be built) that are three feet wide and ten feet long each. I'll be using a square foot gardening style, although I'm not entirely adhering to it.

Garden 2012
The major winners this year were tomatoes, cucumbers, and bush beans. These are the three vegetables we decided we could not live without. The fact that we had to purchase canned tomatoes this winter really took its toll on me. I have jars and bands, and only need to pick up the appropriate sized lids and rubbers for them in order to be ready to can this summer's harvest of tomatoes.

The main garden will consist of six raised beds, each 10' long by 3' wide. There will be 5' of space between the beds, allowing us to take the lawn mower through. Some of the beds (notably the back left-most ones) may not get planted, but they will at least get built this year.

Where the raised beds go.
Starting at the front three boxes, the left-most one will contain the tomatoes and beans. I have slated space for three cherry tomato plants, and ten each of paste and meat tomatoes. The remaining 9 square feet are going into a solid line of bush beans, probably Providers, as I've had much success with them in the past. In the middle front box, we'll have shell and snap peas, some beets and cabbage (in the middle as I won't have to get at them until later in the year), and spinach and lettuce. I also have space planned for three zucchini plants and three Delicata squash vines. The right-hand raised bed will contain a whole row of cucumbers (Marketmore, of course, and I found open germinated ones for this year!!), and then acorn squash, carrots, sweet peppers, bunching (green) onions, and some stevia plants.

The back three raised beds are dedicated ones. The left-most will be for a grain of some kind, most likely spelt but perhaps a summer hard wheat. If we feel overwhelmed by the rest of the garden, this box will remain fallow or will have clover planted in it, or might even get the package of wild flowers put into it for cutting. The middle one is for corn, of which I hope to plant two (very different) varieties. We'll see, though. The right raised bed is for potatoes, both regular ones and sweet potatoes. We'll be planting red potatoes this year, as I've found they're highest in fiber and other good things. I might plant an edge of spinach and loose leaf lettuce along each side of the raised bed box, partly because we eat a lot of salad, and partly because it'll look nice. Radishes will also line things here, and will be used as markers elsewhere in the garden.

The lone bed goes over there.
Then, off to the right there will be a lone bed that is 8'x3', and that is my herb bed. I was going to do a spiral but I decided to try the square foot routine for my herbs this year, too. I'm planting Genovese basil, a hearty dill, cilantro, parsley, oregano, and regular chives. That should provide us with most of the herbs we use on a regular basis. We actually use a ton of basil because I like to make pesto from scratch, and you'd be surprised just how much of those leaves you can fit into a two cup measuring cup! The dill is for pickling and for drying (we like dill on everything from chicken and salmon, to put into a delicious sour cream based dip). Parsley and oregano are just staples, and the chives are because I need something oniony to put into the cupboard this year.

Yes, that's a lot of stuff. However, I didn't get in my onions, garlic, patty pan squash, broccoli, cauliflower, or kale. There are unfortunately no plans for turnips, eggplant, or watermelons either. Many of my favorites were left off the list because of space issues, or because we didn't think that we could handle the larger garden on our own. This is, after all, our first year on this homestead. Breaking ground with nothing but a backhoe and a hand-held hoe is probably going to be a lot of work! Hey, at least we have the backhoe, right?

The girl's garden plan.
Beyond the fire pit in the above picture, you can see the childrens' playground (well, part of it). In front of the bush there, a smaller raised bed is going: a 7'x3' bed for the girl twin. She's six years old, going on 25, and she pretty much demanded her own garden bed (this is separate from the flower bed, mind you). She may be a girly-girl, but she's also a green thumb and a farmer at heart. She has four sunflowers, three cherry tomatoes, a melon, a pumpkin, a broccoli, some carrots, some basil and lettuce, dill and garlic chives and oregano, two green peppers, some green beans (bush), a cucumber and a snap pea plant, and a peanut. Those were her choices, having gone seriously through all the seed catalogs and thought about what she likes to eat and "play with" in the garden.

Now that all the fun stuff is done, it's time to figure out when to plant all these things! Some will get started inside, likely in March (tomatoes, for instance), and others will be sown directly into the soil (carrots and beets, spinach and zucchini). I need to know when each has to be planted, and how, so I can put it on our calendar (thank you Google Calendar synched with my Android phone). I'll get an email the day I'm supposed to plant things, so I don't forget! After I have all those dates down pat, I need to make sure I order all the seeds in time for them to be here.

I also have to pull out the seeds I stored last year, either that I got from friends or that I had left over and that were good to sit for another year. They have to be tested to see if they still germinate, and if anything special needs to be done to them, I need to do it.

The world is fine... if cold. We're still in the planning stages. In fact, we're still in the "cutting wood to keep us from freezing" stage! Look for a post on wood cutting soon, from the hubby!