Writing Lessons from the Garden

I lay claim to the title Professional Writer because I make an income from selling my articles and books.  I am also an amateur gardener: because I do NOT make any income from it.  I had once considered selling excess produce at the local Farmers Market, but that would mean getting up quite early on Saturdays and trundling a truckload of veggies over to a parking lot where I would HOPE that people would be willing to exchange cash for foodstuffs.  That lost its appeal once that ‘getting up early on Saturday’ thing became a tangible reality.  Still I have learned some lessons from gardening that apply well to other areas of life, even life as a writer.

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Continue reading “Writing Lessons from the Garden”

Herbal Cures From Your Garden

I’ve been meaning to write an article about common herbal garden items that have healthful benefits beyond their vitamins and minerals.  Now that spring is upon us and the garden is coming along nicely it’s time I got around to that.

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Growing herbs has many advantages and takes very little space.  You can grow 16 different herbs in a 4’ x 4’ raised bed garden.  You may need to pot some plants: like mint, which is wildly invasive, but you can set the pot down into your bed if you want to keep them all in one place. Continue reading “Herbal Cures From Your Garden”

Planting Potatoes

I spent most of the day yesterday putting in my potatoes. Well… half of my taters. I planted two bo[;anting, potatoes, gardening, raised bedsxes in Yukon Gold as my early crop. Next month I will plant another two boxes in Russets as my main crop.  But before planting them I had to get the boxes ready.

To hold potatoes I need a double-depth box (2 2×8’s stacked) that I fill half-way with soil. To do this I have bottomless boxes that are used as the second level and are held in place on top of a regular box with pocket hole screws.  These screws can be backed out and the second level moved from box to box as I rotate crops each year.  I mixed 1½ pounds of composted chicken manure into the soil of each box to enrich the soil.

Then I used a modified Stout method of planting. The Stout method sows the potatoes on top of the soil then covers them with a thick layer of straw mulch. Regular planting puts them down about 3” then mounds dirt up around the stalks as they grow to keep the tubers covered. I plant my taters an inch or so deep, then 1½” of mulch on top — as a start. As I plant them, I mark the locations with a craft stick just behind the seed-spud – careful not to stab it!

planting, potatoes, gardening, raised beds  I planted the box in a checker-board fashion with 8 cells as potato and 8 cells as bush style green beans. I put 1½” of mulch over the potato cells – leaving a dimple over the potato for the shoot to rise through.  No mulch on the beans yet; there are 9 bean seeds per cell, I’ll wait for them to sprout and get a little size to them before mulching to discourage weeds and retain moisture – I don’t want to discourage my beans.  As the potato plants get tall (12″ or so) , I’ll mound up more mulch around the stalks to keep the tubers that will grow from them covered.  Sunlight makes the taters turn green and toxic. The mulch makes it easy to reach in and pull out young taters as they get to be golf ball sized. The deeper spuds will get large and be harvested later.

The white grid-like thing is one of two planting guides that I made from PVC pipe fittings; this one helps me plant things 1 or 9 plants to a cell, the other is made to plant 4 or 16 plants per cell (it’s made as 4 quarters, 16 get 4 plants in each quarter – I just eyeball them).  These take care of all the common planting schemes in the square foot gardening method.

My late crop potatoes will be co-planted with black beans. The late crop will be allowed to grow undisturbed for larger spuds, but I’ll use the same planting method. (NOTE: this co-planting scheme did NOT work out.  Here’s why.)

It rained last night, so I’m off to a good start – as long as the frosts are over with; that would hurt the bean seeds.  Since it is early April now the frosts should be done (here in Tennessee) but… ya just never know these days!

First Day of Spring?

Originally published Mar. 21, 2013 by Grit Magazine

I arrived at work at 7:30 AM, following a grueling 150 foot commute.  The traffic was terrible.  Normally both dogs march along shoulder to shoulder at the ends of their leashes.  I tell Cochise, “Play yard,” or “Home” or “Mail box”, or (his least favorite) “Work” and he heads off in the right direction.  I tell Blondie, “Stay with Cochise” and she obediently strides along beside him wherever he goes.  Normally, but not today.  Today I’d started the pickup truck earlier to warm it up before Marie headed into town and her work.  Blondie really, really wanted to go for a ride; so when we came down the steps she was intent on going in that direction.  Cochise smelled something fascinating down in the yard and really, really wanted to go that way to check it out.  So they strained in opposite directions, neither one in the direction I needed to go.  We worked it out eventually, but it was a disorganized swirl instead of the usual orderly parade.

Yesterday was the official first day of spring.  It is cold and foggy this morning.  There is a possibility of snow.  I was wondering what happened, when I remembered something I saw at the Source of All Wisdom (Facebook), “The first day of spring and the first spring day are not necessarily the same, and can be separated by as much as a month.”  I’m glad now that I didn’t put my potatoes in their garden boxes last weekend, I’ll do that next weekend.  But I had planned on working at opening the garden for summer session this week.

The winter gardening session was disappointing; it was too wet and cold for much of what I grew.  Still, we did get a fair bit of lettuce (until it got crushed by condensation that froze into ice on the inside of the greenhouse) spinach, beet tops, onion greens, garlic greens, carrot tops, as well as the last of the summer’s carrot roots.  I got enough Brussels sprouts for one meal – but that is the best I’ve ever done with these sprouts; normally the looper worms gut the plants and kill them in days.  By using a greenhouse vented with window screen I kept the moths away in the fall so the plants had a chance to grow to maturity for once.  I had to cover the top vent with plastic after a particularly wet spell practically drowned them out as well.

The Swiss chard is just now getting any size to it.  I’ll get one decent harvest from that when I pull it up to replant the box with something else.

On the positive side, our local Lowe’s store now carries composted chicken manure.  That will help in rejuvenating the soil in my boxes.  I used composted cow manure last year with disappointing results.  Slowly, very slowly, I’m learning what works.