Garden | Early Spring Planning

Happy Spring! With the seasons changing here in the North, I have been so inspired to start planning my summer garden. The growing season here is only about 100 days, so there is plenty of time to plan and prepare so I hit the ground running in May after (hopefully) there won’t be any more killing frosts. Depending on which USDA zone you look at, my garden is either in 4B or 5A. I do live on a south facing hill side, so I get the full impact of the warming sun and avoid the bitterly cold inversion layer that settles into the valley below. There can often be a 10° temperature difference between my house and the river as the cold air settles into the valley below.

Snow clouds descending down Red Canyon

Snow clouds descending down Red Canyon

My husband looked up our property on the National Cooperative Soil Survey. I have taken a soil science class so I am familiar with the classification and nomenclature given, but if you’re new to soil naming, Google is your best friend. This is what we found:

Soil Classification: Thermopolis-Sinkson Association

  • I searched this online and learned that the Thermopolis soil type (the part of the association found on my property) is a reddish brown loam, 15 inches thick, moderate permeability, low water availability, medium to rapid runoff, and severe hazard of erosion. 

Soil Description: Loamy mixed calcareous superactive frigid shallow ustic torriorthents (whew!)

  • Loamy describes the amount of sand, silt, and clay in a soil – generally speaking, this has more silt than sand or clay.
  • Mixed calcareous  describes the parent material (bedrock) as being high in limestone – this type is sometimes alkaline in pH. The pH listed for this soil type is ~7.9 which is alkaline.
  • Superactive means they swell when wet and shrink when dry
  • Frigid soil has a mean annual temperature less than 8°C, among other things
  • Ustic soil refers to the available moisture during the growing season. In this case it is is limited
  • Torriorthents are highly erodible and exhibit cracks in the soil (I believe)

Anyway, this basically tells me that I have a highly erosive soil that has an alkaline pH and – when enough water is present – is pretty good for growing. Since not much grows here, there is very little organic material so I need to supplement.

Several things are going into my garden planning. I have a rampant deer population in my neighborhood, so I have been searching for “deer tolerant” plants. This means that the deer may nibble, but they won’t brows it back to dusty nubs. These type of plants can recover from occasional browsing. Also, our water is on a cistern so I’m looking for drought tolerant plants. There are many options available, and I have been looking into a drip irrigation system to minimize water use. Ground cover plants are another great option since they shade and cover the soil, keeping it moist longer. Wind breaks also help in my area to reduce the evaporation of water form the soil.

To help with this planning, I have started a garden journal. I did some research about the bare minimum things that make a garden journal effective, and then altered to suit my needs. I used a spiral bound notebook and added some stick-on tabs for different sections. The following is a list of some of the items I have included:

  • Temperature – I track the high and low temperature every day both outside and in the laundry room where I have started my seedlings. This will help me in future years to look back and notice trends and the approximate dates when temperatures start to change 
  • Precipitation – We finally bought a rain gauge and mounted it on the deck. We also measure snow accumulation which will later be converted to rainfall inches
  • Garden sketches – I sketched out what was already in place and also use it to plan how I will organize my vegetable garden and future flower beds around the house
  • Daily notes – I use this to mark wildlife observations, when certain plants emerge, when I last watered, etc
  • Planting schedule – I plan to add a small calendar to mark when certain activities need to be accomplished. Additionally, I take copious notes as to when I started seeds, when I expect to transplant, when I expect fruit, I drew out color-coordinated diagrams of which seeds are in which seed-tray and how long they should take to germinate.
  • Research – I have a section for research notes: how to plant and care for tomatoes, when to start certain seeds outdoors, ideas for plant species based on my requirements (drought tolerant, deer tolerant, shade or sun, etc.) This is not necessarily a section, but I just add it in with the daily notes.
  • To Do list and Projects – I have a running list of things that need to be done outside (fix vegetable garden fence, repair bluebird houses, call contractor to regravel driveway, etc.) and I happily cross them off when they get done!
  • Contacts – Name, phone number, and address of nurseries, landscaping companies, local extension office, contractors, etc.
High and low daily temperature records

High and low daily temperature records

Garden plan with structures and plants

Garden plan with structures and plants

Diagrams of seedling trays with germination dates and notes

Diagrams of seedling trays with germination dates and notes

Research notes on tomato planting

Research notes on tomato planting

I have also started seedlings! I had several seedling trays from last year that I washed to sanitize and dried in the sun. I filled them with a starting medium and added 2-4 seeds per soil pod. The seedling trays have clear plastic lids to maintain humidity and temperature within the trays and to create the best environment for seeds. I will end up sacrificing some of the seeds when I thin, but I would rather have too many sprout than too few. I did learn that the best way to thin is to use tiny scissors (like for embroidery), and snip off the seedlings you wish to remove at the soil level to keep from disturbing the roots of the growing seedlings.

Tomato varieties freshly planted

Tomato varieties freshly planted

Tomato seedlings after 9 days

Tomato seedlings after 9 days

Lupine seedlings after 9 days

Lupine seedlings after 9 days

Our gardening plans this year include quite a bit of general landscaping. We have been working to make our home FireWise which means clearing most of the juniper around the house out to 20 feet and thinning out to 100 feet. The local conservation district is selling native trees and shrubs in lots of 25 plants so we ordered one lot of Golden currant, one lot of Douglas fir, one lot of Pinon pine, and a one gallon Colorado blue spruce, and three one gallon Ponderosa pines. We get to pick those up on April 24.

We visited the local nursery last weekend and the father of the owner (who used to own the nursery himself) gave us a tour of the whole place. They sell everything from fruit trees to hanging plants to native plants; vegetables and seed packets, berries and conifers; they also sell grass seed mix and bulk soil which we will take advantage of. They are really an exceptional resource and start almost everything there from seed. The plants take a little longer to mature, but are all well naturalized to the environment in the high mountains and do very well. We bought several seed packets while we were there, including cantaloupe, pumpkins, radishes, black-eyed Susan’s, and purple cone flower. I will be starting the cantaloupe and pumpkin indoors, and seeding the radishes directly in the garden, as well as direct seeding the flowers. I also collected poppy seeds from the house we lived in last year and will be seeding those directly.

I am so excited to start my other garden projects once this snow that just started melts again. I plan to build a compost pile and add a functioning gate to my vegetable garden, as well as repair the fence that the deer busted through this winter. I would love to build raised beds and arbors in the garden, too, but I also have dreams of moving the vegetable garden so they need to be transportable if I decide to relocate.

The first day of Spring has arrived here with thunder, lightning, snow, sleet, and hail. Such a tumultuous environment I live in! I guess I will curl up with a mug of tea and wait for the thaw.

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