My garden is warming up for a sprint into summer. Hops and tomatoes seem to be growing inches every day and the first lettuce is nearly ready to make its way into my lunch. Every morning, something new appears – this morning it was mature leaves on the radishes. Radishes are exceptionally rewarding to grow – they take a little water, a lot of sun, and in 30 days you have sweet, delicate roots bursting with zest and ready to be crunched in a salad or on bread with butter (my personal favorite). After two attempts, my melons were large enough to plant out this week. I am finding it hard to get over the short growing season. It seems like only last week I was debating the benefits of planting early and worrying about frost, but yesterday the temperature reached a sweltering 94° and I sat wilting inside and worrying about the state of my garden. Of course, the plants are much more adapted to the heat than I am and they thrived in the oppressive sun while I sweated like a glass of ice in what little shade I could find.
This morning I was greeted with an enormous Oriental poppy, blooming a deep red in a sea of purple salvia. The poppy was one of the first plants to green up this spring under several feet of snow, but it took its time to bloom – sending up to flower stalks 4 feet tall with plump heads waiting to bloom. And it waited, biding its time, until the weather, temperature, time of day, time of year, and moon phase converged and the protective sepals flung themselves open and the deep red petals unfurled themselves like the wings of a damp and newly hatched butterfly – reaching it’s royal purple stamens toward the sun.
A family of bluebirds is nesting in a nest box on our fence this year. So far they seem friendly enough, but our neighbors had a much less congenial pair last year. Trips to water the garden were fraught with danger. It would start innocently enough with a few chirps from the male – warning noises to be sure – but soon the chirps would turn to squawking as the paranoid bird launched itself into the air – dive bombing and circling. Our poor neighbor would send her dog out to run interference while she hurried past under a large hat to the safety of the garden. Hopefully our bluebirds are not related.
As the days get warmer I am looking forward to the first harvests of tomatoes. The smell of the plants makes me salivate just thinking of the tomato and goat cheese salads that await me in the coming months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.