It’s already that time, you guys! That’s how you know spring is almost here…. it’s seed sowing time. I’m so excited to start in on my vegetable garden, I’ve got my grow light out, I’ve got all my books (this and this) on my coffee table and I’ve been madly perusing the Seed Savers Exchange website. But I got a little overwhelmed with where and when, exactly, to start, so last weekend I sat down to talk a little bit with Meredith Shepherd of the DC-based organic home gardening service Love & Carrots and get her advice for starting your own small home garden.
Here are a few of her tips:
- Grow herbs. Meredith advises the best way to get started gardening is to design and grow a small herb garden, especially if you’re a renter. Her favorites are lavender, sweet woodruff, lemon verbena and chives.
- Don’t over water or under water. Read up on what you plant and what kind of soil and water level it needs so you don’t waste your time or drown your plants. (She told me I should be keeping my rosemary separate from the rest of my herbs because it likes it a bit drier.)
- Salad greens can grow in the shade, especially the “cut and come again” varieties. This is handy if you live on a narrow street and don’t have much sunlight.
- The District proper is a plant hardiness zone warmer than the rest of the surrounding DMV area. This is handy to know when you’re trying to figure out when and what to plant.
Overwhelmed? Love & Carrots can help. Meredith’s service offers everything from consulting (a one-time service where she helps you think it all through) to coaching (you set up regular appointments where they teach you everything you need to know, complete with syllabus and notes emailed to you after), or full plant-and-care service done by her staff.
After confessing the way growing a garden makes me feel like I’m sticking it to big agriculture (Monsanto, I’m looking right at you), Meredith agreed. “I feel like I’m bringing back a part of culture,” she said about Love & Carrots. “All our grandparents had gardens, it just makes sense.”
’365.105: The cook’s herb garden’
courtesy of ‘WordRidden’
There are lots of things I think would be cool to do, so I just dive in without proper training. One is growing herbs on the deck. Understandably, my results have been mixed. The potted mint is going great guns, but last year the basil plant that had been visibly shooting up daily as if it inspired Jack and the Beanstalk suddenly turned black, dropped its leaves, and keeled over. No more fresh basil for me.
So when Arlington Adult Education offered a class called Growing Herbs in Containers, I signed up—mostly out of sympathy for the plants. And then I came late to class. When I walked in, instructor Dottie Jacobsen stopped her talk, greeted me, then asked, “What’s your growing situation?” Under the bright lights and many watching eyes, I came clean: “I kill plants.”
And presto! Within two short hours, I had a long list of things I’d done wrong and could easily correct. Since some of my plants did actually survive, this knowledge was inspiring. “Many of my students have gone on to be excessive container gardeners,” Jacobsen reassured us. “They say, ‘it’s a jungle out there.’” What are her tips?
courtesy of ‘adie reed’
With all the snow of late, thinking about starting seeds is probably the last thing on most people’s minds, but we are rapidly approaching the time in which we can start planting things in the ground. We are already a bit past the time to start seeds indoors for certain plants. This doesn’t mean that you can’t, but you’ll not be able to transfer them into the ground at the same time as other plants. Check out the Almanac planting times for Washington DC. There’s also lots of reading material at the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Seedlings by dsb_nola
If you haven’t planted your seedlings yet, this weekend’s just about the perfect time. The weather today’s going to be up in the 70s, and we’re looking at 70s and 80s for the next five days, which means good soil temperatures, excellent conditions for planting. Why does soil temp matter? The higher the soil temperature, the quicker the germination for seeds, and the quicker your existing seedlings adapt to their new environment. With days and days of sun ahead, the only think you’ve really got to worry about is keeping things from drying out. Get out your planting gear and get ready to get hands deep in some loam.
Time to hit up a Garden Store, or a garden section of a bigger store, for some planting mix. If you’ve got containers and soil left over from last year, that’ll work, too, but think about topping that off with a little mulch or mixing in some compost as part of your process. It’s easy to do this in a bucket: dump in last year’s soil, dump in some compost, and mix thoroughly, and then re-pot. Don’t forget to make sure that your containers need drainage. That’s what allows your soil to avoid getting over-watered, and it’s what help carries away some of the plant waste, as well. If yours are clogged, a good wash in the sink is good, and don’t be afraid to put a few extra holes in place.
Find a good place in the sun for this weekend to maximize time in the light, if at all possible. Make sure to check every day that the soil isn’t drying out and caking in these warm temperatures. We’re still in the low-humidity portion of our Spring, which means that ambient moisture isn’t going to play a role in what you’re doing. Get a decent watering can, and maybe use the last of the growth accelerant that came in with your seed pod kit. Definitely won’t go amiss once your new preciouses are in the ground. Don’t forget to set up a climbing structure for those vine and creeper based crops like peas, beans and squash. Direct their growth up and off the ground where at all possible, to avoid spots for rotting.
Read on for Back Yard Gardeners and the Farm Laboratory work.
When last we left our intrepid gardeners, we were all on the path toward clearing up the land and getting ready for garden season. We’ve had some positive developments out at the farm, getting all the soil tilled and turned for planting, and some setbacks at the quarter acre, related to a section of land that turned out to be horrifically root-bound, and so we’ve had to move the garden. But before we go any further, this is a follow-up on the last post about using seeds. It’s time to get planting (truth be told, it was probably time to plant a week or two, but we’ve all been so busy, it’s been hard to write!) and we can worry about land-use later.