May=Garden Time

No, this is not my garden today, but last fall. Back a year ago now when I first moved into this small house I envisioned it surrounded by flowers. I had to work hard initially to ensure that happened and I blogged about my method, calling it “pioneer gardening.” That’s what you do when the previous tenants of a rental house have little or no interest or enthusiasm for growing flowers and vegetables like I do. Thankfully I did the hard work last May so now I can just improve the soil a bit and rearrange some planting areas, pull some weeds and I’m pretty much good to go.

Back in Ketchum, ID, the first thing I’d plant were peas. They seem to like the cold and would shrug off a little late snow or a frosty night here and there. Last May I skipped the peas entirely as I was very worried about the wild rabbits eating the seedlings before they even had a chance. But that was last May and now I’ve had time to live with the rabbits a season and rabbit-proof my fenced back yard. The photo above is one of three planting areas for peas, each small and offering vertical support. Around the front of the peas will be sunny so I’ll probably wait for the end of the month and drop in some heat-loving food plants like eggplants and peppers.

This is the way I start my salad plants, I sprinkle a few seeds (then cover with fine soil) of maybe half a dozen different edible salad-type varieties for what’s called a “cutting” mix. You keep cutting the leaves while they’re small (2 or 3 inches) until the plant starts to go to seed. Then you pull it out. Here I can discern arugula, spinach and some Russian kale. These were planted before that last cold spell and snow event we had a week ago and they survived.

To prepare the ground I add fresh soil amendments, for example from Ace I bought a product called “peat and sheep” and some organic compost. The soil here tends to be too alkaline so a little acid, as found in peat, is balancing. I hoping the sheep means sheep manure. Anyway, I apply maybe an inch layer of a combination of the two and then turn the soil with a trowel mixing the new with the old. I cheer every time I see an earthworm and treat them kindly. They are indicators of decent soil and if you can keep them around they will continue to make it better with their “castings.”

Here you can see all three of the pea planting areas. The one on the far right is new and there are mixed salad plantings on either side of it. This bed gets morning shade. Figured the salad plants might appreciate that. Last summer I underestimated the intensity of the New Mexico sun here at 7,200 feet and closer to the equator than Idaho. I thought my salad plants wanted sun. Got that wrong. The bed just to the left will be home to something that likes it hotter. Mediterranean herbs would work, sweet basil, peppers. I’ve planted chard in that back bed just in front of those onions (with sun and shade).

Now the front area, which faces south and is backed up by the structure of the house I reserve for the plants that really like the heat, such as tomatoes. Last year I grew zucchini, potatoes and lemon cucumbers there and the rabbits were not interested in any of those crops.

Here’s how the front garden looks now. I’ve pulled the weeds, added the soil amendments and am starting to water periodically just as though there were flower seeds planted. I do this for two reasons: one, there might be seeds in the soil from last year’s flowers and I want them to germinate and, two, the soil needs a degree of moisture in order to keep all the life there thriving, all the micro-organisms and the worms. Despite my amendments this soil is sandy and doesn’t hold moisture well so I have to pay attention to watering it.

If you look closely you can see a few mounds of green here and there. Those are blue flax, a wild flower that I’ve had success with in Idaho. I introduced it here with seed last May and it seems to have overwintered well. A few plants have started blooming in the morning with simple 1″ blue flowers that fade by afternoon. Best of luck with your garden.