Monday, May 16, 2011

Fresh asparagus today. Yum!

Spring? Finally?

Planting season is finally here in USA Zone 5. Time to get ambitious and not forget the basics.

Be frugal. Grow from seed. Trade seeds with friends. Don’t overpay for plants from anywhere.

If you can’t resist the urge to start from plants, and didn’t start your own, spend the extra few dollars at a locally owned farm stand or garden store. Chances are, the proprietor is behind the counter and really appreciates your business.

Amend your soil. In my Clarence, NY area, a dairy farmer dries and bags cow manure, creating a high quality fertilizer for $5 per bag.

You can even go cheaper. Look for a sawmill in your town with excess sawdust of other sources of inexpensive or free organic matter.

This is the third year for my 18-by-25 foot vegetable garden in its current location. Years one and two I worked in three yards of double-screened mulch ($18 from Amherst, NY, loaded in my pickup). I also worked in half a pick-up load of horse manure (free but with a bit more weed-seed).

I also left all the leaves from my yard to rot on the garden in the fall and tilled them in when spring came. I turn the whole thing over once with my trusty spade and once with my 45-year–old Merrytiller (the best thing about it was I garbage picked it.)

This year, I worked in the aforementioned cow manure. My garden soil is luscious. In fact, I just repotted a house plant in some of it. I will use more mulch, sawdust and newspaper, to lay paths in another few weeks. Those paths will decompose and be tilled in next year.

Gardening is a never-ending experiment. Keep trying new things.

Here’s one more: Spend $3 on four tomato plants from that farm stand or grocery. Bring them home and plant them. Direct seed four tomato plants, following planting directions.

You may get an earlier yield for your $3, but total yield will be even by season end and watching the miracle is like raising your own child there is nothing better.

Another nice thing is that psychologically, no one wants to waste anything. Admit it. We’ve all done it. Pay $12 for a flat of vegetable plants. Get home. You can’t resist. You plant them too close together rather than discarding or giving away the extras. Then you end up with a lower yield and a tangled mess of tomato plants.

Grow from seed and you won’t have such worries because the psychological construct is different – you will save seed rather than over plant.

Lastly, as you do anything, keep a diary. Record mundane details like when you -planted and what the weather was like. Make notes of what you added to your soil or how the pH tested when you took it to the Cooperative Extension stand at the town farm market. It will give you an important record you can use for future reference.

Joe Genco is a contributing write for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, home for the Seeds of the Month Club. You can e-mail him at

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