April 24, 2013

Spring Gardening

If you want to attract attention to yourself in a garden center, go straight from work wearing your most professional clothes, with bonus points if you're also wearing high heels. 

That describes my look as I walked around a couple local garden centers recently...and I'm fairly certain the employees were thinking "this chick doesn't know anything about gardening."  It worked to my advantage though because they offered to load my potting soil, compost and sphagnum moss into my car for me :)

I was inspired to go straight from work to the garden center after hearing John Raymond speak at an Earth Day event.  He's the former owner of Roots Restaurant and owns a 2-acre farm.  To give you an idea as to how much he grows, he currently has 780 plants in his basement!

Monday's class was the first in a three-part series, which takes you through the gardening process from planting seeds to getting fresh produce on your plate.  The first class focused on garden development, which I definitely need help with.  One of the first tips he mentioned was soil composition, which should be 50% potting soil, 25% compost and 25% sphagnum moss.

I didn't plan to grow anything from seed this year, so I've been waiting until after May 20th (the average last frost date in Wisconsin) to plant, but after hearing John say that lettuces should be outside now because they're very cold tolerant I picked up some seeds and cell planting trays.

John's gardening tips included (some specific to Wisconsin)...
  • Space plants properly, you should only have one tomato plant in a 10 gallon container.
  • Plants need southern exposure, very little can grow on a north facing balcony.
  • The use of Osmocote (a slow release fertilizer) is recommended, which is not organic.
  • Don't plant more than you need, 6-8 tomato plants and 8-10 pepper plants are recommended for a family of 4.
  • Raised beds and fences are important for keeping critters out of your garden.
  • Apply copper sulfate spray at the first sight of blight, do not wait.
  • Heirlooms don't have the same yield as hybrids, buy both.
  • Buy seeds for zones 4 & 5, Johnny's from Maine and Jung's from Wisconsin are recommended.
  • Kids should learn how to plant seeds, get children involved in your garden.  Buy raspberry and/or blueberry plants for kids.
  • Cucumbers should not be planted in a container, and containers should be light in color to keep the roots cool.

We received a little planter in the class along with some parsley seeds, however we could also select other seeds, so I chose Brandywine Tomato.   I have the lettuce outside because supposedly it's ok 4 weeks prior to the last frost and the parsley and tomato seeds are inside.

I received an email from Organic Valley yesterday with tips on starting on herb garden, which is a great way to get started with gardening.  My first year gardening, I only planted herbs and have since added many other edible plants to the mix.

I saw some cute containers for herbs (grown indoors) at Isthmus Green Day in Madison this past weekend.  They were being given away by Goodwill who was there to promote reusing items, and it's an idea they found on Pinterest from A Beautiful Mess who got the idea from Martha Stewart.  

I also picked up two gardening books at Isthmus Green Day.  How to Grow More Vegetables, which was recommended by Wellspring at the gardening class I attended earlier this month, and The Kitchen Gardener's Handbook, which includes recipes, plant profiles & growing tips and seasonal gardening checklists.

I really like both and have been reading them with rapt attention.  It's hard not to devise grandiose plans of a backyard filled with raised beds, but then reality sets in when it comes to the expense and the fact that I will soon be getting a weekly vegetable box from HighCross Farm.  I love gardening but have no desire to give up my CSA membership.


  1. You're ambitious! I've never started from seed and tend to just grab small potted plants from the garden center but if I ever get my act together I should try seeds next year :)

  2. I tried a little container gardening one year, but Koule kept peeing on the tomatoes. ;) I have grand aspirations, though. Someday!

  3. Another thing that people are looking at in seed suppliers is avoiding distributors for Monsanto, see: http://www.wauwatosanow.com/blogs/communityblogs/117703023.html and http://www.garden-of-eatin.com/how-to-avoid-monsanto/ . The first link explains that buying from your local seed company, may not be what it seems and the second is helpful with alternative sources (though I admit to picking up seeds at Walgreens when I'm running late). With regard to the zone, this is very significant for perenials but not so much for annuals (I look at the time to harvest there). Happy gardening--I am sooooo behind this year!

  4. Why not plant more than we need, especially tomatoes and peppers? Offering our bounty could turn neighbors into friends and acquaint us with our local food banks and community kitchens. How cool is that? :-)

  5. I just sent your post to Craig since he's the gardener/green thumb in our family. Did I tell you the tip my brother shared with me to add eggshells into your tomato soil to prevent them from browning on the bottom? We have had that problem with ours over the last couple of summers and I guess it's because they need more calcium.

    We grew cucumbers in a large container two years ago and they did ok. I kind of wanted to try them again this year.