Grow yr own

So the essential thing to good cooking is good ingredients, right? And how better to insure that than to grow some of your own? That in mind, I reserved a spot with two friends (shout out to RoRo and CoCo) at the local community garden, SEEDS. It’s been awesome, you can see pics here. Note the Scraptastic pea trellis built from recycled items and topped with battling unicorn and zombie, the garden gnome, the ceramic frog and how big them radishes already have gotten. Weather has been great, a mix of sunny and rainy days, so everything we planted has sprouted: spinach, carrots, peas, marigolds, radishes, strawberries and basil. The basil has taken a bit of a hit from a couple late frosts and a few hungry insects, but basil likes punishment and I’m sure it will come back bushy and strong soon. Everything else we planted is pretty frost hardy (not a complete accident).

The last couple pictures are heirloom tomato and pepper seedlings I’ve been sprouting at home. Those will mebbe be planted out next week. Should have started them earlier, I’d prefer if they each had four true leaves, but I’ll probably just plant two or three in each spot and pick the strongest one in a couple weeks. Other things I’ve learned:

1) Start early. If you want strawberries, peas or Brassicas (broccoli, kale, the like), you can start planting in early March on the Piedmont. Plus, you should be starting your tomato and pepper seeds in a south facing window by then. Even if that means you can no longer use your laptop because your desk is covered with popcans full of soil. Thus, you can and should garden a full three seasons down here. This is kinda novel to a Michigan boy.

2) Interplanting (props to RoRo, here) is the way to go with limited space. Some things, like radishes, will be full grown before your peppers and tomatoes are really established. We planted a grid of radishes and will plant the tomatoes in the grid squares. The radishes will come out in a week or two, just in time for the tomatoes to start expanding their roots.

3) Plant a lot of seeds and then thin out the seedlings. Seeds are cheap, even if you go online to get good quality ones instead of the floor sweepings sold at a lot of garden centers. Even if you end up killing 4/5 of the sprouts, you’ve saved a bunch of money compared to buying plants. Plus you feel a lot more ownership over the whole thing. I found a lot of nifty heirloom and hybrids (depending on your persuasion) at Park seeds. They all sprouted wonderfully.

4) SEEDS has just about perfect soil, I need to ask them about their system if I want to compost at home. I’m an ecology nerd by trade, so we tested the particle size distribution, nitrogen and pH before planting anything. These are tests anyone can run with a Mason jar and $5 test kit from a garden center. Being an econerd isn’t at all necessary, just helps with motivation.

5) Community gardens are a wonderful thing. The plot is already full of great soil, they’ve got all the tools you need and rain barrels for irrigation. You meet people and get positive comments on your zombie-unicorn trellis. What can beat that?

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