This Beautiful Weather.

The sun has finally begun to shine and the rain has subsided for more than a day.  It is finally time to begin working in the garden!

The extreme moisture followed by sunshine only means one thing for plants: excellent growth!  Tulips are up and flowers are being transplanted into those big pots of soil on State Street.

But what does this weather mean for the gardener?  Many things, as evidenced by the fact that I spent at least 20 hours doing garden projects of all kinds last week.

1. Preparing your space

Before you can plant anything.  You need somewhere to put your seeds or seedlings.

Yesterday, in the beautiful sunshine, I officially made my first raised bed (okay I held the boards in place while my boyfriend Kyle drilled the pieces together).  This particular raised bed was for our personal garden.  And since neither I nor Kyle had the time to get especially creative, we bought a $60 kit from Home Depot.

This is an easy way to start, especially for students who are (a) renting and (b) realizing that the beginning of the gardening season coincides inconveniently with final papers and exams….

Kyle worked on the raised bed while I weeded the surrounding area.  Weeding will keep your garden area tidy and looking nice, but hopefully also reduces the number of weeds sprouting up in your garden.

In fact, looking back over the past week, weeding dominated the majority of my “garden prep” time.  It is one of those things that hurts your back, gets your hands dirty, and feels endless at times, but is also extremely rewarding.

For the Pyle Center rooftop garden, there are four large cement boxes already filled with soil and various perennials.  But the Pyle Center decided that this space should be utilized for something more than aesthetics: they wanted to work with F.H. King and put vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in these beds to be distributed at Harvest Handouts.

Although a landscaping crew had come in and “gotten rid of” the old plants, they had really just lopped off the plant parts above ground so that Linnzi and I were left pulling weed roots for an afternoon.  The grass and rose varieties previously used in these beds had deep roots.  If we had not spent four hours getting rid of them, our summer vegetable gardening would likely go badly and/or end up with many more hours of painful weeding.

The cardinal rule of weeding, at least in my book, is to do much more than just yank weed leaves (and maybe even their stem) and throw them into your compost pile.  To really, truly be successful, use a trowel and uproot the plants to get rid of the leaves, stem and roots.  Weeds have impeccable root systems; that is what allows them to proliferate so rapidly and rarely experience defeat by human hands. 

Once the boxes were thoroughly weeded, we added topsoil and mushroom compost in equal parts.  If you have your own prepared compost, this is great for topsoil.  If not, every garden store or department store with a gardening section should have topsoil this time of year.  We purchased both at Jung’s on Northport Drive.

2. Making a garden plan

This step is not essential.  It simply depends on personal preference.  But when space is limited, a garden plan can be very helpful.  It also helps to keep things organized from year to year.

We began our garden plan by simply making an excel spreadsheet with all the plant varieties we planned on using, along with a column of their preferred distance from other plants; this information can be found on your seed packets.

From there, we sketched a drawing of our garden with the proper dimensions.  The rest is completely up to you: companion planting, straight rows, perrenial plant placement, the list of possibilities is endless.  It just helps me to have a plan so that I don’t overcrowd my seeds or seedlings so they cannot grow well and also so that I don’t run out of space after only planting my hardy, early season lettuces and onions!

3. Transplanting and planting hardy, early season crops!

Last Monday morning, Linnzi and I finally put our hardened off lettuce, brassica (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and leeks into their permanent homes for summer: into six raised beds in the Pyle Center courtyard.  Even though it was my first time transplanting, I don’t have much to share with you about the semantics.  Transplanting is quite simple!  Be gentle with the plants as you transfer them and don’t put them too deeply into their new soil home.

The most important thing, as with hardening off, is paying attention to the weather and being patient.  A late spring, as we are currently experiencing, is not the end of the world.  A couple weeks lost in the beginning of the garden season is much better than planting too soon, only to have your plants destroyed.

At the Pyle Center, I began on two lettuce and leek beds while Linnzi worked on two beds of brassica plants.  I transplanted two leek varieties and three lettuce varieties, while beginning a forth from seed.  Since the transplanting on Monday, I have heard that a squirrel destroyed a lettuce or two of my beautifully symmetric beds.  How silly of me to think that the pressure was off as soon as I planted our starts.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I imagined that the moment the seedlings went into their new raised bed homes, they were no longer my responsibility.  I would give them the water they needed to flourish, but surviving in the outdoors is what plants do naturally: what could possibly go wrong?

It seems the squirrels reminded me that gardening is so much more than watering and watching plants grow into colorful vegetables.  All you can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.