It’s the time of the year when Spring is beginning to tease us with warm days and early-blooming flowers and trees. When I was a little boy, I remember this time of the year as being one of my favorites. I got seed catalogs in the mail and would spend hours with them. I read them like novels and would plan imaginary gardens filled with whatever flowers or vegetables caught my eye. I never really had the space or the ambition to have an elaborate garden when I was growing up- and let’s face it most kids do not. But, I’ve been trying to make up for that as an adult. I still would not say that my garden is elaborate, because realistically, I can not seem to dedicate the time it would take … maybe one day when I am retired haha! At least now, though, I have the space and financial means to follow through with a lot of my gardening plans. This past year, I finally permanently moved to a different part of the Memphis area and have a larger, sunnier and flatter yard than I did for the previous 13 years. My husband and I have spent quite a bit of time turning our 1/3 acre of suburbia into our own little Utopia. This year I hope to have my biggest and best gardening year ever.
We had a very wet February here in the Mid-South. In fact it was a record-breaking amount- 13.43″ at Memphis International for the month. The previous record was 11.14″ set in 1948. According to WMC, we only had 6 days in that month with no measurable rainfall. Needless to say, I am looking forward to some rain-free days.
We did mange to get our garden beds set up and ready for the season. Using raised beds allows us to work around the mud and wetness that would otherwise prevent us from doing any planting or garden preparation this time of the year.
I have a total of 7 raised beds, each measuring 4 feet by 8 feet. Six of them are nominally 18″ deep and one is 6″ deep. The total growing surface area is 224 square feet or 32 square feet per bed. I loosely follow a Square Foot Garden plan and have each bed divided into 12″ squares, giving me 32 squares per bed. We used nylon twine attached to roofing nails to mark off the squares.
This is the third year we have used these beds, but this will be the first time at this depth. Initially, all of the beds were 6″ deep and we had some success but keeping them free of bermuda grass was a very difficult task. Also, the tomatoes and peppers did not seem to perform as well as we thought they should have and so we made the decision to increase the depth this past fall. We added supports on each corner and mid-way along the length and added more 2×6 boards to each bed. Of course, that tripled the amount of soil we needed, but that’s what it takes! I am still grateful to not have to deal with this heavy clay soil that we have in our yard.
I have filled the beds with a mix of commercial top soil, commercial garden soil, peat moss, grass clippings and some compost. I am planning to go and get some composted alpaca manure from The Dancing Bee Farm as soon as I can manage it. Traditionally, SFG uses “Mel’s Mix” instead of other types of soil. However, I did not have the time to source all of the components and do all of the mixing. Vermiculite can be especially tricky to find locally and I honestly did not pay the cost of having some shipped to me.
After we prepped the beds, we planted some cold-weather plants and seeds. I bought some spinach and collard green plants from Stockdale’s and some rainbow chard from the Oakland Walmart. I planted 2 squares of spinach, with 9 plants per square as suggested by SFG conventions. I put in 6 squares of collard greens with 1 plant per square (these things can get huge), and 6 squares of rainbow chard with 1 plant and 3 seeds per square, for an ultimate total of 4 plants per square. Additionally, I put in 3 squares of Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard from Baker Creek, a couple of squares of mustard greens, and 3 squares of Perpetual Spinach also from Baker Creek. I planted the chards at a rate of 4 plants per square as suggested by SFG. I also planted a couple of squares of lettuce, mesclun mix, arugula, and radishes. All of these are in the low bed at the back of the garden. That spot gets a little shade in the early morning and afternoon and seems to be better suited for cooler weather plants. I have had a lot of success with chard in pots and in this bed in the past, but this will be the first year for me to try the Fordhook and perpetual spinach varieties.
This year I am also growing some potatoes (Kennebec) in grow bags that I purchased from Amazon (Honest Outfitters 5-Pack Fabric Pots for Potatoes). I bought the seed potatoes at Stockdale’s along with a bag of onion sets (I planted the onions a couple of weeks ago around the perimeter of Bed 2 and Bed 4 and virtually every one of the have sprouted). My intention is to hill the potatoes as they grow to try and increase production. I have 8 of the 15-gallon bags with 4 potatoes in each bag. I started with about 4-6″ of soil in the bottom of each bag and I plan to add more as the plants sprout and grow.
I’ve also ordered pretty much all of the seed I plan to plant this year. Right now my plans include:
Fordhook Zucchini – If I can not keep the squash bugs under control this year, this might be my last year of growing any kind of squash.
Aurora Mixed Orach – a new one for me & I just wanted to give it a try
Dragon Tongue Bush Bean– I grew these last year and liked them.
Golden Wax Bush Bean– I grew these last year also and liked them
Contender Buff Valentine Bush Bean – a new one for me, but they have good reviews
Dar Cucumber– a new one for me that looked interesting
Tokiwa Tokyo Green Cucumber– it looked interesting
I’m also trying a couple of melons from Johnny’s that my husband chose as well 3 varieties of basil, some Greek Oregano, nasturtiums, zinnias (for the goldfinches and other birds). I started some dill, shasta daisies, heirloom carrots, nasturtiums and oriental poppies this past weekend also.
In addition to the seeds and plants I have already purchased, I will be purchasing some tomato and pepper plants locally in April. I grew Cherokee Purple and a couple of different cherry tomatoes with a lot of success last year. I will have a few varieties of sweet and hot peppers as well. The specific varieties depend on what is available. Currently, we do not have a decent spot in the house to start our own seeds but we are hoping to be able to do that next year.
It’s my intention to do a better job of crop rotation and succession planting this year to increase yields and make sure I get as much produce from the garden as possible.
This weekend, as much as I can (more rain is in the forecast), I plan to plant the oregano seeds in some pots and prepare an herb bed. In spite of the rain, it looks like a lot of the bad winter weather is behind us and I keep reminding myself that Spring is officially just around the corner! Καλή Άνοιξη σε όλους!