Gardening, America’s New Front Porch
By Susan Taylor
Here in San Diego, the rains have been and gone, we’re back to Daylight savings time and can get to planting. Before anyone dashes off for seeds and/or plant starts, let’s lay a little groundwork.
By groundwork, I mean preparing the soil. Sounds like a dull task, I know, but well prepared soil makes gardening so much easier and more fun! Find your growing spots, whether they be pots, troughs, beds, or in the nearby ground. If using containers, be sure to wash them out to rid them of any lingering bugeroos. For any and all containers, try to use fresh soil, and I don’t mean your dirt from the backyard.
Clean, fresh soil amended with compost will make all the difference in healthy plants now and when they produce. The combination of soil and compost should be rich and light to medium weight with a fresh smell. Mix it up well and you’re ready to go! If you are using soil in the ground, dig down about 6 inches and loosen it up with as few clods as possible. Mix plenty of compost in, even up to 50 50 with the ground soil.
I prefer to use worm castings which you can buy on Craigslist or in bags at your favorite garden store. Also excellent are bags of chicken or steer manure (which do not smell) and Home Deport has a newish compost of recycled things that is good. The point is that healthy, nutrient-rich soil will make your growing season a breeze, trust me. Feeding the soil means the plants are fed and this so much better than spraying or sprinkling chemical fertilizers later in the growing season. Moisten your soil and you are ready to go!
Planting starts (little seeds that have sprouted) is not cheating and definitely gives your garden a jump start for the spring. Seed packets likely will say whether to start in tiny containers and transplant or just sow seeds into wherever you want them to grow. If you use seeds, be generous in the planting and the thinning. I know, I know, these little babies are hard to pull out, but jammed seeds that sprout will not grow as well as evenly thinning and spaced plants. If you must, leave your heart in the house when you thin. I’ve heard tiny cries all over the neighborhood when neighbors face up to thinning. But, while thinning you can also replant some of these seedlings elsewhere, so all is not lost!
When you are ready to plant, think about size, because size matters. Taller things like tomatoes and beans should be in the back row so they don’t shade the lettuces, carrots, beets and the like. It’s a good idea to not replant tomatoes in the same place/soil you did last year. If you are like me, you won’t put the tomato cages or bean supports in until the plants are leaning all over the place and you have to retrofit the supports into the plant area. More thoughtful gardeners will have these support things at the ready and still ‘em in as soon as the plants are about 4-6inches tall.
Once you have everything planted in their respective pots, beds and the like, step back and admire what you’ve done! Trust me, you won’t remember what you planted where, so get some popsicle sticks or something and write down name and date of what is what. Squash and melon plants look awfully similar in the young plant stages. This might be a good time for a glass of wine to salute the earth and your tiny plants. Kind of a blessing. Water them in carefully– we’re not talking a forceful blast from the pressure washer but a gentle sprinkle. Then you take a shower.
As you tend this new garden, plan to water in the early mornings — yes, one more thing to do before you go to work. Late afternoon wetness tends to attract slugs and other insects that are not so beneficial. You be the judge about how much water things need; let’s just say plants should not dry out as the weather gets warmer.
By the way, seeds with a three to five year date may still be good and if you don’t try, you won’t know. There are many reliable seed companies. I enjoy Renee’s, Territorial Seeds for interesting choices. Many will send free catalogues which I totally ENJOY browsing. Gardeners call it garden porn, and it’s okay. Really!
Given our changing climate, now is time to plant your spring and summer crops, leaving room for rotation and additions. You could stall a bit with the corn and tomatoes till it warms up a bit more. If you just can’t wait for a million zucchini here’s your chance to shine!
Plant lettuces, mescluns, greens, herbs and beans, beets and carrots. Select a slow bolt cilantro for our climate (Renee’s has an excellent seed for this). Pick a summer or slow bolt spinach for the same reason. Eggplants, peppers (there’s a zillion of those)! And strawberries are ready to make their appearance in your garden. There are many varieties of strawberries so read the tags carefully to get what you want.
My garden teacher says that any mint should always be planted in a pot, on a saucer, on the cement! I can’t really argue with her because mint likes to spread itself around…and I do mean around. Put in a few flowers for color and pleasure here and there. There are urban stories about the benefits of marigolds in your garden so plant a few. Look for plants that attract hummingbirds and bees, both of which love our gardens. My dogs love the lemongrass so much I have to grow it somewhere where they aren’t–the aroma just draws them in for a bite!
I hope this story teases you enough to draw you into the garden season this year! It might be hard not to get carried away so try to start modestly. We Americans are so good at excess, let’s try to limit the work but not the fun. There are many sources from which to educate yourself as you go and the reading never stops. The above paragraph only touches on what you can plant now so look up other veggies you might like to try.
A great resource for all gardeners locally is the San Diego Master Gardener Association (858) 822 6910. The website can really hook you up, and you can call Monday-Friday 9-5 and ask a real live gardener person your garden questions. They are knowledgeable and often can give you information right then and there. If not, research can be done and we can get back to you. It is helpful to remember the name of the plant or problem you are calling about…you have NO idea the wild questions we get.
So, get to dreaming and planting. The time is now!
Susan L. Taylor, a San Diego native daughter, digs politics, urban agriculture, dogs and local beaches. Forever grad student of Latin America history, she speaks Spanish, Portuguese and teen-speak to the two boys still at home. Supports guerrilla, community and home gardening. Dreams of a beachhead along the Baja California coast and hopes that the grapes she grows will someday taste like red wine. Susan supports the restoration of Chollas Creek and is still a natural blonde.