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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Garden is up and running!

It has been quite some time since I have last posted.  Winter is a hard time for me to get motivated to do much.  I love my summers and my garden and I can barely sit inside for long, but I am a hibernating kind of girl. Around February I actually rouse myself from my slumber, though not my warm house, and begin to prepare my tomato seeds.  I have a couple green lights, just little ones from Home Depot, not the kind that will get me tagged by the ATF.  I set the seeds in the furnace room, and set the lights at about 4" from the planter.  As the seedlings grow, I keep the lights about 4" above. The furnace room stays at about 76 - 78 degrees, warmer than the rest of the house, which is really too cold for me or the tomatoes.

This year, because of a Senior graduating, a second-grader doing 1st Communion, and a flooded basement getting a complete overhaul, I decided to start my tomatoes be seed, but not my peppers.  Instead, I went to the Pontiac Farmer's Market and bought my peppers, eggplant, rosemary and squashes from an awesome lady who is local and organic.  The beans, corn, broccoli, beets, onions and peas were all started by seeds on May 12 - 15.

Before planting, the garden had to be prepared.  For Valentine's Day two years ago my wonderful husband bought me an awesome gas-powered tiller.  After the last of the veggies are harvested, and the largest plants removed, but before the ground freezes, we till the garden over with the compost and straw from the chicken coop.  The first warm and dry days in March, or early April, we till again, and when I say "we," I really mean Robert.  This year I was able to get my 18 year old to pull all the weeds out too!

I am a big fan of the Farmer's Almanacs, and they have not failed me yet. The recommended day for planting was May 12, and about a week before, Robert tilled the ground again, and I raked it smooth, pulled out weeds, and let the chickens have at all the bugs that were emerging from winter.

Ethel working in the Garden

Buttercup taking a break from feasting

 I also started hardening my tomatoes a few weeks before. I bring them out for a few hours, in the shade, on warm days, and extend the time and sun exposure until they are out all day in full sun. It is amazing how much faster and greener they grow with real sun. After the garden is smoothed again ... (Chickens can make some large holes and mounds as the dig.)

Rolling and digging in the fresh tilled soil

 ... I lay out the garden with sticks and twine.  I use grid paper with the measurements of my garden drafted out to make a map first of where my veggies are to be planted, and measure out all the plots from one specific corner. I save all my garden maps from years past so that I can keep track of crop rotation.

Plotting out the garden with sticks and twine

 Rotating helps keep plants safe from specific types of insects, like cut worms. If you plant your tomatoes in the same place year after year, you are just inviting the insect to cut down your stalks. Moving beans around also helps with soil nutrition.

Now that everything is in, I am getting excited about all the fresh meals I can make.  Over this past winter, I took several classes at  Schoolcraft College of Culinary Arts.  The classes are great, inexpensive for the quality of instruction, and you do not need to be enrolled in the Culinary program.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, one of the three days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)  that the Pontiac Farmer's Market is open, and it is strawberry season in Michigan!