Buy and Plant

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer 

May is perhaps the busiest time of the year in the yard and garden. I have gotten a little behind, but I hope by the first of June I’ll get caught up in these entries, as well as in my garden.

May 7-8 was our annual Master Gardener plant sale at the Des Moines Botanical Center. Friday evening we have a Master Gardeners only pre-sale. I told Beth I was curious as to what selection we would be offering, as I’d be working the plant sale on Saturday. I also said I wasn’t buying anything. One hour, two flats and one check later, one of the volunteers graciously offered  to help carry the goods to the trunk of my car. Beth read the selections and I touched the plants I wanted to determine their vigor and size. Eggplant, peppers, zinnias and marigolds were only a few of the plants that went into my flats.

My role at the sale Saturday morning was to greet at the front door. An easy task for me, one which I enjoy. When I heard the door open, I simply thrust a flat forward toward them, wished them good morning, and welcomed them to our sale.

But before I planted the plant sale items, I needed to do a bit more garden work. It was already May 8, and time to plant green bean seeds. These are large seeds that are easy to keep track of. I brought along my sticks and strings, and my hoe without a handle. Green beans are Beth’s favorite, so I wanted to do a bang-up job of planting and spacing them for maximum production. I also wanted to plant enough seeds to deal with cool soil, heavy weather, disease, beetles and rabbits. So they got an extra thick planting, just in case. Lucy, my trusty Braille yard stick, assisted me in this effort. Three rows and 45 minutes later we had it whipped.

May 9 began a week of vacation. The 9th saw a high of 88, and the 10th a high of 95. Too hot to plant much in the heat of the day, but not too hot to shop. It was off to Goods, one of Beth and my favorite places, on Monday morning. I wanted to get some carnations for the back of my new raised bed on the east side of the house. I already had purchased marigolds and zinnias for this purpose, but needed additional fillers. Goods did not disappoint me. In the basket went gerbera daisies, snapdragons and asters along with the carnations. Beth read the colors on the tags of the  gerberas, I picked out the plants.

Blossoms are nice to verify the correctness of the tags,  but are not a top criteria when I pick out bedding plants. Form, vigor, heights and how well they’ve been cared for are my primary factors.

Our next and last stop of the morning was at Earl May. I was after two things–big peppers and big tomatoes. Beth and I walked down the row as she read cultivars to me–whopper, goliath, celebrity, big boy and better boy, along with numerous others. I picked one each of the five cultivars listed above. Beth also saw elephant garlic. She should have perhaps kept quiet, as she knows they are my weakness. So of course I picked out six healthy, large and firm bulbs. Large individual peppers were also on the list–a couple of big Bertha, sweet banana and one lilac and the shopping was complete.

Due to the warm weather, I wanted to get the peppers, tomatoes and garlic planted first. I found my bulb planter in the garden box, and made six nice round holes under the Korean lilac bush in the apple tree garden. If they grow, they will appreciate the cool shade this summer. However, since the ground is now warm (the soil temperature is now above 60 degrees) they most likely will remain dormant until autumn.

Beth lined up my tomatoes and peppers in alphabetical order, and I was off and running. I first brought five tomato cages to the edge of the garden, then walked through to the far end of the planting area to begin. On the west side of where they were to be planted, I have an old perennial bed that is well-marked with returning vegetation. I simply crawled along the east edge of this bed, employed Lucy to go three feet north of the fence and 3 feet east of the bed. Then it was a question of digging a deep hole, transferring the plant from the pot into the garden, covering it well, and placing the cage over the new plant. After the five tomatoes were planted, I moved north with Lucy, and we engineered a similar scheme to place the peppers–without cages of course, and not 3 feet apart either. To the north end, in the north east corner of this area, along the west leg of the U, went the four eggplant.

I have a strategy for transferring most potted plants into the garden or flower beds. For the most part, their space in the pots is small, and I often find that they are not watered enough to my liking. I have two large plastic flats that I fill with water. Before transplanting, I thoroughly soak them for a few hours, or perhaps a couple of days. Even though the soil around the plants is soggy, the other soil is not, so this is a minor matter. Since the transplants are so wet, they are protected if it does not rain for a couple of days.

That makes the garden pretty well complete. I still need to  plant zucchini, winter squash, cucumbers and some white yams, which will be arriving soon. Where to put them is a mystery at this time. But you know I’ll find a place for them.

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