By Roger Erpelding
It is a cold, windy, and cloudy April 14, but gardening is on my mind. The seeds have been ordered, I have Brailled the seed packets, and I have sorted them by planting time. It is too wet to till the garden, so I’ll try to patiently wait.
Despite these facts, gardening has begun. About two weeks ago, I received a shipment of summer daffodils. I don’t know their botanical name, but they are new to me. Upon arrival, I had the instructions read to me, and it said to plant immediately, 6 inches deep, and 4 inches apart. I did so in a large pot on the north end of my garden. As of April 12, their sprouts have begun to show above the ground. The potting soil was soft, so I just pushed them into the soil by hand, and guessed at their depth and distance
On April 12, I received two gas plants in the mail. They are tiny, but look good. Again, I do not know their botanical name. I was gone until all day Saturday, so I didn’t have a chance to plant them. During a rainy Sunday, I set them on the patio table to take advantage of the moisture. Snow was in the forecast for last night, so they went inside for a couple of days. I know I will place them somewhere in the old perennial bed just east of the house. I have made a Braille label for a flat stick, and will set them out as soon as possible.
Each year, after I have the garden tilled, I surround the edges with 1-2 gallon plastic pots. In each pot I will place a pepper plant. I have a variety of sweet and hot peppers ordered, and about 24 large pots. Each autumn I empty their soil into the garden, and stack them up along the edge. Saturday morning I placed soil in 11 of the pots. I use coffee filters on the bottom. They are easily purchased from any grocery store and inexpensive. Last summer a neighbor purchased a truckload of mulched wood chips and he was extremely anxious to give them away. He and I carted a large pile of them near the east side of my house. So, after placing several coffee filters into the bottom of each pot, I placed 4 or 5 handfuls of the chips into them next. I completed the task with a large trowel—scooping soil into them until they were full. A little south east of the wood chips I have my “dirt pile.” Left over soil from forced bulbs, potted annuals, and the like go into this pile. Occasionally a neighbor will do a little excavation work, and I’ll beg, borrow, or steal soil for the pile. So, the soil is a real mixture of material, and seems to work well in pots year after year. This process can all be done by touch with regular hand tools. When I place them, I will follow the fence line and place them along the edge, just inside the fence.
Rabbits love my tulips. Despite my best efforts they eat a majority of them. Just east of the house we have a raised bed, which Beth and I share. We mostly plant annual and perennial flowers in it. Along the east edge of the bed (we call it the bar bed because it has plastic bars over a portion of it) the rabbits have begun to do a number on my tulips. I took a sack of blood meal out of the garage and hand spread it over the area. You can wear gloves if you like, but I never do. Warm water and soap will readily wash the residue and the stink off your hands. Since it rained yesterday, I’ll need to repeat the task again. Never mind—the leftovers will be washed into the ground and it is a great organic fertilizer.
Last July, after celebrating my Mother’s 90th birthday, my brother-in-law saw a sign at a local variety store stating “clay pots 90% off.” We both love our clay pots, so we stopped. I purchased 5 of the largest clay pots they had on the shelf for $3 apiece. I just wish we’d driven a semi-truck that day. There were hundreds of clay pots to choose from. Last week we went to a local home improvement store where I purchased 5 large saucers to put under them, and 5 pavers to help level them. The pots are still in the garage, as I won’t put soil into them until May.
Also last summer, my wife, Beth, saw some large raised beds available from a catalog. From the description, they sounded like just what we’d like. She agreed, so we mail ordered two of them, and counted them as our Christmas presents to each other. The other day our son put them together for us, and we carried them to their new home on the south side of the house. We will purchase potting soil for them and fill them later in the spring.
What will I plant in the clay pots and in my new raised bed? I have so many ideas that I can’t make a decision. Should I plant early crops—spinach, lettuce, radishes—and harvest them before the summer plants like peppers or eggplant become established? Would zinnias look good in the raised bed? How many peppers could I fit into each large clay pot? What an exciting problem!
As spring progresses, my outdoor time will increase, and so will these entries. I’ll also discuss alternative techniques I use in gardening–whether in raised beds, the garden, the herb bed, or other flower beds Beth and I have established throughout our last ten years of sharing time in the garden.