By Roger Erpelding
Friday, April 25, 2014 was a beautiful day in Des Moines. We had a half inch of rain Wednesday-Thursday, and I knew that with the warm and sunny weather we were experiencing on Friday, the garden would have the dry crust I needed to begin planting. So, as the afternoon at work commenced, I obtained a severe case of “the garden planting blues” or “plant-itis.” The first cure was to secure approved vacation–which I did. The second step was to catch the first bus to Windsor Heights at 3:35–also accomplished.
I also knew that during the day my perennials from Bluestone had arrived. Upon my entrance into the house, Beth indicated the package. One box was fine, but the other box “looked sick,” according to her. We went out to the patio where she had placed the plants in two trays of water. “Sick” was a kindness, but I also realized that the water bath treatment was the prescribed treatment. What a blessing to be married to a master gardener! Sure enough, by the next morning, the hollyhocks in the second box, were alive, well, and looking mighty healthy for shipped nursery stock.
It wasn’t long until I was out in the garden with my basket of “friends.” I have a habit of naming all of my garden tools, so all who are involved with me know what I am talking about. The Braille yardstick is Lucy. Lucy Bagley operated the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Aids and Devices Store where I purchased it. About 35 years ago my driver in Sioux City, John, had broken the handle of his hoe. Thus, my hoe is named John. I purchased a large trowel from Earl May a few years ago which I use frequently— he’s Earl. Four years ago we assisted Mom in cleaning out her basement. I brought a basket home, and of course, it is Mom. Lucy, John, Earl and I were soon out in the garden accompanied by rubber banded seed packets or cold weather crops—radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots and kohlrabi.
Before I began, Beth thought the garden should be raked to make it even. She did this after we made sure my first row was straight from north to south. If I was by myself I wouldn’t have raked the garden, but it is a very nice touch. Lucy and I have often made the rows straight all by ourselves, but I’ll always take Beth’s help. The only thing better than two hands is four hands.
Beth raked away from me while John and I made a small furrow under the string. I took Lucy with me to the south end of the row as well. Starting on the north end again, I began to plant the radish seeds, covering the furrow as I went. I walked on the east side, so I wouldn’t walk on the area I would be planting. When I planted the radishes, I knelt on the west side of the row.
These are early crops, which will be harvested soon. So, when I finished the first row, I moved the south stick a foot to the west, crawled north again, moved the north string a foot to the west, made another furrow, and planted again. This row had some radishes on the north end, followed by lettuce. I don’t just plant one thing in one row, as the seeds never come out even. The seeds don’t care and I can figure this out when they sprout. I put each packet of seeds in my shirt pocket when they were empty. The packets were opened on the opposite end of my Braille labels. When it was all said and done, I had the seeds in the order they were planted, Braille intact, wrapped in a rubber band. I planted several kinds of carrots, so this will be a good reference when I compare the harvest.
Row after row was planted westward on the east part of the garden. Radishes and lettuce were followed by spinach, carrots, and more lettuce. The lettuce and spinach will serve as a reference, as they will germinate much faster than the carrots.
As I mentioned earlier, I had purchased a 10 pound bag of seed potatoes, Norland, my favorite. I found an old waste basket near the house, got a sharp paring knife from the kitchen, ripped open the potato bag, and began to cut potatoes. The larger spuds I cut into three or four pieces; the smaller ones got cut in half. At all times I tried to keep close track of the “eyes,” or parts that were sprouting, so I could make sure each piece had some growth points. This was an easy process.
It was time for Earl to join the garden party. The trowel was very handy in digging a space under the string, but I didn’t use Lucy to measure the space between the planting of each potato piece–I just estimated with my hands. Usually, I like to place each piece about a foot apart, cut side down. The rows can still be about one foot apart.
Upon completion of this planting, I realized that I had a real dilemma on my hands. I had used up more space than planned and the east end of the garden was full. The south end will be planted in green beans, Beth’s and my favorite. Most of the west side is perennials, with a very small and shaded planting space. Peppers are fine in pots, but what about the tomatoes? I have two solutions in mind, and one of them will be to place plants in any gaps in the potato area.
It was time for a dinner break, to partake in a tasty meal prepared by Beth, and to have a frosty adult beverage as well. But the garden planting wasn’t done.
My garden is U shaped. The east end is full. The south end, the bottom of the U, is bordered by space that Beth had set out as her own before we got married. It is a rocky area, with a bench, a small blue spruce tree, and a Korean lilac. She also places several pots of annuals in this area. So, the west end of the garden is on the west side of Beth’s area. Before we gardened, I planted two apricot trees adjacent to her area. One is in the northeast corner of the east end and it is tall and straight. The other is on the east end of the west area, so it, along with the lilac and spruce, produces a lot of shade for this area. In addition to this, our house is on the west side of the west area. Planting space is limited, but it is space. In the northeast part of this west area is another small blue spruce tree.
The only seeds I failed to plant were the kohlrabi seeds, and they will go somewhere on the west side. On the south end of the west side, I planted eight kohlrabi plants and four cabbage plants. I will buy additional plants and work northward. In the left over space, I’ll plant the kohlrabi seeds. In planting the 12 plants, I used Lucy to make sure the kohlrabi plants were a foot apart. I spaced the cabbage plants a bit further apart. Copenhagen Market is what I chose to purchase, as this is an early cabbage, and has proven reliable for me over many years.
It is always satisfying when I complete this task, so relaxing time in the beer chair was definitely on the schedule when I completed this work.