All it takes is a few sunny days in a row, and my thoughts turn to my 2009 garden. Of course, we still have a few feet of snow on the ground and even the large vegetable pots on the back deck are not yet visible, but the big seed catalogs with all the yummy pictures have been piling up and demanding my attention. Finally, this morning “order seeds” made my to-do list. I just finished sending my first order of 2009 to BURPEE seeds, and will probably send another order or two by the end of the month.
My perennial garden has done remarkably well in northern Michigan. I started out by getting good advice and lots of help from a local nursery, and then took it from there. Each year, with lots of help from Vance (more about that later), I expand the gardens away from the house, split old plants to get new ones, and spend a lot of time and $$ on new varieties. I go to the many good independent nurseries around town, garden shows, and look through national catalogs to get ideas. One great idea I got from a friend was to label my plants so I wouldn’t feel so dumb when someone asked me, “what’s that?” Interestingly, most people who get chosen for the garden shows do not label their plants and have no idea what they have when asked. Very annoying, or is this just the gardeners version of not giving out a favorite recipe? If so, it’s a bad idea since most plant varieties can be found in gardening magazines and catalogs. I haven’t given a lot of thought to what changes I’m going to make this summer, except that I am going to attend to the big hill by the road and expand in front of the house. I’ve already put some shrub structure in from great sale plants at the end of last summer.
Today, I mostly worked on looking at all the vegetable seeds that were available, and trying to show some restraint in my ordering. Very hard to do this since every tomato, pepper, lettuce, herb looks so inviting. Just the tomatoes alone have great names and wonderful pictures. Here are some I ordered: black truffle, red lightening, 4th of July (early producer), sweet tangerine, black krim, Cherokee, big rainbow, giant pink. If you wonder why there are so many, its because I believe in diversification for tomatoes and peppers since I never seem to know from year to year what will be most productive. This year, I plan to plant almost everything in pots or raised beds. I’ve had rather little success with plants in the ground after five years of much effort. I think this is because our very sandy soil still is not very nurturing in spite of lots of amendments. Also, there are some critters around who attack vegetables, eating both roots and produce. Anyhow, my pots have done very well, so I’m sticking with them. The big thing with pots is to be sure to fertilize and water enough.
Watering is a big need around here since our amended soil only goes down so far and below that is a few hundred feet of sand and gravel. It rains, then drains, fast. Vance has put in a multi-zone drip watering system, which allows us to control the time and watering rate for all our plants. It even has lines to each pot, so we don’t have to get out the hose except for when we put in something new. There are a few problems with this system: squirrels and maybe rabbits, chew on the lines over the winter and so they have to be replaces, and emitters sometimes clog up from our hard water. But it still is very efficient. We can even put fertilizer through the system, though I prefer to do the fertilizing by hand.
Before we moved to northern Michigan, we had the most wonderful vegetable growing soil in Flint; rich, loamy, and deep (probably about 18 inches), with clay underneath to hold in the water. After an initial spring watering, I mostly didn’t have to water again all summer. And I was able to grow all the vegetables I needed for the summer, plus plenty to give away and to store after the harvest. That may be the only thing I miss from Flint. We belong to a CSA here and get an every other week share, and also shop at the farmers market, but I still like to walk out into the yard the pick something for dinner. It always is fresher that way and makes me feel good.
I think gardening is inherently optimistic, but maybe that is a topic for another post. My seeds should arrive next week, but I won’t start my plants until April.