One silver lining of staying at home, is that I finally got to watch the garden waking up this Spring. Spring has come slowly but steadily, with alternating sunshine and snow/rain showers. And our trees and perennials seem to be loving it.
One pleasant surprise: all my helleborus came back! They were planted last summer and did not look so hot last season. A couple of them died back to the ground. But a couple weeks ago, all nine of nine helleborus sprouted new shoots, and looked strong and healthy.
I’ve not seen any buds, but I am just happy that they are putting down their roots.
The 2020 Spring garden to-do
With the warm weather I managed to spend a few hours every day in the garden. This might be the year that I actually stay on top of the Spring garden tasks! Who knows? Maybe I can actually sit down and enjoy the garden in Summer… I started with a long to-do list, including planting more trees and climbing vines, hardscaping the backyard, expanding the berry garden, and finally whipping the vegetable garden into shape. With the lock-down it looked like I would be trekking along just fine.
One big thing I checked off the list this week, was to prepare the vegetable garden for Spring planting.
1. Reducing the size of the vegetable garden
We started with five 4′ x 16′ beds in 2018 and added two more last year. However, after last summer of growing, I realized that adding the two new beds were a bad decision.
For example, the bed I added in front of the original field was too close to our patio, leaving a narrow path in between. We started having problem backing the trailer into the backyard. As of the bed behind the original field, it was way too close to two of the fruit trees.
Honestly, we we could get away with just five beds. So I decided to reverse these two beds back to lawn and mulched space, respectively.
I have pushed the boundary of the veggie bed back last Fall. So this week I started by removing soil from the first bed. As you could see here, the soil here was higher than the lawn space in front of it. And this is all rich soil from last year’s vegetable gardening:
I scraped the soil to match the lawn space then reseeded grass.
Our nights are still rather cold, so I covered the newly seeded lawn with Harvest guard after watering them in:
It might not be obvious, but this 4′ x 16′ space generated six wheelbarrows of soil. I did not want to ever put soil into trash, especially good soil thanks to the compost we mixed in last Fall. So I transferred all six barrows into my newly built patio planters.
I also leveled the last vegetable bed by moving the soil here to the planters. Here was what the space looked like before:
As you can see, the original boundary was right next to the trunks of the fruit trees.
It was a mess where this last bed met the fence too.
From the picture below you can see how much taller the soil on the last bed was above the mulched space behind. This space could really use some retaining system.
I pulled up the old lumber that held back the soil here and scrapped 8 inches of top soil off this space. All the top soil went to the patio planters as well.
It took another 6 trips of wheelbarrow to level this bed. After that I stacked the lumber back (they are pressure treated) to create a retaining wall. They are not anchored into the ground, but it looked like they do not need to be.
Then the space is covered by mulch. The young fruit trees will benefit from not having grass growing on top of their roots, since frequent watering required by lawn space does not promote healthy root structures for trees.
When I mulch, I always start by sheet mulching with cardboard, then follow with a thick layer of wood chips. Sheet mulching really works in terms of suppressing weeds. Just remember to remove any tape and staples. This approach also encourages the proliferation of earthworms and other beneficial insects, which build healthy soil.
The much cleaner after:
By pushing the retaining blocks uphill, the messy corner next to the fence is now much cleaner as well
And the other bird killed by this stone? All the patio planters were filled almost to the top:
2. Moving compost bins
After mulching the area I moved our compost bins here. It just makes more sense to have them next to where most of the green waste will be generated.
I like how the composted bins filled the void between the two fruit trees. It brings more symmetry to the veggie garden area.
3. Planting strawberries
With the patio planter most filled with soil, I topped them off with some garden soil I had on hand:
Then I planted strawberries! We grew these seascape strawberries last summer for the first time, and they were such a hit. They are so sweet and lovely that I purchased another batch this Spring. The only problem was that the rabbits loved them just as much. Even our dogs could not keep the bunnies out of the yard. So I transplanted last year’s strawberry plants into the big patio planter:
Then planted the new batch into the two smaller planters. Take that, bunnies!
The new strawberry plants came as bare-root, so it will take a while for them to leaf out. But trust me, they are all snuggled up in there and will start producing as soon as the weather warms up.
We also ordered some garden trellises this Spring. I tried them in the planters and loved the look. It will be nice to grow flowering vines up these trellises this summer.
I put in some screws inside the planter to store the most frequently used gardening tools. It is nice to have them close yet out of weather.
4. Planting asparagus
Besides the strawberries, we also welcomed asparagus to our vegetable garden. Slav loves asparagus and it is one of the few keto-friendly vegetables. I also liked the idea of having more perennial vegetables.
We had one asparagus from last year as a trial plant. I gave it zero attention, and it thrived in our native soil. For the new asparagus, I followed the instruction and planted the bare-root plants deep into trenches.
We will not be harvest from these new plants this year, and probably only lightly next Spring. But these asparagus will produce for us for decades and only getting stronger and more productive. Cannot wait!
5. The 2020 veggie garden plans
Last I used scrape lumber to separate the paths from garden beds. I have been using wood chip mulch on the entire garden, including both in the gardening beds and on the paths in between. But this year, I will use compost as mulch in the veggie beds and keep the mulch only on the paths.
The first bed houses the strawberries we planted two years ago, which have naturalized in this garden bed. They produce smaller strawberries than the seascape variety, but also very sweet and tasty.
Last Fall I created a chive border for this bed by dividing one chive – just one! The little seedlings all survived and started shooting up fast. We do not eat lots of chives, but I hope that they can attract more pollinators to the vegetable garden.
The second bed is occupied by asparagus. The third and fourth bed are reserved for tomato, pepper, cucumber, and beans:
I planted garlic in the fifth and now the last veggie bed last fall, using the cloves from my own harvest last year! They have come up looking healthy. 🙂
We usually harvest garlic here around July 4th. So this bed will be available for planting warm season vegetables after. I’d like to try squashes and melons. Wish me luck!
6. Winter sowing
That brings us to seed starting! I’ve never done that before – for things I cannot get transplants, I always just directly sow into the garden. But this year I want to try things that scares me. And today is for sowing seeds. I’ve heard good things about winter sowing. It sounds super easy and it was. I was able to sow creeping thyme, cutting flowers, cold weather greens including lettuces, spinach, and cabbage, and even some warm weather plants such as beans in an hour.
Are you preparing a vegetable garden? Have you been working in the garden during lock-down? I am thankful for the hope and relaxation gardening provides this Spring. Be good and be well. We will get through this.
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