Is It Time To Start Planting??

This is a little bit of an oddball post, but I got a very long set of questions from someone last year.  Since I get a lot of similar inquiries every season, and to save a little time… I just included those questions and answers below.  Hope you find it helpful – Farmer Sadie

When do you recommend planting for maximum rounds of harvesting?  Some people have already started planting starters.
You can plant a few things at the beginning of May (potatoes, onions, broccoli, peas, carrot, radishes, lettuce, kale), but almost everything else should wait until at least May 15th.  You can wait as long as middle of June, but not much later than that.

With the exception of strawberries and tomatoes (which I know you like using starters for). In general, do you recommend using starters or seeds? 
Starts for tomatoes, potatoes, onions, strawberries, peppers, eggplant, herbs.  Everything else does just fine from seed.  THAT SAID, you can actually buy starts for anything you want.  It gives you a little head start so you can plant in June.  And you will only use a fraction of the seeds you buy so it might cost you less in the long run to do starts.  I think New Seasons has some nice organic/heirloom starts… You don’t get as much control over the varieties, but for this project I think you’ll find that they all taste better than store-bought.

There’s already soil in the bed and we’ve heard that the last gardener who used that particular bed only grew squash. What other prep work should we do before planting? Get rid of weeds? Add particular soil? 
Squash are fine.  I would pick up a big bag of steer manure or mushroom compost (which is rotted horse manure), and a box of some kind of high Nitrogen fertilizer.  My preference is the Whitney Farms Blood meal, but not everyone carries it.  I think Fred Meyers does.  There is a liquid fertilizer (that you mix into the water when you irrigate, but it’s pretty stinky.  Alaska Fish Fertilizer.  You’ll need to weed first.  Use gloves, a sharp weeding tool and/or a shovel. Then dig it up and break it up with your hands until it is pretty fine.  Mix in the fertilizer and manure.  Spread it all around until it’s even and you’re ready to go!

Is there a particular formula you like for growing things that don’t mind growing next to one other?  Spacing and depth advice? 
My all- time favorite resource for this stuff (and I’ve read A LOT of them) is a book called “The Gardener’s A-Z Growing Guide to Growing Organic Food” by Tanya L.K. Denckla and it has all this info. Even if you aren’t planning to grow organically, it is the best $20 you will spend in your garden, guaranteed.

What do you do after planting the seeds or plants?  Add top soil (if so, how deep) then water the garden? What brand do you like to use? 
You have to bury them at specific depths for each seed.  They need a certain amount of sunlight to get them started.  The book will also have details on this part, but generally, I sprinkle about as much finely crumbled dirt (the same as what is in the bed is just fine) as two seeds tall would be (grammar?!)  If you have a very tiny carrot seed, imagine stacking two together and that is how deep the top cover should be.  If it’s a big onion or potato chunk, the hole would be 2-4 inches deep.

What’s the most  effective and safe way to you handle weeds? 
Dig them up with your hands and a shovel 😉  That is the only safe, effective way.  I would make sure your dirt is moist, but not wet before you try.  This is a great tool to start with. It’s really good for weeds with a tap root and/or that are really stuck in hardened dirt.  This is a good one, too.  It’s really sharp and you slide it just UNDER the soil line to slice the top of the weeds off the bottoms.  You can find them a lot of places, but mostly high-end garden centers (maybe Smith & Hawken??)  I got mine years ago and use them every year.

How often should I water the plants in the garden? 
Deep watering every 2-3 days in normal heat, every day on days over 90 degrees.  Deep watering means the dirt gets wet 6-8 inches down. Until you get used to how long that is, check with your spade that the lower soil really is that wet.  It’s important.  Never let that deep soil dry out.

What’s the best time to plant each one? 
Plant your peas as soon as possible.  I put mine in two weeks ago and I feel like I’m late already.  Kale, lettuce and potatoes could go in as soon as we get our next sunny stretch.  The rest can go in any time after May 15th.  Here are the quantities I recommend for a normal family:

  • GREEN BEANS: 20 beans/plants in two closely spaced rows – if you get the kind that climb (and they’ll be marked) you can train them UP, so you have more room on the floor of your bed.  You’ll be picking these every 3-4 days once they get going so you don’t need a lot.
  • SNAP PEAS: 40-50 peas/plants – I know how much you like peas and you are going to want a lot of them.  You’ll have time in the season to harvest only 4-5 times before the plants dry up so get your fill while you can.  The good news is you can rip those suckers out once they are done and plant some more lettuce or even some broccoli.
  • LETTUCE: Depends how you are using it.  If you like the little baby leaves for mixed salad you can plant a lot in a small space.  You only have to wait about 30 days and you can cut them off at the base (a little above ground).  They will grow back and be ready to cut again in a couple weeks.  You can do this about 6 times before they get too bitter.  If you want actual HEADS of lettuce, don’t plant too many at a time.  They will all be ripe at EXACTLY they same time and you won’t be able to eat them all.  If you get one 6 pack of starts on one week, then plant another 6 pack two weeks later and so on, you can stagger the harvests.
  • KALE: 2-4 seeds/plants.  You do continuous harvest on these, too.  They will be ready to pick in the early summer… then kind of die back, then come back strong in the early fall.  Tuscan kale is a good choice for small spaces because it is so tall/skinny.  But they are all pretty good that way.  You’ll get about a gallon bag every week from 2 plants.
  • POTATOES: 6-8 “seed” potatoes.  I’d plant as many as you can fit.  They need about a 2 foot diameter space.  You can do them in a zig zag pattern to fit more in.  They’ll be ready to dig in July if you plant them now.
  • CARROTS: Plant as many seeds as you want to have carrots 🙂  They need to be about 3 inches apart but they can be planted with pretty much anything so you can fit them in anywhere you have space.  No need to be in rows, stick them in the corners or in between other plants.
  • CHERRY TOMATO: One is all any person needs.  Try and find one that says “Determinate” on the label.  That means it won’t spread out all over the place.  You may not be able to find one. 

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