Well, this is a little out of the ordinary, isn’t it? I believe yes; I believe no. Here on Low Gravity Ascents, I like to talk about all things in the outdoor lifestyle. Granted, I’m still pretty new to it, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people in the outdoor community care about the planet, bacon, burritos, beer, and sustainability. How relevant since today is Earth Day. (I know of at least one person that thinks Earth Day should be everyday.)
With that in mind, I’m going to step back from posting about Columbia Sportswear and Jordan, climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, and training and instead, start an online diary to track my progress, costs, and take notes on growing my first garden. Then, by the end of the fall, I can look back at what will become a monstrous-sized post and see what worked and/or what led to my garden’s demise. Ultimately, this post is just as much for me as it is for you. Because I suck at writing and keeping track of an actual book/paper diary.
One last note – I’m not a complete n00b. I grew up helping my parents in their giant veggie gardens. Most of the time I was forced to help and not paying attention, but I picked up some things along the way. I still have a direct line to my parents too. Because technology.
Day 1 – 4/20/14
I started my morning off by planning my garden. I decided that since this is my first attempt, I’m not going to try manage everything down to the minute detail. And when that comes to planning, that means not worrying about yield and how much of this and that I want/need. Instead, I just decided what vegetables I wanted and went with an 8′ row. How did I come up with 8′? It just sounded good. I picked my plants based on what I like to eat, how easy they are to grow, and how resistant they are to disease and bugs.
Once I had all that decided, it was time to figure out how closely I could plant within each row and how far apart each row should be. This would ultimately tell me how wide my garden needed to be and how many of each plant I needed to buy. In my research, nearly all rows needed to be 1-2′ apart for each plant so I just decided to go with 2′ to standardize everything. Except tomatoes. My dad said those rows needed to be at least 3′ apart. I came up with:
- Kale – 12″
- Beets – 4″
- Potatoes – 12″
- Carrots – 3″
- Kohlrabi – 8″
- Onions – 6″
- Peppers – 15″
- Green Beans – 8″ (Trellised)
- Tomatoes – 36″ (Trellised)
- Cucumbers – 8″ (Trellised)
- Dill – 12″
In that order, from left to right. I chose this order because Dill does not play well with carrots, peppers, or potatoes, but it does play well with cucumbers. My garden will get direct sunlight from sunrise to sunset, and it’s suggested that cucumbers get some indirect sunlight. Dill is tall and tomatoes are tall so planting them between the two is a very synergistic relationship. To add to that, tomatoes hate potatoes. So again, keeping the tomatoes near one end and potatoes near the other makes a lot of sense.
This all added up to needing a 22′ wide garden. I added 2′ to the end of each row and another 1′ to the outside of the end rows for walking and as a buffer against weeds and grass encroachment. The end footprint is 12′ x 24′.
Okie dokie, all the planning is done. Time to get dirty!
My little 12′ x 24′ plot is actually part of what once used to be a much much much bigger garden. But I don’t think anything had been planted in it for at least a year or two. This means great soil, but that weeds and grass have completely overrun the entire area. Weeding this was no easy chore. I ended up using a pitch fork to loosen the soil underneath the weeds in order to ensure I got the entire root when I pulled them. (Turns out, that actually helped the tilling process too.) It took me about 5 or 6 hours to do the whole thing.
Pretty good start for my first day.
Day 2 – 4/21/14
If you don’t know much about gardening and are reading this because you stumbled across this post while researching your own first garden, you’ll quickly come to find out that there are early/late/cold weather plants and warm weather plants. Of the cold weather plants I listed above (kale, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, onions, dill, potatoes), kale is the most important to get in just before last frost. They really like a nip of frost, and from what I’ve read, if they grow entirely in warmer months, the leaves can become bitter when you harvest them. So, I made it mandatory that I get my kale in asap because I’m not entirely sure Colorado is going to get anymore frost this season. Problem is, I still needed to till and go to work.
I decided I would rent a rototiller from Home Depot. When I got there, I noticed they only had 4 hour, 24 hour, weekly, and monthly rates. I knew I wouldn’t be able to work in my garden on Tuesday so 24 hours was out of the question. Looked like I was going with the 4 hour rental. That means I had 4 hours to get it home, till, rake, plant, fence, and return it by 10pm. Add on top of that, I still had to stop at the nursery to get the plants and some other supplies. That put me right around the 3 hour mark. Oh boy!
So, as I mentioned, pulling weeds with the rake really helped a lot. As did the fact that this soil had already been used as a garden previously. I made two passes with the tiller, and the soil was crumbled to a fine dirt. Two big blisters and one hour later, I was done tilling. I quickly raked everything level and planted my kale. I miscounted how many plants would fit in my 8′ row so now one of them will be sharing a row with my carrots. Oops! There are also no less than 34 rabbits in our neighborhood. Of which, there are at least 6 in our yard at all times so I put some chicken wire around each plant. Eventually I’ll fence the whole garden instead of individual plants.
Day 2 complete.
Day 4 – 4/23/14
Went to the greenhouse to pick up the rest of my early season plants, some organic compost to enrich the existing soil, and fencing material. I had plans to finish planting everything today after work, but then it rained. Instead, I picked up my new MacBook Pro. I’m such a hipster douche.
The dude at the greenhouse convinced me to buy a different strain of beets that look more like a carrot in shape. He said you can plant them much much closer together, and due to the crowding, the younger beets force the mature beets out of the ground. It’s like a pop-up turkey thermometer! I also wasn’t prepared to choose which type of onions I wanted. I went with Big Daddy….because I liked the name. Turns out, it was a good choice. Very disease resistant and love full sun.
Note: Go back and get some Vidalia (Granex yellow) onions. I forgot that I love them.
Day 5 – 4/24/14
I’m jumping the gun a little bit with this update, but c’mon, it’s CO. There’s NO WAY it could rain two days in a row, right?! Also, we got frost last night after the rain. YESSS!! Happy kale!
Speaking of kale, the fencing above seems to be working. No bunnies have found their way to the leaves that are partially sticking through. However, there are signs of bugs. I’ll have to watch this closely the next couple of days.
Anyways, now I plan on finish planting and fencing everything, but here are some tips I got from my dad:
- Cover the beet, carrot, and dill seeds just ever so lightly with some of the compost. Don’t bury them in the dirt.
- Then cover those rows with a board to keep the soil moist and prevent crusting. This will allow the sprout to come through.
- Compost only the rows of plants. No need to fertilize your weeds.
- Mulch only your walking paths if using wood mulch. This will help control weeds but also sucks the nitrogen out of the soil once it starts to decay. If you want to mulch around your plants, choose something like grass clippings if you don’t use a ton of chemicals to treat your grass.
Day 6 – 4/25/14
Yup, I got all of my early season plants in the ground and the rabbit fence up yesterday! Now I just have to baby along the seeds and hope I did enough things right to get them to sprout. I won’t plant my “summer plants” until the end of May.
Some to-do notes: add top soil around my kale and work it in. Make a dirt trough around my seeds so that water doesn’t just run off the sides of my rows and wash away the dirt.
Day 17 – 5/6/14
I think I have some sprouts!!!
I could be wrong. The weeds are starting to pop up too, finally, but these look different than the ones I know are weeds. I have a few suspects in my rows of carrots and beets. I might also have to replant my dill. Methinks it’s not coming up. Poop.
Day 30 – 5/19/14
Welp, pretty sure I had some carrot and beet sprouts as of the last update, but they haven’t really grown since then either. I’m perplexed. I planted the other half of my row of beets so I’ll either have two crops this fall, or one will grow and the other won’t….or neither will. lol?
Replanted my dill too. Rather than meticulously putting one seed every 9″ as suggested, I went with the law of averages and just sprinkled seeds all over. Certainly a couple of them will sprout this time, right? RIGHT?!?!
Lastly, definitely pulled out one of my potato plants thinking it was a weed. Ha!! What a rookie. I replanted it and am hoping for the best. Now that I know what a potato plant looks like, I can confirm I have six of them coming up. SIX!
Onions, kale, and kohlrabi are all doing well!
Day 38 – 5/27/14
Left for a rainy 3-day weekend and came back to kale ready to be picked!
Several healthy carrot sprouts are finally confirmed with more on the way I hope. Pretty sure beets and dill are done with. I’m going to continue to water their rows and hope for a miracle, but I don’t think they’re coming up.
Day 44 – 6/2/14
Tons of weeding today. Almost can’t keep up. Planted the rest of the garden except for green beans because I ran out of daylight. I also have officially given up on dill and replanted that row with two fennel plants.
Oh! And speaking of giving up, the beets are alive and kickin! Only 2 seeds from the first plant germinated, but it looks like almost ALL of them from the 2nd batch are coming up….and I planted A LOT in the name of law of averages (plant a ton, hope a few come up).
Updated the costs below. Other than the learning experience, sense of accomplishment, and joy of eating food I grew, it’s hard to believe this makes financial sense.
Day 68 – 6/26/14
- Fertilize the tomatoes and peppers once every two weeks
- Only water tomatoes in the morning so any water on the leaves can dry. Wet leaves at night can lead to disease.
- When I see cracks in the dirt around the base of the potato plants, those are the potatoes surfacing due to hard, clay soil
- Those are potatoes sticking through and will turn green (bad) if not covered with new soil
- I need to eat my kohlrabi
- They’re the size of softballs or bigger and will get hard and “woody” if I don’t pick them.
- Tomato bugs and Striped Cucumber beetles are the devil
Aside from that, I’m finding more dill sprouts. They must have got washed away in my initial waterings and are finally starting to germinate.
Beets are up and healthy. Time to start eating the greens.
Finally got my green beans planted.
Bought some bug killer and fertilizer. (Updated the costs again.)
Day 69 – 6/27/14
The worst news possible.
I have to leave for 3 weeks and potentially many many more for work. My garden will survive despite likely being overrun by weeds, but I won’t be here to eat most of the veggies. This completely deflates me. Much more than it probably should. All the hours, all the time spent weeding, all the mosquito bites…all for nothing. Ugh.
Day 71 – 6/29/14
Starting to prep the garden for my long absence, which really just means I’m finishing everything I’ve been procrastinating on.
I bought some more trellis and stakes for the green beans, and I’m going to mulch the isht out of everything that isn’t a plant to try keep the weeds at bay as much as possible while I’m gone. I also need to mound heaps and heaps of dirt on the potatoes and onions. My onions are getting big enough to eat right now, but I’d like to leave them in the ground while I’m gone. They’re sticking halfway out so I want to burry them too.
Day 74 – 7/2/14
Hello, Old Man Dave, here. As I prep my garden for 3 weeks of neglect, I noticed there were some veggies ready to be harvested. Kale, yes, but that’s nothing new. Tonight I picked baby red potatoes, more kohlrabi, and beet greens.
The soil is so incredibly hard here that the root vegetables aren’t able to grow as deep as usual so I’m having to cover them up with additional top soil. I did this for the other potato plants, onions, and a couple of beets.
This weekend I’ll be mulching the crap out of it to try keep the weeds at bay while I’m gone.
Ultimately, growing your own food should lower your grocery bill in theory. I want to put that theory to the test so I’ll be tracking all of my costs along the way. Even if it turns out that it doesn’t decrease my grocery bill, there’s still an immense amount of fulfillment by eating something you’ve created with your own two hands.
Chicken wire – $6.73
9 Kale plants, 2 bags of mulch, bamboo stakes – $29.91
Rototiller rental – $52.80
Plants, seeds, compost – $75.87
Fencing, hand rake, gloves – $76.02
Cucumber, Tomato, Fennel, pepper starts and green bean seeds; plus organic bug killer – $66.29
Tomato cages – $21.02
Insecticide and fertilizer – $14.09
Trellis and stakes – $23.89
Total = $366.62
Don’t Miss Your Chance
I was stuck in Corporate America for 9 years. I was miserable.
Then I took control.
You can too, and it starts right here.