Friday, May 30, 2008

Start now? Yes!

Several of you have wondered if it is too late to start a garden. Every time is a good time to start a garden! ...unless the ground is too frozen to dig. I just harvested lots of lettuce I planted in January.

Now is much better than January. Tomatoes are amazingly adventuresome, and homegrown tomatoes are vastly better than anything you can buy. Yes, there are still some tomato seedlings on my front steps. (I think about 250 plants have been taken away this year.) You can also plant beans, but I recommend just putting bean seeds into the soil, about 2" apart and 1"-2" deep.

Anything the garden centers are selling is still timely to plant. Deborah Dowe developed a system in Union County of disseminating the left-over plants at the end of the planting season that the gardening centers were going to throw away to children and senior citizens, who derived pleasure from planting and raising the left-over's. I can put anyone who feels a calling to start a similar movement in Essex County in touch with Deborah. Meanwhile, buy anything you see on sale at the gardening centers, and don't worry about it being too late.

The gotcha is your soil. If you have virgin Montclair clay, you have to dig; and that's no small project. "The more organic matter, the better," was the mantra of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine when I was starting to garden. "You can't get too much." I still believe that. If you are starting in Montclair clay, you might be content with tomatoes and beans the first year, although chard or kale might grow too.

Lettuce needs only 6" of good soil, so you might be able to buy enough topsoil or enough compost to mix with your topsoil to get that needed 6" layer. It doesn't take a lot of space to raise lettuce in good soil. Two square feet can produce a reasonable amount, although more is better... up to a point!

If someone has been gardening in your plot within the past 400 years, your beginning will be easier. You won't know until you dig if someone made your ground a thriving Victory Garden in WWII, in which case you're in luck. But even without such luck, you can have a decent garden this year, and a wonderful garden two years from now. Mine was a central milk delivery spot in the 19th century, so it had not been dug before and I hit a cement layer about a foot down that I mixed with the soil for some handy lime. In my third year the soil was almost as fertile as it is now. I double dug spring and fall each of those years. See HOW TO RAISE MORE VEGETABLES THAN YOU EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE ON LESS LAND THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE by John Jeavons to learn how. However, unless you have plenty of time each day now, you probably want to get started with your tomatoes and beans after a single digging.

Someone wrote about tired lettuce. All lettuce dies in a few weeks, but it becomes spectacular first. "It bolts." If your lettuce isn't thriving, it probably needs more nitrogen in the soil, but six inches will do, as mentioned above. I plant lettuce every 3-4 weeks, so I'm always looking for another spare plot for lettuce.

It's a great year to start gardening. I hope lots of people do!


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