How to Set Garden Goals & Go to the Organic Growers School
Fer is hosting a garden goals blog carnival at My Little Garden in Japan and oh my gosh, do I ever have a lot to do this year! I’ve included info about the Organic Growers School in March since it always heralds my spring planning.
For the last three seasons I’ve jumped from garden to garden, so I haven’t been able to focus on long-term plans. This year my boyfriend is moving into the house I own (I currently live 9 houses away from it) and I’m excited about the sunny lot and potential to think ahead. But aside from a few perennials on the property it also means I’m starting over from scratch — again!
One of the first things on the list was to trudge through my annual seed inventory. I’m one of those gardeners that can’t resist every shade, shape, and size in a catalog and I have 6 large, stuffed airtight containers of seeds to prove it. Keeping up with what I do and don’t have in stock can be chaotic.
I do love my nightshades. I have far more tomato, eggplant, and pepper varieties than I can even grow at one time. Partly, it’s because I struggle to throw out viable seeds even if I think they’re duds. I wasn’t very impressed with ‘Red Target’, (hard as a rock) but the packet has at least 50 seeds left in it! Maybe I can talk myself into tossing them in the compost.
Last winter my boyfriend was appalled with my laborious process of writing every single seed packet I have in a notebook. Since he is infinitely handsome and clever (and sitting right here recommending “improvements” to my writing) he taught me a more efficient method of using spreadsheets. In theory, when I run out of seeds I can just update my spreadsheet to keep the list current.
If you don’t have spreadsheet software you can download a free copy of OpenOffice — that’s what I used and I found it had all the features I was accustomed to in the paid, brand-name versions.
Next stop: all the garden catalogs that have been arriving in the mail. I forced myself to hold off on ordering anything until I knew what I already have. I’m embarrassed of the many times I’ve ordered identical seeds from multiple sources because of my jumbled notes. Now that I have these spreadsheets I know definitively that I’m out of green beans, snow peas, parsley, and globe artichokes. I also know my cucumbers are getting on in years and may not germinate.
I want to order soon so that everything arrives before I do any seed starting. Last year I had some pepper seeds that didn’t show up until May!
And as you can see, that really put a damper on my pepper growing. Er…
My magnificent, astute, and astoundingly dapper boyfriend (he’s still sitting here) is also planning to build us a cold frame. Maybe this year I won’t be hauling all my seed trays in and out off the house depending on the weather. Since I don’t have room for artificial lights, using natural sunlight has been my most reliable method of getting sturdy, fast growing seedlings each spring.
We’ll also be building compost bins this year. I like the idea of this self-aerating pile and this cheap version of a tumbler composter is cool, but we’ll probably build a tidy row of 3 – 4 bins like the top photo in this article. I’ve mostly composted without a bin but I think my neighbors will appreciate the contained method.
Since my squeamish mother can’t veto what happens at the other house, we’ll also be using homemade worm bins in the kitchen. Yay! I’ve really missed my worms. (To my mother’s credit, she let me put live ladybugs in the fridge… but drew the line at vermicomposting).
Even though I’ve gardened at this location in the past, my old vegetable beds are long gone. I’m not that sad about it since it means we can install a smarter design than I had before.
We already know from this past year that with determination we can put together raised beds cheaply and quickly. This yard once hosted an extensive vegetable garden, so it’s probable that the soil will still be better than average. The biggest problem will be weeds like ground ivy, which have taken over as “lawn” in my absence. Nature took care of that soft, fertile blank slate in a hurry.
Another design consideration is that we want our new beds to be ornamental as well as functional. I’ve already filled pages of a large newsprint artist pad with geometric bed patterns and paths I can still fit a wheelbarrow through. Blueprints aren’t my thing, so we’ll see how it turns out.
We must have fruit! The house is already endowed with a fig, peach, native cherry, pear, Asian pear, muscadines, an asparagus patch, and my family’s heirloom pomegranate tree. I planted them around 10 years ago so they’re very well established. We want to add 2 pawpaws, an Asian persimmon, cold-hardy citrus, a quince, 2 cherries (because I’m stubborn), 3 columnar apples, ‘Heritage’ raspberries, rabbiteye blueberries, goumi, 2 pineapple guava, gooseberries, strawberries, and fruiting roses.
It’s going to take a while for us to afford all that, so we’ll start with the larger, slower maturing fruit trees and work our way up.
Most excitingly, we’re also getting backyard chickens! This is my second attempt — I had some on order a few years ago but then canceled it when I decided to move. We’re going to raise the usual order of 25 and give 21 of them to my friend for her farm. So, we get to choose 4 out of araucanas and cuckoo marans. I am so excited! In the meantime we are converting the underside of the deck into a chicken coop and building a backyard chicken tractor. I’m already fantasizing about the composting opportunities!
I also have to start new bee hives. Moving bees to the new house involves taking them far enough away (3 miles or more) that they forget where they used to live and then moving them back again. We already tried that on another occasion and it wasn’t very successful. Talk about a pain! Instead, we’ll be starting with a new hive that my stepdad gave me for Christmas (because he wanted to steal mine…).
At this point you’re probably wondering how much we can cram into a single season. LOTS! We’re even talking about adding a small pond to encourage aquatic wildlife in the garden. That project is last on the todo list, though.
Number one on my list is attending the Organic Growers School the first weekend in March. I’ve never seen a better deal for a weekend conference before — only $40 a day if you register before February 17th! You can take up to 4 classes on each 7 hour class day.
Did I mention the classes are amazing? Since I’m going both days I get to choose 8 of them. Right now “Heirloom Apples and Your Incredible, Edible Yard,” “BioIntensive Agriculture for Urban Spaces,” “Pollinator Conservation on Farms,” and “Modern Homesteading: Retooling the Tradition” are catching my eye. I also recommend “Myco-Remediation of Contaminated Soil” since I’m friends with the instructor and know his programs to be top-notch.
Even if the educational topics weren’t an inspiring thrill to attend, it’s so encouraging to see the masses of people who make the effort to go each year. Believe it or not, the Appalachian south is a hotbed of conservation!
If you don’t want to make your own maple syrup you can still try some from Maple Creek Farm in North Carolina. Better hurry, last year they sold out!
So, to recap:
- Organic Growers School
- Order seeds
- Start seeds
- Build a cold frame
- Build a set of compost bins
- Amend the soil
- Design a garden
- Plant fruit trees
- Build a chicken coop under the deck
- Get chickens
- Start a new beehive
- Build a small water feature for wildlife
Piece of cake, right? I guess y’all can give me a report card come next winter… and if I don’t make the grade I can always daydream myself into spring of 2012.