As-Yet Untitled Gardening Series

Seriously, I have no idea what to call this series.

This is not me. I am not that handsome.

I grew up on a farm, but that doesn’t mean I came to gardening easily.  In fact, I absolutely hated it as a kid.  We had a very large garden and my mother had my brother and I spend days and days during the summers in the garden pulling weeds, when we could have been doing much more important things—like tearing up the hay bales in the barn and then jumping off the 30-foot stacks of bales into the soft pile.  Needless to say, gardening was not a hobby I ever thought I would get into—much less enjoy—but Mrs. Butcher had a lot to do with that.  When we first started getting serious, she wanted to start a garden and I said “oh, hell no.  I’m not spending all my free time pulling weeds.”  She informed me that gardening doesn’t have to be such a grind.  After much hemming and hawing, I relented and she showed me some techniques she had learned over the years from different sources.  Fast forward twenty years, and now I’m the primary gardener in the family.

This series is designed to do a couple of things.  The first is to introduce basic gardening principles to anyone who has told themselves that they are plant killers and cannot grow a garden.  The second is to offer up some nifty tips to help new and experienced gardeners get more yields from their crops.  “Crops” being the operative word.  I do not grow useless plants, so if you want to learn how to grow prize-winning geraniums, then go read Martha Stewart.  Actually, don’t, because she doesn’t deserve your money.  Just grow some herbs instead.

What this series is not designed to be is a definitive, “expert”, account of how to grow the Greatest Garden Ever.  Gardening, by its very nature (so to speak) is a very individualistic process.  Successful gardening is determined by a whole series of factors.  The region where you live and its average climate, the quality of the ground in which you’re planting, the size of the garden itself, your available free time, your personal finances, your physical health, etc.  So, what works for one garden may not work for another.  That’s where the comment section comes in.  Who knows, if this generates enough interest, maybe we can have posts from others to get some detailed accounts of what works for them.

Gardening can be, believe it or not, fun.  I think one of my favorite activities (besides the harvesting) is the preparation stage.  We get our seed catalog from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which is our primary seed provider, every January and immediately start poring over it to decide what we will plant each year.  It’s important—especially during our new pandemic lockdown reality—to order seeds and starter plants (like onion sets) as early as possible, because it takes no time at all before stocks start to run out.  Which, by the time you’ve read this post, means that this little nugget of gold has arrived roughly three months too late—so you’ll probably have to make do with whatever seed packets you can find at your local garden center.  We like Johnny’s because their seeds have a high germination rate, so we waste less seed, and because the plants tend to be much stronger.  Also, the company is owned by a bunch of hippies.  Seriously.  You should look at the group picture they put in their catalog each year.

However, it is all too easy to order way more seed than you can use, which is why we also diagram our garden plan while looking at the seed calendar.  Even then, we still order too much seed, but at least the surplus is manageable—and even three-year old seed from Johnny’s germinates well, which is more than I can say for a lot of the large providers.  We order a fairly diverse set of seeds:  lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, various peppers, onion sets (which are basically little plants because growing onions from seed is a pain in the ass), herbs, etc.

When the seeds arrive, we then need to determine when to start them.  Most of what we plant doesn’t get direct seeded into the ground, but is instead started indoors and then transplanted later.  This process involves figuring out when the last frost date will be for our area and then backdating the seed starting date so they will be ready to put in the ground at the right time.  Sure, you can go Old School and get a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac, but we use technology because we are super hip people who are totally with it, or whatever the kids say these days.  We go to a site that is able to tell us the best odds for the average frost date in our area:

https://garden.org/apps/frost-dates/

All you have to do is punch in your zip code and it gives you a table of probabilities based on historical data:

Some people are gamblers and shoot for a date in the 60-70% columns, but we’ve been burned too many times, so we go with the 50% date.  Also, because we live on a lake, our frost temperature is higher than 32 degrees, so we go with the 36-degree date.  This year’s 50/50 date for us will be May 25th, which essentially means we’ll have Memorial Day Weekend to put everything in the ground.

All you ever wanted to know–but were afraid to ask–about pepper seeds.

So, based on a transplant date of May 29th, which is the Saturday of the weekend, we then backdate when we start certain seeds.   For example, the cold crops like lettuces, only need to be started about 3-4 weeks before transplanting, so we’ll be starting those seeds on May 8th.  For seeds that need more time to grow, like peppers, we start those eight weeks ahead, which means March 29th.  Transplant times are typically provided on the seed packaging—we didn’t just come up with these timelines through our own intuitive genius.  Seed starting will be covered in more detail in a later post.

In the meantime, here are some good gardening references:

Dick Raymond’s Gardening Year – This book is long out of print, so you’ll need to find used copies.  It is a great resource for beginning and more advanced gardeners.  He covers the full twelve months of planning, planting, harvesting, cleaning up and planning again.  There are lots of great tips for growing a successful garden as well.

Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver – An encyclopedia of pretty much any problem for almost any useful garden plant, from pests, to disease, to environmental issues.  This book was the primary reason why our eggplant crop from last year went from bust to boom.

This first post is pretty general and not terribly descriptive, but we’re just getting started.  When we get into the more active stages of the gardening process, I’ll zero in on a particular concept, or critical stage of the growing season, along with more pictures.

One last thing:  I’ve had a few ideas for what to name this series, but Loveshaq’s Bird Droppings series reminded me, once again, that none of us is as smart as all of us.  So, if you have some ideas for what to name this series, put it in the comments below, and hopefully we’ll come up with a winner.

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About butcherbakertoiletrymaker 580 Articles
When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.

19 Comments

  1. …when I was a kid my grandmother had a garden big enough for a vegetable patch & a section where each year we’d put up a whole frame with netting pegged to it that was referred to as “the fruit cage”…& even a small orchard of sorts…basically when my dad was a kid it was an actual farm but the fields were sold off before I was born when one local farm swallowed up all the little ones that used to be in the area & my grandfather went into a different line of work

    …so I’m not useless in a garden (ornamental or crop-bearing) but having never had one of my own to speak of generally in the sense of being told what needed doing rather than actually knowing?

    …that rodale’s book sounds pretty awesome & may very well be something I could stand to remember when I’m struggling to figure out what to get a relative or two for christmas, so thanks for that…& I look forward to more of these

    …don’t think I have a witty name idea…unless “growing to pot” counts…but really that’s just because you’ve reminded me of time spent in a place where the greenhouse was seperate from the potting shed & it took me years to wonder why we called it that when the actual potting happened in the greenhouse & not the shed…which was where all the tools lived

  2. So excited to see this post (ahem) blossom! We have a small garden, including containers, vertical, and in-ground  plants. I would be interested in more nuts and bolts on the seed to in-ground voyage. We do not do that because we have nowhere to put the seeds as the grow to transplant stage. Or maybe we do? Not much light in areas I can think of. And not on the dining room table (like one year). I am always in awe of your garden from your FYCE references, so this will be fun. Name.. Grown Your Own?

  3. Also just a general reminder that even a few large buckets or pots can yield fresh stuff on a patio. 

    For me, there’s also something unique about gardening that is so incredibly soothing to my anxiety. Like last year when everything was nutso in the grocery stores and we didn’t know what to do and what sort of quarantining might be needed, etc etc, I felt a noticeable mood improvement as soon as I could be like “well in a few weeks I can start snipping lettuce and spinach leaves…” 

    • tbh…i tend to just put the bags of soil down and cut a square out of them and then pot things in the bags
      doesnt look very pretty….but it does work…least for stuff that grows up…stuff tha grows down…not so much…unless you stand the bags upright and just cut the top off

      • I have an outdoor garden space. Just not allowed to grow crops. I usually have tulips and various bulbs, mums, and stuff to attract hummingbird/bees.
        Succulents are the only thing I *can’t* keep alive.

        • Is there any way you can claim it’s an “ornamental” tomato plant, or is it one of those authoritarian “i know it when i see it” types with no ability to appeal?

          • Technically, the unit gardens are supposed to be tended by the grounds crew. However, they don’t plant anything so I’m not sure how that would ever be accomplished, unless they wanted everyone to have a plot of dirt. The no food plants rule is to keep down “pest” animals, which considering we live in the suburbs, I think is stupid. There’s gonna be squirrels yo. I suppose one could plant such items in a pot, but it all depends how much attention you want to attract (both from squirrels and the board). 

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