Let the Sprouting Begin!

NOTE: I've decided to post this veganic garden update without the photos. I'm not sure if Computer Dude will be able to get them off my dead hard drive and so much has happened in the garden since then that I want to share with you. I'm really bummed there are no photos to accompany this but the next update will have lots of them and you'll be surprised at how much has happened in my little plot of earth! ********************************

Oh, so much exciting news to share with you! I’ve been a bad blogger on this subject because I’ve been too busy OUT IN THE GARDEN and haven’t made time to do a write up on what’s been happening of late. So let me get you caught up.

[If my hard drive hadn't died, there would be a photo here of the "final" garden. Mira would be standing next to it. It was really a cute photo.]

The last time I wrote about the garden, we had just finished up the “7-layer Burrito” where we layered in our soil and green manure to create a rich bed of well fed, nutrient-dense soil in which to grow our veggies. The next step was to put a final layer of humus (not to be confused with hummus) on top in which to plant the seeds in. Or, at least that’s what I thought was all that we had left to do. Tom being Tom, had some other ideas for finishing off the garden as well. This is what is so wonderful about working with a master gardener…you have access to years and years of knowledge and experience that makes a huge difference in the success and functionality of your garden. Someone like Tom is full of little details—things that either I wouldn’t have thought of until too late or things that I’m not even aware are possible—that will make my life easier and my plants happier.

So this is how our kinda-final two days went:

We sifted through the mulch that is my front yard. My front yard has no grass. Instead, I have two huge Chinese elm trees that provide filtered light throughout the day. These elms drop their small, slender leaves onto my front yard throughout the year, keeping the yard in a constant leaf-bed cover. (Read between the lines here, People…NO MOWING!!). Since Emmett and I have lived in the house, that would be almost seven years now, we haven’t done anything with this layer of leaves. Nothing. Never raked them up or anything. Just walked on top of them. So you can imagine what kind of wonderful things have been happening under this leaf bed…namely decomposition! Tom was thrilled with the quality of the humus we were getting and that was what we wanted to use as the top layer for my garden. Unfortunately, there was not enough of this wonderful stuff to cover my full garden so we had to augment with a commercial vegan, organic soil that Tom uses on other clients’ gardens. I was a little bummed about that but also realize had I had my act together and been composting for at least a year before starting the garden, I could have made it work. So I sacrificed a bit on the permaculture side of veganic gardening in the interest of time. I can live with that.

[If my hard drive hadn't died, there would be a photo here of Tom putting a shovelful of humus on a make-shift sifter over a big, black 20-gallon nursery container. We sifted the humus to get out any rocks and leaves that we didn't want in the final product. It was a really fun process.]

[Then there would be a close-up photo of the humus here.]

[And then there would another photo here of the bag of organic, veganic soil we augmented with.]

Next, Tom placed stepping stones down the middle of the garden plot and around the perimeter so as I’m working in the garden, I’m not going all Twister and over stretching or balancing on one foot or accidentally stepping on all over our hard growing plants. This is one of those suggestions Tom made that I didn’t think was necessary but now am so incredibly grateful for that I can’t imagine my garden without. Tom was right—if you can’t easily and safely maneuver around your garden, you’re going to be miserable. Not walking in mud or dirt, having stable ground beneath me, having easy access to the middle of the garden…priceless.

[Let's pretend there is a photo here of the stepping stones in and around my garden.]

On the backside of the garden, we double dug five holes (in between the stepping stones) and lined them with wire mesh. These new holes are home to vine veggies like cucumbers, melons, and squash, all of which like growing on hillsides (which the backside of my garden butts up against).

[Now close your eyes and envision the above scenario. You just created a mental picture of the actual picture that would be posted here had my hard drive not gone AWOL.]

And finally we planted seeds! Tom asked me how I wanted my garden to be laid out—in rows or in clusters. Having had a row garden in Minnesota, I decided I wanted a less structured garden and opted for clusters. I’m really excited about this as it feels like I have more options on how to use the space, that it makes it easier to do complementary planting, and that it will be easier to multi-crop throughout the year (planting new veggies as the old ones are harvested).

[Had the Universe been kinder to me, you would now witness a photo of Tom and me planting seeds. He was on one end of the garden, I was on the other. Mira was in the middle watching with extreme fascination. Again, this was a very cute photo that the Universe has now denied you the pleasure of viewing.]

[And here you would see all my seed packets laid out. It was colorful.]

I got my seeds from two places. First, I started with Peaceful Valley Farm located in Grass Valley, Calif. They have a reputation for high-quality seeds and their commitment to organic agriculture is very strong. Whatever I couldn’t find there, I bought through Botanical Interests located in Broomfield, Colo. At both places, I got only organic, heirloom seeds. I decided early on that I would mostly plant veggies that I couldn’t get at my local farmer’s market or veggies that I use a lot of (such as herbs).

Once the seeds were planted, I gave them a good watering. I mean, a REALLY, REALLY good watering. As in a solid 15 minutes of directly hosing down the plot to ensure the water saturated the first few inches. This is, after all, the home to my seeds who are trying to burst into life. Tom said the key to successful germination is in keeping the seeds constantly moist. In California, with humidity levels barely in the teens (and sometimes in the single digits), that can be a challenge. One way to address the issue (besides going out and watering every three seconds) is to cover your garden with something to keep the moisture in. You can use anything for this (plastic tarp, cardboard) but the best thing is burlap or a cotton material (such as a blanket or t-shirts!) which keeps moisture in but also doesn’t keep the bed too hot.

[Argh. I'm so upset that you can't see this photo. It is of my garden covered in two blankets. YES! I used two old blankets and put them right on top of our planted seeds. It was the coolest thing. And I have to say, it worked! My seeds were so happy to have all that moisture to themselves. It was a happy sprouting environment.]

So with all of that done…it was now time to sit back and wait for germination. The first few days are HELL as you anxiously check the bed a thousand times a day for signs of life (besides the pill bugs and slugs). Then, about three days in, just as you’re thinking, “Crap, this isn’t going to work,” WHAM…there are your radishes popping up. And then the next day, your Yellow Pencil Beans and Royal Purple Beans burst through the ground. And then your Kale. And then your Golden and Candystripe Beets. And finally, after about 10 days, all the rest of your seeds decide to follow suit and make a break for it…Purple and Thai Basil, Broad Windsor Fava Beans, Kentucky Wonder Beans, Burgundy Okra, and Bunching Onions. Then, last but not least, you finally see the wispy green shoots that are your carrots. And all is well in the world.

[Insert mental image here of tiny sprouts.]

[Insert another mental image here of more tiny sprouts.]

[Insert mental image here of me pouting over not having real images of tiny sprouts for you to see.]

Until you plant your vine veggies—Delicata Squash, Lemon Cucumber, Armenian Cucumber, Patty Squash, Cinderella Pumpkin, and Nutmeg Mellon. That’s when sometime while you’re peacefully sleeping in the night, some creature comes in and goes all buffet on your newly planted seeds. So, after building little cages around the vine veggies and covering the garden in a layer of cayenne pepper and cinnamon, I’m happy to report there have been no other major intrusions!

I think I’ve got the veganic garden story caught up. In addition to checking my garden at least four times a day (I’m not kidding you…things are happening throughout the day in that thing....I’ll check it in the morning and there will be a tiny hint of a seed germinating and by the afternoon, it’s popped through the soil and by the evening it’s an inch above ground and has leaves on it!!), I’m now moving on to potting some herbs and starting my tomato and pepper seedlings for planting next month. I’ll do an update on that process in the next week or two.

In the mean time, I’d like to hear everyone give a big shout out to veganic gardening! YES, IT IS POSSIBLE!! It’s happening right before my eyes and it is so, so exciting!