Thursday, February 7, 2013

Spring is coming soon.

Photo: Philadelphia Phillies
Forget about the groundhog. Don't me wrong, I think Phil is adorable.  And a rodent can't be that less accurate a prognosticator than the local weatherman.  (Hurricane excepted.  When almost an entire media market doesn't remember your real name (it's Glenn Schwartz), you better have the record to back up the nickname.)    We've had snow already once since Groundhog Day, and more is forecast for tomorrow. I'm not holding out much hope that Phil is right that spring is coming early. you know what IS proving spring is just around the corner?? A 53-foot truck loaded up with baseballs, bats, and other spring training essentials just left Citizen's Bank Park yesterday.  By the time it makes the 1000+ mile journey to Clearwater, Florida, it will be time for the pitchers and catchers to start reporting, followed soon by the rest of the team.  THAT, my friends, means spring is just around the corner, and it's time to start thinking about putting together our garden. 

In the past, I didn't bother putting in a garden.  Neal works in the South Jersey farming industry, and often comes home with produce. I figured it would always be too much of a good thing -- if I had it coming ripe, then so would the farmers.  I love putting up tomatoes for the winter, and Neal usually gets me a couple of (25-50 pounds each) cases every summer, plus more if I have any jars left.  He also gets me peaches, blueberries, corn, zucchini, eggplant -- if it grows in South Jersey, I've probably put it up.   Two years ago, I decided to try a small "container" garden, so I could have the fun of a garden but not be drowning in veggies.

I planted three tomato plants and two cucumbers.  The cucumbers were nicely prolific -- and since I could live on cucumber salad, that was fine with me.  Tomatoes, on the other hand...the three that I harvested were lovely, but it would have been much nicer had there been a few (dozen!) more.  It was a weird year -- 2011 saw a hurricane and and earthquake in the same week, so apparently the cosmos had a thing against tomato plants, too.   Last year, I decided to try again, this time planting in the ground.  I put in FIVE tomato plants (two cherry tomato, two plum tomato, one globe), along with four each bell pepper, cucumber, and bean plants, three cantaloupe plants and some herbs.  We we had lots of produce, but it still wasn't enough.  With a household of five vegetable eaters (discounting Celia and Damien, who can only eat a few things safely because of their allergies), even the super-prolific bean plants rarely had enough to pick at the same time for one meal.  I think I will skip the peppers this year and use that space for more tomatoes and beans.  Celia can have strawberries and wanted to plant ONE plant - she though that would produce plenty of fruit.  She got three strawberries to eat from it, but it did seem to spread and there were several baby runners trying to root themselves over the summer.  Maybe this year she'll get enough for a smoothie. (Or a couple more plants.)

I fully admit, I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm such a city girl. Yes, my parents had a yard garden when I was growing up, but still.  If anybody saw me tying up my cukes, they'd ask, "Who let the city girl play in the dirt?"  We actually live on a working farm -- we rent the land to a local farmer, and I'm sure he likes coming here just so he can have a good laugh.  Last summer's beans took me by surprise.  I tried being patient, not checking them every day to see if they were ready.  I was waiting for them to get taller.  No, not Jack-and-the-Beanstalk tall, just "above my ankles."  I had squatted down to pull a couple weeds, and the beans caught my eye -- I had probably 50 beans, all 4+ inches long!!  Ooops.  Guess they were ready?  That was the only night we had enough picked at the same time for a meal!  Lessons learned: 1. We probably need 8 bean plants.  2. They don't grow tall like cucumbers, so check them already!

Basil flatbread...yum.

 I'm already eyeing the yard and seeing what I can rearrange.  We have a big patch of landscaping that was left untouched, and I think that is going to be the new cantaloupe spot.  I've only put in "summer" crops, but I'm thinking about trying my hand at lettuces.   I can put them in the new "cantaloupe" spot and then they'll be done in enough time to plant the cantaloupes.  Both years I followed the local farmers' plans (I just ask Neal what's in the fields) and for Mother's Day chose to go to a local garden center and get some plants.  I always get some little ones so I can have a later harvest, but I'm impatient.  Totally antsy.  I want to put them in today, and harvest tomorrow.  Yes, I KNOW it doesn't work like that, but that doesn't mean I don't want it to.  (I told you I am impatient.)   So I try to get a couple of bigger ones that will be ready to harvest a little sooner.  This year, if I put in lettuce or spinach, I'll have something to harvest early.  (Assuming that chap from Punxsutawney is correct and they don't freeze...)

This spring, the plan is to maybe start some seeds with Jude, and then move them outside.  I've got some ideas pinned for seed starting, and a really clever pallet-based lattice to build, too.  I'm looking forward to having an even better garden this year.  Oh, and a trip for my boys to the World Series!  Fightin's in Five!!  

Growing with friends...


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