This is the year we are letting go of our ambitions for a perfect garden and creating a garden that fits into our busy schedule. We are planting wild gardens for busy parents.
If you follow last month’s easy steps, you already started small, shared your plan, and set your goal. This month, we prepare the ground and the seed or plant. If you are just starting now, it’s easy to catch up.
- Prepare the ground
- Prepare the seed or plant
Prepare the ground. Dig the dirt in the area where you are going to plant. How deep you dig depends on the plants. About 6″ average will be fine for most plants. For carrots or potatoes, dig at least 12″. For my volunteer pumpkins, I don’t dig at all. They just grow in the hard dirt next to my sidewalk where my kids carve pumpkins each year. How you prepare the ground depends on what you want the dirt to do.
Goal: dig a little
Add organic matter to the dirt. If you made compost over the past year, its time has come. Dig in about 50/50 dirt and organic matter. If you don’t have enough compost, you can add shredded leaves. If you still don’t have enough, go to a garden store, tell them the condition of your soil, and buy a bag of whatever they recommend. If you have clay, you might need sand (though be careful adding sand). If you have sand, you might need peat moss or topsoil. You’ll pay, sure, but it’s a trade off between money and the time it takes to make enough compost.
Goal: add organic matter
Prepare the seed or plant. When you plant outside depends on your weather and your plant. Look at your projected last frost date. You will probably not plant until after that date, but you can make exceptions if you are willing to put in a little more time to do research. Add the frost date to your plan, if you’ve been taking notes. (Gardeners take notes. If you are more wild than that, fine.) That is your target planting date. If you have to order a plant, place your order now. If you need to grow seedlings, check the seeds to see how quickly they grow. Plan your seed start date so you have a seedling ready on your plant date. It could be time to start the seeds now.
Goal: have the seed or plant ready on the planting date
To check your projected last frost date, you can look at these frost charts for Canada, which give you only one date as a broad estimate, or enter your zip code for this very cool frost chart that gives you the chance of frost by date and spring temperature.
If you have chosen your one tiny patch to nurture for this year, preparing the ground should not take you more than 30 minutes.
What I did.
We prepared the ground the difficult way. Preparing the ground is not such an easy task with my ground.
Shallow. My soil is generally shallow, since my house is built on what used to be a stone quarry. I remember one year when my mother planted carrots that all came out bent at 90 degree angles. (I live in the house I grew up in.) After about 8″, we just have rocks.
Dry. I live in a desert. The soil dries out very quickly and easily, so I don’t want to make it even easier for water to drain.
Depleted. For at least the past 20 years, the spot I chose has had the same old bushes, with no improvements at all in the soil. You can see the stumps that we finally pulled out in last month’s post.
Visible. Because my space is along the sidewalk leading to my front door, I also want it to look nice.
Because of all of this and the fact that my husband is very attached to the success of his hops, I planned a raised bed. A raised bed gives us a lot more flexibility in soil quality and depth.
Ground conclusion: preparing the ground did not take 30 minutes.
I presented my husband with the idea of a raised bed. I showed him instructions and pointed out the pile of painted wood in our backyard, left over from replacing the cedar siding on our house. In my mind, I can see how I would do it in 30 minutes, but his fussery has resulted in approximately 1 hour of planning, 2 hours of him deciding where to put the bed (in a space that is only 2-4″ larger than the bed on each side), and I assume another 2-12 hours of him putting the pieces together and filling them with dirt. As you can see from the photo, he isn’t done. I hear the hammering as I write, so I am confident you will see the result next month.
The expected result is a 6′ x 3′ x 1.5′ cedar-sided raised bed that matches the color of our house, with hops that shade the wall of our kitchen, making that room ever so slightly cooler in the hottest part of summer.
Because the hops we are planting are my husband’s babies, intended to be used for home brewing, he is fussing over them and their bed. That’s fine, of course, as long as he has the time to fuss. In last month’s post I suggested that one of the essentials of your wild garden is to share the gardening or the planning. I shared the idea, and my husband took over. I love this. I just need to give him gentle nudges every once in a while, like researching raised beds and pointing to already painted wood in the yard.
You could also have your children do supervised planting, though that probably takes longer than just doing it yourself. It depends whether your goal is the process or the product.
We prepared for the plant. Three hops rhizomes arrived this week. We need to plant them as quickly as possible, but we also need to avoid frost. We had 8″ of snow last week before the two 80 degree days showed up and melted it away, so it’s warm but we aren’t past the threat of frost quite yet. According to the zip code frost chart above, we still have a 90% chance of more frost. So, part of our gardening this week involves planning to protect the plants on cold nights.
Hops can sometimes grow 12″ a day, though 24″ a week is more usual. We have a space 8-9′ then we will train them to grow out. To give them support as they grow, we are running a wire up from the bed to the wire where our grapes and blackberries grow along the edge of our roof.
If your plant will need support, plan for that as you prepare the space.
Your April List: Prepare the Ground
You can do it! Spend 30 minutes on your garden in April.
- Dig the ground (10 minutes)
- Add organic matter (10 minutes)
- Start the plants (10 minutes)
If you have less than ideal soil to start, you might want to spend extra time preparing the ground, though you don’t have to go so far as to build a raised bed like I did. This is definitely the month to spend a little extra time if you want your garden to perform well.