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  • Meg Grimm

Snags & Spurs - Planting the Veggie Patch

Updated: Sep 26, 2018

Chronicles & Confessions of the Veggie Patch

An unfolding adventure tale of amateur vegetable gardening, peasant style.

-With detailed steps for establishing your own organic vegetable garden.

Series Post 3


No matter how long we stared, the space was still empty. Where a mountain of potting soil bags once towered imposingly in the parking lot of Rural King two weeks ago, now there was only unearthed pavement. The same was true for the all the other empty spaces once belonging to bag-mountains. Only a few pitiful hills of Miracle Grow remained.


That wasn’t the only trouble. The Miracle Grow bags were $4 instead of $2.


“I guess we should get six,” I said slowly to my conservative husband and gave him a moment to process.


As it turned out, we had originally soil-shopped at the right time. Now after filling the coffin table and deciding we should fill additional pots as well just in case, we were back for more potting soil, but everybody was out of the cheap stuff – and the options.


“This is big business,” Max’s mother Mary offered from behind us as we stood there dumbfounded. We had met her by chance at the greenhouse down the road. She was in the market for a tomato plant, and I had been filling a tray with seedlings – my notes in hand. She followed us to Rural King on our promise of cheap potting soil.


I wish I could say that my settling for Miracle Grow’s Garden Soil that afternoon was the only snag in my carefully mapped out plans, but it wasn't.


At the greenhouse, I had discovered that little plastic trays of seedlings come with 4-8 plants. For such an affordable price, buyers might as well take the whole tray, so I did. I’m not sure how you separate the little cubicles anyway! Therefore, instead of 1-2 plants of each of my selections, I found myself with 12 iceberg lettuce sprouts, 6 Roma tomatoes, 6 sweet banana peppers, 6 bell peppers, 4 onions, 4 cucumbers, and a rosemary plant. (See tips on what plants to purchase below this post.) Way more than I planned on buying, and I didn't know what I was going to do with it all!


Confession #7- I had no clue that plants could be so astoundingly affordable though. My total only came to $13.76.


“If these actually live and make vegetables, it will have been the most productive $13 I’ve ever spent in my life,” I told Max.


By the way, before I purchased the plants, I hadn’t considered whether to start my garden from seed or seedling. When we stopped by the greenhouse to have a look around, I admit I got caught up in the excitement of flitting from plastic dome to plastic dome loading trays with green, living things and high hopes. (I didn’t even stop to wonder if the plants were “organic” or not.) At Rural King, I also added basil, peppermint, parsley, a romaine seedling, and green bean and carrot seeds. Now, my research had suggested starting seeds early in small pots to be transplanted later anyway. Gardeners everywhere advocate for planting immediately after the last frost. Since our last frost had been weeks ago, buying seedlings now put me on schedule, I reasoned.


That evening, it rained (we get a lot of that), so the little baby plants came inside with us. We would transplant them the next day. But when Sunday arrived, the opportunity to take two of our nephews on an adventure after church had to be obliged first. After all, we don’t always have them both together on such nice days.



By the time we were able to begin our planting project, it was late in the afternoon. I had already scanned my books and consulted Google to help me choose which container should house which plants and how far apart each seedling needed to be from the next. It shouldn’t take too long…


Organic Veggie Patch, Step 4: Planting

(See tips on what plants to purchase below this post.)

  1. Seed packets and tags that come with seedlings contain brief information that includes (among other things) how far apart rows should be, and how far apart the seeds or sprouts need to be from one another. Most often, the recommendations are to initially plant seeds closer together, and once seeds have sprouted, to “thin” the plants. (Apparently “thin” means snip – a.k.a KILL – some seedlings to ensure proper nutrients for the ones you allow to live).

  2. Plant taller plants on the north side of your garden and shorter plants on the south side so everybody gets sun.

  3. Have a trellis, cage or stakes for vine plants to climb. Go ahead and put these over your shoots early.

  4. Dig a hole for each plant (or seed), add a handful of fertilizer, slip the seedling (dirt square and all) from the plastic container and into the hole, and smooth the dirt around it.

  5. Give the seeds or plants a good watering, and cover with mulch (optional) to hold the moisture in the soil. Visit https://www.almanac.com/content/when-water-your-vegetable-garden-watering-chart for a watering chart. Container gardening is likely going to require more watering than planting directly into the earth because soil in containers can dry out faster.

  6. Finally, apply other tips you glean from other gardeners. You will begin to pick up on things along the way, and you’ll learn the most by doing!

Extras for container gardening:

  1. Some plants have compact root systems, so they don’t require very deep containers, but this is rare. The rule of thumb is to use containers as deep and as wide as possible.

  2. Containers must have excellent drainage. Perhaps drill some additional holes. Elevate the containers to also aid with this. (Our coffin box has no bottom and drains right into the earth, however.) Consider putting rocks or gravel in the bottom to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged in the bottom of the pot.

  3. Avoid plastic containers if you can. Other materials will not get as hot and can breathe better.

  4. Be sure to use potting soil mixed with sand (see the Potting Soil recipe in Post 1), as container vegetable plants do not do as well with just regular garden soil. It is too compact and also dries out easier. A yard garden is naturally aerated by worms and grubs, which obviously does not happen in containers.


I meticulously dug up the dandelion weeds from the flower bed to the left of the coffin box and covered the space with black trash bags (to deter weeds from the area). We put bricks and pallets that we had on top to elevate our containers. Max drilled extra holes in the pots while I measured their depth and marked which would be home to which plants based on my notes. Now all we needed to do was fill them with our newly purchased soil and start planting! So far so good...


Two bags of soil in, it happened. Max stopped pouring and read aloud the big block letters he noticed on the front of the bag. “Not for container use.”


“What?!” I exclaimed, stopping in my tracks.


We looked long and hard at the half-filled pots. The plants really needed to be in soil, and soon, but this stuff was apparently more like compost. It claimed to help “enhance existing garden soil,” according to the fine print on the bag.


“We can take the bags back,” he suggested. “There’s still four. That’s $16.” At least I had a husband who never grew frustrated taking things back to the store.


“Yes,” I agreed. “We can do it tomorrow. We’ll have to find potting soil somewhere though because we need to get these planted.”


We gathered up our things from the sidewalk a little discouraged but still mostly undaunted. The plants came inside for yet another night.


The next afternoon, we returned the Miracle Grow and instead bought what was just called “Lawn and Garden Soil.” It had no ominous warning about containers. Although I read later that no garden soil at all should be used for containers, only potting soil. There was nothing else I could have done anyway. The potting soil was all gobbled up! And my sprouts were starting to look wilted even with water.


(Confession #8- Even though I had read and written in earlier posts that container vegetable plants don’t do well in garden soil, I had assumed this meant actual dug-up soil from the yard and not also bags of commercial “Garden Soil.” I'm pretty sure we made a trip to exchange one product for exactly the same product. Don’t tell Max!)


To make matter worse, our soil setback didn’t end there. After purchasing six new bags of Garden Soil, our containers were not even going to be filled half-way! I had already spent an additional $24. This was beginning to get too expensive. (I decided then that it may have been cheaper to have a “real” garden, taking advantage of the natural processes of the ground even if it meant tilling up the yard, pulling weeds and fighting creatures.)


“Well,” I said at last to Max. “Would you consider digging up some dirt?” I knew we weren’t supposed to do that, but on the other hand, the plants needed as much soil for their roots as possible.


“I forget how,” Max quipped, but went to get the shovel. He dug deep to avoid grass and weeds. We filled the pots to ¾ full and topped them off with the last bit of commercial garden soil. We mixed in sand and a little bit of fertilizer as well. Even though our end-result “potting” soil was dramatically not according to our plan, we had no choice but to hope for the best. We had learned a crucial lesson for any container gardening of the future: It’s a race to buy potting soil!


Thirty minutes later, I marveled at our planted container garden. Even if the plants ended up dying or did not produce, they looked beautiful right now. Dirt was caked under my fingernails and I was a sweaty mess, but I felt great. I didn’t have room for all the seedlings, as I had expected, and I felt a little nervous that I might have overcrowded the ones I did plant, but time would tell.



Before we went inside, I suddenly had a revelation and grabbed Max’s hand. “We better pray,” I told him. “They aren’t going to live because of me, that’s for sure.”


I found it peaceful that my husband did not pray so much for the plants to produce. “The plants are in Your hands,” he stated simply, and then went on to ask that we would learn all God wanted us to learn. I couldn’t have agreed more.


The next day, after a brief online inquiry about space for plants, I decided that at least two tomato plants should be removed from the coffin table to prevent overcrowding. Apparently, without proper air circulation, disease could set in. I had already designated my remaining seedlings that hadn’t fit for Mom and Dad’s yard garden, so I would give them the extra tomatoes as well. I had also shared the wealth of the green bean seeds by planting some in small pots for four of our nephews.


That was what I loved most about our vegetable gardening adventure. The rest of my family had all decided to have their own gardens as well! That meant that if some plants failed in one garden, somebody else could share from theirs. Even my sister - who had not planned to have a garden at all - found she was unexpectedly growing a pumpkin patch thanks to an old jack-o-lantern that had rotted in her yard last fall.


“In spite of our soil glitch, I think things are going as good as they can,” I said to Max later.


“Why do you keep calling it a glitch? It’s not digital,” replied my computer tech husband.


“What shall I call it then?”


“I dunno. A snag?”


The snags had caused us to think on our feet, improvise and learn from our mistakes. It’s not exactly what we hoped for, and the soil isn’t what it could have been - which might be a big deal. My plants may not produce simply because of the events and decisions of this weekend, but I did everything that I understood.

There are always going to be details in life that we couldn’t have known even with intricate research. Yet, there comes a time to put down the books (even the Bible), muster up the courage and put into practice what we have read. God knows the limitations set before us either by our own doing or by circumstances out of our control. He already has it covered. Life, like faith, must be learned by doing.


So bring on the snags! May they ever spur you to take leaps regardless of the outcomes, which are in God’s hands anyway, and may you land in deeper understanding and dependence upon Him.


See below for tips on how to choose and purchase vegetable plants for your patch. (Don’t worry, it’s advice from experts, not me.) Next week, onward to garden maintenance!


Until then, I remain…


Peasantly Yours,


Meg Grimm




Meg is a writer, dreamer, church secretary and member of her church council. When she is not working in ministry, she spends her days creating new plans, uncovering secrets of the historic past and trying to snatch as much free time as she can to pen her book ideas. Meg is a newly-wed, age undisclosed, who is committed to living a healthy lifestyle according to what she understands from God’s Word. She drags everyone that she can along for the ride, especially her beloved husband and pets.




Planning What to Grow

Randy Shore "The Green Man" suggests making three lists. In the first, write what vegetables you absolutely love and want to grow. In the second, list vegetables that are fool-proof, prolific and unlikely to succumb to pests. In the third, list favorite herbs and pricey veggies. Deciding what crops to grow from these lists is about reconciling personal taste with what you can expect to grow with success in all your circumstances.


Since I went into this adventure with no idea what plants might be fool-proof except perhaps green beans, I just listed everything that I use on a regular basis in my meals. If I don’t have to buy as much of some of these veggies this year because I grew my own, I would consider that a successful first garden. (My ultimate goal is to become completely self-sufficient in the veggie department one day, however.)


Information that I have picked up on after purchasing my plants has revealed that probably half of the ones I chose are prolific and the other half are more sensitive. From my experiences, I hope to be able to make slightly more reasonable, cost-effective decisions next year. This year, it is like feeling around in the dark! (It's super fun though.)


Randy’s Fool-Proof Suggestions: Peas, beans, spinach, chard, kale, zucchini and lettuce. These grow vigorously in moist soils, require little space, and thrive in less-than-perfect weather conditions.


Herbs

Randy suggests that if you grow nothing else, grow herbs. Though slightly on the expensive side, they are easy to grow and offer antioxidants and vitamins. They can thrive in pots on a sunny deck or balcony, or in the garden. Like with other plants, be sure to find out the best size planter for the root system.



Purchasing Plants and Seeds

Seeds are cheap (cents!). So, if starting with seeds, get an early start in containers. The natural pests and pathogens in yard soil come to life when it warms up and can sicken or devour seedlings. Therefore, they may have a better chance if started in containers and transplanted later, also protecting them from the threat of exposure to an unexpected late frost. Seeds can be ordered online, from catalogs, or purchased in garden centers.


When making a seed or seedling purchase, you’ll discover that different varieties of vegetables have many different, interesting names, tomatoes perhaps most of all. Roma tomatoes are a smaller, oval-shaped tomatoes for sauces while Beefsteak are large, juicy sandwich tomatoes, for some examples. Therefore, you may want to do a little research before going shopping, but don't be intimidated. Quick, basic searches such as,“best cucumber plants for container gardening,” will give you information to go on. Not all greenhouses will have everything that you come across online, but the tags that come with the plants give a brief description of what you are purchasing.


The information that comes with the plants also indicates the number of days until maturation. Therefore, you can mark on your calendar the date you planted and the date that the veggies should be about ready for harvest, in case there is any doubt.



Season and Temperature Considerations

In southwestern Pennsylvania, where I live, we can still have cold weather deep into the spring. Therefore, by the time I felt confident planting outside, it was already mid to late May. This put my cooler-weather-loving plants, such as my potatoes and lettuce, in danger of the sweltering summer days. Nevertheless, here are some general guidelines from the pros on some of the best times to plant a few certain veggies…


Autumn: greens, garlic, fava beans (I believe these are the typical green beans), silverbeet, beetroot, celery


(Confession#9- I have no idea what silverbeet and beetroot root are right now.)


Spring: peas, zucchini, lettuce, onions, pumpkins

Summer: tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, eggplant

Winter: potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, fava beans, leeks


A quick online search will tell you in what season to plant your veggie in question. Or, visit https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar for a detailed planting calendar.


#gardening #planting #vegetables

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