This is the second part in the series “In the garden: 2020 in review,” where I will document our successes and failures in our 2020 garden. The year’s experience was unique to any other year in many ways, join me as I share what we’ve learned. Today’s post is not nearly as dramatic as the previous, but is still very much a part of our story. Even if this interests no one, it will serve as a record for ourselves so that we can repeat what works in coming garden seasons and improve on the things that didn’t work so well.
With our greenhouse dreams dashed, we made every attempt to ensure that our little seedlings survived. But all too soon, they were outstaying their welcome in our garage and needed better lighting and air circulation. Utilizing some of the old vinyl windows we’d replaced (and held on to) when we bought our house, we fabricated a small cold frame on the side of our shed. It was primitive, but it worked very well! Only 3 of the windows were functional, the window on the far left was sprung and couldn’t easily be opened, but we made it work for us anyway. It’s what I like to call “redneck ingenuity.”
Just a few days after we moved our plants into their new home, our “cold frame” truly earned its name. While snow covered the outside of the panes, our tender seedlings inside stayed protected .
As plants tend to do, they were soon outgrowing the seed starting trays and needed to be potted up. Our neighbors had generously gifted us with several dozen used 3″ and 4″ pots, which I cleaned up and put right to work. Our first round of seedlings included cabbage, broccoli, purple broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and a plethora of flowers ranging from poppies to echinacea to phlox. I had planted carrots in a large flower pot that stayed in the cold frame as well.
Day by day, the plants grew stronger and at last I planned for them to make their grand entrance to the main garden. The hardening off process went smoothly, just as expected. I prefer in-ground gardening, but you guys, I hate pulling weeds. So we’d been searching for a method to minimize the issue. We purchased an enormous roll of heavy woven ground cover from a home-improvement store “cull-pile” for next to nothing. This was to be the golden ticket! After the soil had been tilled and rested for several days, we covered the soil with the ground cover, fully aware at that point why this roll of ground cover had been basically given to us. It. Is. So. Heavy. And hard to work with in its 16′ width. Sweaty and tired from the unrolling and securing fiasco, I measured the proper spacing and burned holes in the material using a weed torch. It was time for the fun part: planting!
In each burned hole, I dug up a small bit of earth with a hand trowel, sprinkled in a few pieces of rabbit manure, added the seedling directly atop the manure, and covered the roots gently. After a long evening of work, the task was completed. These would be the first of many plants and seeds to be sown for the season. What I learned from this experience was threefold.
1.) A piece of ground cover that is 16′ wide and 30′ long becomes a windsail in the first breeze that comes along. Landscape staples, even the long ones, are not enough to secure it. I added cull lumber and bags of mulch to keep it weighted. In the future I intend to: Cut the roll into 4′ wide by 16′ long strips with the weed torch to make it much more manageable in 2021. By burning it into strips (not cutting it, as it will fray and unravel,) this prevents the windsail effect and therefore helps to eliminate the next problem:
2.) Small seedlings get misaligned with their holes when the cover becomes tousled. I spent much time coaching little delicate sprouts to stay inside the bounds of the opening they were planted in, errr… rather I spent much time repositioning a heavy, difficult sheet of landscape fabric, forcing it to stay where I wanted it to with grunts and grumbles, all to save the little green sprouts from suffocating in the black abyss. Strips of fabric will be more readily managed and secured, and will therefore be less likely to become a parachute and dislodge my tender baby greenlings. Additionally, I should wait until the plants are stronger and larger before transplanting them. Which brings me to the next point.
3.) While the ground cover does a great job of preventing weeds over all, weeds will still pop up inside the holes with the plants and along the edges of the fabric. These are super weeds with enormous root systems, a real force to be reckoned with! This year I will pull them while they’re still small instead of waiting until they become mammoth monster weeds. Live and learn.
With our brassicas safely in the ground, all we had to do was water, weed, and wait… right?
To be continued.