Sunday, March 15, 2015

What's Happening In the Dow Dominion Garden for the 2015 Season

March in the mountains of North Carolina is the beginning of the gardening season, and I have a lot to accomplish this month.  In today's post, I will give you the rundown of the typical tasks I complete to get the garden ready for planting, as well as some of the new things I am trying out this year.

Winter Sowing Containers Spring to Life

It's been a few weeks since I covered the subject of winter sowing, and how it might benefit people looking for an easy way to germinate seeds without lights or indoor space.  When I made the video showing exactly how to winter sow seeds, I also took the opportunity to make a bunch of containers for myself.  Most of them were flowers or herbs, but I made a few containers full of various varieties of spinach seed as well.  These containers have been peacefully sitting in my garden through most of the winter, albeit without much activity.

With Spring just a few weeks away, some of those winter sowing containers are beginning to show signs of life.  My winter sown spinach, pictured in it's container above, has already sprouted, so I will get to enjoy my first spinach leaves of this batch much earlier than the batch I directly sowed in the ground earlier this week.  My first set of bachelor button seedlings have appeared as well, which was one of the favorite flowers enjoyed by pollinators in my yard last year.

Observing the little seedlings growing in my containers got me motivated to start prepping the main vegetable beds.  I decided to expand my garden this year, using the space that was last year's compost pile as a new planting bed.  I spread the compost out over the various other beds that needed it, and used some of it to fertilize existing plants that are just now starting to show signs of life (more on that in a bit).  After all the compost was used, I was left with a nice flat, fertile piece of ground that's ready to be used to grow winter-sown seedlings and other various plants.

Despite the fact that I am using the winter sowing method to grow certain veggies this year, I decided to also start some seeds indoors this year as a backup in case certain winter sown seeds for some reason don't work.  Most of the seeds I'm starting indoors are specialty tomato seeds, with another flat with two varieties of peppers.  I don't have a lot of room to work with inside, so that was all I could fit under my light setup.  I'm still waiting on my peppers to germinate, but all of the tomatoes have sprouted and developed into fine looking seedlings.  All except one variety, that is... and I chalk that up to bad seed.  In any case, I will probably have more than enough tomato plants to use in my yard this year.

This was my garden a mere two weeks ago.  Note my winter sowing containers in the middle.

Compost, the Universal Fertilizer

It's pretty obvious that I really like compost.  I've written a whole article on the stuff, and I routinely mention it when referencing plants and the nutrients they need.  Once again, I decided to use compost as my only source of nutrients for plants this year, in order to keep my overall gardening costs down.  And I expect the compost to, once again, deliver outstanding results.

After years of adding compost, my soil is changing colors from red to brown
However, there is one issue with using home made compost as the only fertilizer in the garden.  There's only so much of it to go around before it's gone!  I even tried using it sparingly, but there are just so many plants to feed, it's hard to keep a supply handy for mid-season crops.  I used quite a bit for the first round of peas, as well as the main garden bed that will be used to grow spinach, carrots, beets, lettuce and onions.  Then I spread some over the other back yard garden beds, which will have a combination of vegetables and flowers for pollinators.  I also spread compost over the multitude of raspberry vines we have growing, and I gave the blueberry beds in the front yard a good dose of the stuff, too.  Finally, I gave each of my pear trees a couple of shovel's full of the good stuff.  At this point, I only had about a single scoop left to use for my tomato bed which will be located in the front yard.

As bad as that sounds, I am not too worried about my plants being nutrient deficient.  They certainly won't break any records for size, but I've learned that organic mulching can greatly improve the fertility of the soil while also serving other important functions like conserving moisture and reducing weeds.  Last year, I didn't apply compost to my rows of peas and beans at all, but I did use organic mulches, like grass clippings, weeds and shredded leaves, around the base of the plants.  After recently tilling in some additional compost to those rows this year, I noticed that the soil where the mulch was laid last season is incredibly fluffy and dark.  At first I was somewhat perplexed, but after thinking about it, all those layers of mulch being digested and broken down month after month last year must have really improved the overall tilth and texture of the soil, despite never adding any additional materials to it until just this month.  I plan on using the same system on the tomato bed this year.  With any luck, I'll have great results to show for it again.

Mulch may be vastly more important than it seems...

New Stuff For 2015

As I mentioned earlier, I'm also trying out some new plants and methods this year that I've never done before.

My specialty tomatoes will be a first for 2015.  I have several varieties I'm looking forward to eating, including KBX (an orange beefsteak tomato with supposedly outstanding flavor), Delicious (a prize-winning heirloom tomato), and Brandy Boy (a pink beefsteak hybrid known for its high yield).  In fact, I'm even competing in an amateur tomato growing contest over on the GardenWeb forums, to see who can grow the largest Brandy Boy tomatoes!  It will be a great time for all participants to exchange knowledge and perhaps even a bit of friendly trash-talking.  Check it out by clicking here.

KBX tomato (image credit: eloquinn of GardenWeb)

I'm also trying out a new variety of pepper this year that I received in a trade on the GardenWeb forums.  It's known as "Yummy Snacking Pepper" and the person I traded with claimed that the peppers that he grew of this variety were so sweet, it was a pleasure just to simply pick them off the plant and eat them raw.  I can hardly wait to test that out for myself!  Another pepper that I enjoyed last year, "Hungarian Wax," will have a spot once again in my garden this season.  It's basically a high productive banana pepper with a kick.  I didn't even realize how good they were last year until the very end of the season, when it finally had enough light to produce a few peppers for me to harvest.  This year will be different, and I hope to have several of these pepper plants going to provide me with a glut of peppers for stir fry dishes.

This year, I am also planning on trying to create new blueberry bushes out of cuttings from the ones I already have established.  Blueberry plants are quite expensive, especially mature plants.  If I can grow more plants by getting the cuttings to root, it will substantially reduce or eliminate the cost of buying more from professional growers while still increasing my blueberry yield.  It might not work, but it's worth a shot.

Final Thoughts

I've got too much to do, and not much time to do it!  March always seems so hectic as it is a race to get seeds and plants growing before the heat kicks in and a new round of seeds and plants take their place.  Fortunately, once the plants are established, I can kick back and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor, with just a little bit of general maintenance throughout the rest of the season.  Expect lot of new articles and posts in the coming months as I share my knowledge and experience via this blog and YouTube videos.  Stay tuned for more.  Happy gardening.

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