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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Time to Plan the Spring Vegetable Garden

Here we are at the end of February and all my gardening friends are really getting itchy to be in the garden. Some ordered their seeds months ago and have started seeds on trays under grow lights in the basement or on sunny window sills. Others are still pouring over the catalogs (on line, I hope - paper catalogs aren't very green). And the lucky ones have already been able to dig in the dirt and plant seeds outdoors. One of my favorite bloggers, Deanna Duke of The Crunchy Chicken, just started her Urban Farming 2010 series and reported yesterday that daffodils and cherry trees are blooming in her Seattle backyard. She has planted asparagus, parsley and cilantro, and is getting ready to put in the peas and beets.

In southeastern Pennsylvania where I live, we still have a foot of snow on the ground. Despite current temperatures in the 40s and several days of rain in the forecast, it will be weeks before we can begin to work the soil. Traditionally, we plant peas on St. Patrick's Day. While I'm hoping that will be possible, I'm not going to expect it.

In the meantime, I've placed a small order with Burpee Seeds (full disclosure: I have written for Burpee publications in the past; have tested and written about some of their seed varieties; and will be reviewing a group of seeds on this blog during the gardening season; they will be giving me some of those seeds, others I will purchase).

The Burpee order is for arugula, Bush Champion cucumbers, Oregon Sugar Snap II snow peas, Classic Mix mesclun, Sunburst Hybrid patty pan summer squash, Early Acorn Hybrid winter squash, Blue Baby Hybrid hubbard squash, Cornells Bush Delicata winter squash, Heatwave looseleaf lettuce and 4 Seasons lettuce.

I also plan to buy additional seeds for green beans, zucchini, gold and red beets, butternut squash, dill, parsley and basil. Later, when all danger of frost is past, which will be somewhere around Mother's Day here, I'll buy seedlings - tomatoes, eggplant, sweet peppers along with sage, thyme and rosemary - from local growers.

The garden I'll be planting is a cooperative one. My friends Michele, Leah and Kim and I are developing a 400 square foot vegetable garden at Michele's home. Our goal is to grow as much fresh produce as we received from the two CSA shares we had between the four of us for the past three summers, but for less money (we paid $800 per share). We also hope to have more of the veggies we like best.

In the fall, we hired a man to rototill the space. His fee worked out to $38 each, which was less than the cost of renting a tiller for the day, transporting it to the site and back to the rental firm - not to mention the fact that he was much better at that chore than we would have been. Michele has generously offered to pay a contractor to erect a fence around the garden (rabbits, ground hogs and deer are an issue) so that is an expense we won't have to share..

We have met twice - once in the fall and once in January to fine-tune the list of plants we will grow (no Brussells sprouts because Kim hates them; lots of summer and winter squash because we all love them; a little rainbow chard because it's one of my favorites, and I've decided it's a non-negotiable item; and tons of tomatoes because what's a summer garden without tomatoes?!).

We have decided that we will use only organic fertilizers including chicken manure from Michele's chickens; we will deal with insects without commercial pesticides; and we will not limit ourselves to organic plants and seeds. The work load will be divided up as evenly as possible. Michele will take on a lot of the watering duty since, because, depending on the weather, some plants may need watering more than once a day. Everyone will plant and weed. And we'll need to work out a harvesting schedule.

Our next pre-planting task will be to plot out the garden. We'll use a graph-paper type planner to determine what plants will go where, how many rows we'll need, how long and wide each row will be, and how many plants we'll have room for.

We'll also start collecting materials for staking the tomatoes using postings on Craigslist and Freecycle. We may attempt to make our own tomato cages. Fortunately, we still have plenty of time for that.

What do you have planned for your garden this year? What do you do to keep your gardening expenses in check? Please share.


  1. This sounds like a fantastic project! I can't wait to hear more about how it's going.

  2. Thanks Crunchy! I'm just itching to get out in the dirt, but we're about a month away from that. Most of the seeds will be sown directly in the ground, though I might start some lettuce indoors - the leaf lettuces are so easy. I'll be posting every week about our plans and then more often once the garden gets going.

  3. Hi Dee Dee,

    This is Kristin from Burpee. Just saw your post. Your seeds are on the way. Can't wait to hear about and see pics of the garden! :)

  4. Hi Kristin,
    Thanks for visiting. I can't wait for the seeds to get will mean that we're getting that much closer to spring. How do you like the graphic of the vintage seed packet?