M. Giant's
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Friday, April 10, 2009  

Dig It

This is an entry about one of those things you think about sometimes, but never would have gotten around to actually doing if you didn't have a kid. No, I'm not talking about taking M. Edium to see Monsters Vs. Aliens last weekend.

I'm talking about gardening. Not our usual kind of gardening, where Trash sticks some seeds and bulbs in the ground some weekend afternoon. I'm talking about growing food in our back yard. Obama-style. Except our backyard is much smaller and we don't have nearly as many sharpshooters on our roof.

Some time after the annual Science Expo at M. Edium's school a few weeks ago, he started talking about growing some vegetables in our garden this summer. We like to encourage his scientific curiosity, especially when it helps us save money. After all, if we can grow a tomato or two of our own, that's money we don't have to spend buying those tomatoes. That's free produce, right there, all for the nominal cost of sunlight, seeds, some water, potting soil, fertilizer, gardening implements, gardening books, gardening lessons, gardening research, a couple of those little seed-starting beds, a plant mister, some grow lights, a composting ball, and a motorized rototiller. Now that gas is cheaper it'll be totally worth it.

But I think the most expensive thing that's going into this new project is our almost total ignorance on the subject. You know at the end of WALL-E, where the Captain is excitedly telling the passengers about farming and how it will allow them to grow things like vegetables and pizza? We're too stupid to be able to find pizza seeds anywhere, even online.

But we're going ahead anyway. A couple of Mondays ago, Trash and M. Edium sat down at the kitchen table with a plastic seeding bed they'd gotten from the hardware store. It has individual plastic cells a little larger than those in an egg carton. I made little signs out of popsicle sticks while the two of them opened seed envelopes and buried the contents in the little soil cells. You know what's surprising? Cantaloupe seeds look exactly like those little things you see when you cut open a cantaloupe. Same with tomatoes, pumpkins, green peppers, and watermelons. I can't speak to the parsley seeds, because I've never cut open a parsley.

So after planting and watering them, we moved the seed bed up to M. Edium's playroom, which is out of the way but gets lots of direct sunlight in the afternoon. I resolved to spray them once or twice a day, and expected never to see them again.

But amazingly, little green shoots began poking up less than a week later. First the tomatoes, then the pumpkins, then the parsley, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Still no sign of the green peppers. Trash doesn't like green peppers. I'm sure that's a coincidence.

It's surprisingly gratifying, but also worrying. I mean, at some point, we're going to have to release these things into the wild (read: our back yard), right? And I don't know exactly when that's supposed to happen. I do know that it's still getting below freezing at night here in Minneapolis, so it's not time yet. We forgot to get snow peas, after all.

So how did we deal with this anxiety? By planting another crop, of course. Into the second of the two seed beds just this Monday went seeds for peas, onions, peas, carrots, spinach, and more peas. The only seeds I got a good look at were for the peas. You know what pea seeds look like? They look suspiciously like peas. But they're already starting to peek up into the daylight, so there must be something to that.

I should point out that I didn't pick the seeds. I can do without most produce in general, but if it had been up to me, I would have picked up some potato seeds and some banana seeds, since I like both those things and can never find the seeds inside them. Mushroom seeds would be nice. Maybe even some corn seeds, if we can make them promise not to grow too high. And if we got garlic seeds and other spice seeds, we'd be able to grow all our own ingredients for our vegetable foil packs (a.k.a. space pillows). Except butter, but I draw the line at planting a cow.

It's probably good to start small anyway. We'll begin with a little plot in the back yard between M. Edium's fenced-in play area and the clothesline pole (the latter of which we may also start using this year for the first time). I'm kind of excited to see just how locavore we can get.

Of course, since I'm talking about doing this in soil that can't even grow grass, perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

posted by M. Giant 8:10 PM 5 comments


Sssssssspace pilllllloooooooows. I want them.

By Blogger Unknown, at April 11, 2009 at 7:17 AM  

From someone else with more enthusiasm than actual talent, welcome to the fold!

And since you started things indoors, let me also welcome you to the wonderful hokey-pokey known as "hardening off." Once your stuff starts getting big, you start moving it in & out of the house for longer & longer periods each day to get the little guys used to being outside. Good times, and the main reason I went running into the open arms of the wintersowing crowd. It's much easier to start the little buggers outside in milk-jug or gallon-bag mini greenhouses out on the deck. That way they're used to growing up outside, so when they're ready, you just grab 'em and sink 'em.

My own gardening assistant, Chief Boy Junior, who's a few years older than M. Edium and has been helping since he could walk, is partial to carrots and monster pumpkins. And red basil, for some reason. I think he just likes the way it looks. We also do blue potatoes (the plants do have flowers & seeds but to plant them, you sink the whole spud. In very, very, loose dirt, or you get tiny, deformed taters). We're next door in Wisconsin, so even though we'll probably have at least 2 or 3 more blizzards before Memorial Day, he's already revved up and ready to go.

The thing to remember, if this is something you, Trash and M. Edium really, uh..., dig, is that it's a learning by doing thing. You screw up, but every year you screw up a little less. That's the only thought that keeps me going sometimes.

Good luck!

By Anonymous KKB, at April 11, 2009 at 8:07 AM  

What KKB said, plus:

The more you do right now to improve the quality of your soil, the happier you'll be with your end result.

Resist the urge to plant before Memorial Day. Most everything you have listed needs warm soil to do anything, especially tomatoes and peppers. The average last frost date here in Minneapolis is May 10th, but the soil isn't really warm enough for a couple of weeks. If you put those carefully tended plants into cold soil, they'll just sit there for a couple of weeks, and they'll be vulnerable to a late frost. It's very sad to see your little seedlings shrivel up from the cold. There are always people who like to gamble, and will plant early, but most long-time gardeners have learned from painful experience to wait.

I didn't see any lettuces on your list, but that is a crop that can be seeded directly into the ground, and doesn't mind cold soil. So you will have something to watch grow (and maybe even eat) while you're waiting for the other crops.

Have fun, and happy gardening!

By Blogger Orion7, at April 12, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

Another first time gardener from Minnesota here! I've got peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and a few other things already started indoors. They're doing so well that I'm afraid to move them outside because I am sure that if the weather doesn't kill them I will manage to do it by over watering, under watering, stepping on them or just flat out forgetting I even planted them. I'm sure all this angst and tension will be worth it when I'm eating home grown tomatoes. Too bad I hate tomatoes and I'm not really sure why I planted them to begin with.

By Blogger Jen, at April 13, 2009 at 8:04 AM  

I just starting gardening for the first time myself a few years ago. The two biggest tips I have:
(1) You can save tons of money by not buying those little seedling trays next time. You can make your own with newspaper (just google for instructions, or buy a little wooden press for the newspaper online). I line up all my little newspaper pots in the plastic trays and "clamshells" that you get from takeout dinners and over-packaged merchandise.
(2) Find out the phone number of your local extension school or agricultural college. They tend to have nice people near the phone who can guide you through just about any crisis. (I had some sort of parasite bugs from outer space last summer and they were very calm about it!)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 17, 2009 at 11:33 AM  

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