Thursday, May 1, 2014

The High Hopes of Early Spring Gardening

Well, I'm often warned against getting my hopes up for a rainy day in Fort Collins, and for good reason. My enthusiasm for a rainy forecast was all for naught, yet again. Remember that rainy Sunday I was getting all pumped for? Yeah, that didn't happen. It was a cloudy and windy Sunday, but most def not a rainy one. And since then, we've had a total of maybe .00001 inches of rainfall. So, yeah, you can see why I get frustrated with the weather from time to time. But seeing the news reports on the horrendous flooding currently happening in Florida  and remembering the damage of the flood last fall does tend to put things in perspective for me. Plus, I do love the Colorado-blue skies and warm sunshine we get in abundance. So, I'm going to move on from complaining about the lack of rain...for now.

I'm more than ready to talk about early spring gardening, and all of the big hopes and dreams that come with it. And May Day is probably one of the best times to have the discussion. May is probably my favorite month of the year. Not only is it host to my birthday and wedding anniversary, but it signifies the true awakening of the plant world, too. So I get very giddy in May. And this year is no different.

Mixed lettuce sprouts in my Salad Bowl container
This year, I was on top of early-spring planting for the first time in my short gardening career. I planted onions, carrots, peas, beets and my lettuce bowl in Mid-March and everything is coming along nicely except for my beets. I didn't have any luck with my beets last year, either, so I'm still trying to solve that riddle. If anyone has any tips, I'd love to hear them! I planted my garlic too late last year (another learning experience), but they came back in full force this year, making for a pleasant springtime garden surprise.

My pea sprouts and a stick-and-hoop trellis. Garlic and onions in the 2nd bed in the background
Early in March, my friend clued me into the fact that peas and beets should be sprouted before you plant them in order to get the best results. So, I put my seeds in a damp paper towel, then into a plastic bag, then into my grow station to get some little sprouts. They not only managed to grow sprouts, but mold, too! So that was my first mistake, and could possibly be why my beets aren't growing. Peas are much bigger than beet seeds, so I was able to easily pick out the pea sprouts with little to no mold on them, and scratch off the mold that was there. Plus peas are so easy. I'm going to grow more next year, I think. They are basically the beans of springtime.

I'm not really a crafty person, but peas require some sort of trellis, so I found skinny sticks to stick into the ground near the spouts, then angled those sticks toward two garden hoops on the edge. I'm hoping they will grow towards those garden hoops and make a double-arch of peas over the garden bed. That'd look pretty awesome. If I ever get some DIY confidence again, there are a variety of even cooler things I could do for a pea trellis:
A cool, artsy pea trellis
Pea trellis made of tree branches

Somehow, I highly doubt my attempts would look anything like the trellises above.

Another thing I learned more about this year is something called "Companion Planting." I'm pretty excited about this concept, and it will keep coming up. As I mentioned in a previous post, the basic idea is planting plants with and near others that help them grow and keep away pests. And of course, there are always some plants that are better off being separated. For instance, pole beans don't like beets, onions or garlic, so they are a little pickier than others. It's a pretty awesome concept, and I'm totally embracing it.

Onions are really good companion plants in general, because they keep away a variety of pests, so I've planted them pretty much everywhere (I did try to keep them away from my designated bean spot). Onions are said to be especially helpful to carrots because they keep away carrot flies and help to loosen the soil, making it easier for the root vegetable to grow down. I also heard from a gardener friend that radishes do the same thing. Both carrots and onions are good companion plants for tomatoes, so I've planted a mix of carrots and onions around my designated spots for tomatoes. I'll take pictures of the onions and carrots together once the carrot tops get a little bigger.

My early-spring veggies have been hanging out in the ground for over a month now, and it's time to move on to planting my tomatoes this weekend. I have new garden hoops that I can use to put garden fabric over them if we hit any frosty nighttime lows. I'll probably plant my pepper starters, cucumbers, beans and herbs in two more weeks.
Still doing a good job guarding the plants he is.

Pepper, Marigold and Tomato starts with Thyme groundcover 

But my big, time-consuming project this weekend will be trying to dig up as many weeds as possible in the paths around the garden beds, prepping the soil and planting some Thyme ground cover to try to create a pretty, weed-resistant mat around the stepping stones. I have a big issue with Bindweed in this area, so I'm really trying not to get my hopes up. But the pictures of quick-spreading, drought-resistant and sun-loving Thyme groundcover on High Country Gardens makes that kinda hard.

A lawn of "Reiter Creeping Thyme"

"Pink Chintz" Thyme

If I can coax my "Reiter" and "Pink Chintz" Thyme to look a fraction as good as these pictures, I'll be happy. I just need something that will go to battle with the stupid Bindweed that will never, ever disappear.

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