(Editor’s Note: For 20 years Rosemary Fitzpatrick encouraged area gardeners in her column in the Homer News, the Kachemak Gardener. She took a break, but is back this year with one goal in mind: to help you realize your gardening dreams.)
Have you been thinking about planting a garden but don’t get past the “thinking” phase?
I want you to go forth and plant — with zero trepidation.
You can do this.
And I will be here to help you along.
Take a look around your property. Find a spot with full sun and the least amount of snow, it will dry the fastest and speed is something we need. Here at latitude 59 degrees north we need ever single minute of sun that comes our way.
That said, you never know what the season will bring. There is nothing “normal” about our weather. Every summer is different. It could be a glorious year for carrots, but abysmal for beets. There’s no telling. Flexibility is key.
You also may be of the mind that we can’t grow much of anything up here. To the contrary. Here is a partial list of what grows in my garden: garlic, onions, artichokes, potatoes, beets, peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, kale, radish, green beans, carrots, cabbage, leeks, shallots, Brussels sprouts, rhubarb, sorrel, strawberries and raspberries.
This is what we like, what we eat, what I grow. Think about that. Why plant turnips if you don’t eat them?
Even if you have an aversion to lists, make one of the foods you like to eat. Be armed with this list when you go to our excellent nurseries to buy your seedlings. Yes, seedlings. You are not going to start you plants from seed. Seed catalogs are just for looking, not actually using. They are for ideas. Our local nurseries have everything you need to get you going. Plus, the owners know how to garden in Homer. They will advise you. They, too, want you to succeed.
Now comes the part that you are really dreading — preparing the vegetable bed. It may be only March but you need to have this thought out. Ideally you will hire someone to rototill for you; or rent one if you are mechanically inclined and strong enough; or have a salty enough vocabulary to see you through this task.
My garden has raised beds, about three feet across (that’s as far as I can reach comfortably, accessing both sides) and 12 feet long. They have frames around them made from rough cut lumber. This makes life easy. I just mow down the paths between each one and all is tidy. That is — if tidy is important to you.
Also, these beds have only been tilled once. I just keep adding compost and aged manure each fall and through the growing season. Keep an eye out for manure. I find horse is the easiest to locate, and the owners are more than happy to have you haul it away. Keep a tarp, shovel and five-gallon pails in your car for just such an occasion.
But we need to address just how many of these beds you are going to need. The very most common mistake for a new gardener is to bite off way more than you can chew. Please do not over-plant. Start small.
Perhaps a container on your deck will suffice for the first year. Planted with lettuce, peas, thyme and a flower or two. You are planting to feed your family, not a third world country. You want success. Please, keep it small. Three feet wide (maybe four if you have long arms) and as long as you think will do.
There are all kinds of theories about what plant to plant next to who, known as companion planting. I need things to be neat, orderly. My vegetable garden is planted in three foot blocks. Just one kind of plant in each block. This is what I need. You may find a mix will make you happy.
Depending on your elevation, the date you will plant your garden is the end of May, about. So here it is, only the beginning of March and I am extolling you to get gardening. Planning really does come in handy. Thinking about what you want and being prepared will take you a long way to success.
Now, for those of you who already know you love to garden and have begonias, fucshias and pelargoniums (geraniums) overwintered, now is the time to pull them out and set them in sunny window. Break off any weak growth, give them a good watering and a little food and they will soon be rewarding you with lovely blooms. I can hardly wait.
Future columns will address perennials (plants that return year after year) that will actually grow here. If you are fortunate enough to have them already in place you may need to divide them, I’ll tell you how. I’ll be keeping you posted on what is going on in my own garden and that will give you a good idea what you should be doing next.
Which brings me to why we garden. Why YOU garden. Because you want to. You are not in a competition, you are not meeting a standard, you are gardening because you want to nurture plants into fruition. Because gardening calls to a basic instinct.
Answer the call.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.