By Chris Cohan
Come on in, the soil is fine. Gardening welcomes all, whether you are a beginner or green thumb.
First things first, you are not in charge. Mother Nature is the dominatrix in this relationship. She allows you to go just so far before straightening you out. She is always watching, even if she appears aloof and distant. Frankly, you never know where you stand with her. But as long as you attempt to follow the rules, she remains tolerant and understanding. Laziness, however, will be dealt with swiftly.
Okay, now that we have the grounds rules clarified, let’s start. The longest journey begins with the first step. So, let’s take it.
Right now, thumb through a garden catalogue, get excited, and buy some seeds. If seeds are overwhelming, then wait until spring to buy seedlings. Whether new or old to gardening, go to a real nursery or garden center. They have knowledgeable staff who can answer your questions. Their plants are usually healthier and their prices competitive.
If it’s your first stab at gardening or you just don’t have the time for a major commitment, consider whiskey barrels. You can start with one and add more as you wish. The beauty of barrel planting is they can be located close to your house for easy care. One barrel is surprisingly productive.
With gardening, as in life, start at the bottom and work your way up. Place a few inches of gravel or packing peanuts for drainage, cover with filter fabric paper or not. Then fill the barrel up to three inches from the top with a rich potting soil. Try to stick with organics whenever possible. Quoddy Coast of Maine organic soils and amendments are good and available locally. If you have your own compost, even better, mix it in. Avoid using garden soil, as it may be too heavy and not drain well in the barrel.
Start in the middle and work your way out with one early maturing, long-season producing tomato like Sun Gold Hybrid or Supersweet 100 Hybrid. Usually I proselytize organics and heirlooms. However, if you are growing just one or a few tomato plants, go with high-yield, flavorful, hardy varieties.
Pinch bottom leaves off, loosen up root ball, and plant deep. Create a moat around the base to retain water. Install a cage above.
Now, plant your favorite herbs around the outer edges. Oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil will do well — your call, depending on your passion and what you cook with. Between them plant four French marigolds. They provide color and are natural insect repellents. At first, the barrel will look empty but over time the herbs will bush up and the marigolds will quadruple in size. The beauty of barrel planting is that in the fall, as the sun and temperature drop, you can always move the barrel to a protected sunny location.
If you have an itch to go bigger, then try a few barrels or garden beds. If it’s beds you desire, 4- by 8-feet long is an easily workable size. Two beds will produce a whole lot of veggies. Leave a three-foot walkway between beds for easy access for a lawn mower or wheel barrel.
If you are ready for new beds, then remove turf and roots. Beat the clumps to retain the topsoil. Discard or reuse the turf. Now it’s time to assume the position and perform the double dig method. It’s the best method until your back begins to ache. Then it’s the just get it done method: turn the soil and run. Remove all rocks and debris as you go. Again, if you have compost, mix it in. Cleaning gutters, drains, etc. will usually provide you with some rich crumbly soil and worms. Throw it all in. Once your back has recovered, add organic fertilizer and peat moss. Mix it up and rake level. Your garden is ready for planting from seeds to plants.
Next, we will suggest some tried-and-true plants to consider for the vegetable beds. Until then, Happy Green Thumbing through those garden catalogues.
Whiskey barrel planters