Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gardening is not farming and cold frames are not greenhouses

The seedlings are wet and well under their humming florescent light (which has insistently given me a headache and given my living room a bizarre glow for the past few days). I'll be starting ground cherries in a week and Okra, a spattering of herbs, and marigolds right around May Day (I started calendula and daisies already). I haven't decided if I'm going to start sunflowers in pots or try to keep the birds away and direct-seed them.

I am trying hard to figure out a way to stay home more. I have been away every other weekend for the past two months. Aside from what this does to my poor kitty, the result has been very destabilizing to my attempt to chart my desires and my future and get started. There's a certain amount of alone time with myself that I need before my brain starts clicking about certain things. Today I remembered thing I haven't though about in months and shocked myself by the conclusiveness of my decisions over the past year and where they have landed me. I think, all in all, I'm happy about the firm decisions I have made and less happy about the things I have floated through.

So I'm putting my foot down. My home, my garden, and my plans have been put on the back-burner as a result of a routine that has begun to resemble eat-clean-pack-drive-socialize-drive-repeat. It's a three hour drive to Jersey. I cannot, cannot, cannot do it twice a month. I am only leaving for weekends away from home once a month starting in April (I already have a trip planned for April to Jersey). So please, plan ahead with me, way ahead, if you want to see me away from my home. And keep in mind that it's summer, and upstate is beautiful and worth visiting. Friends and family from far away are more then eagerly invited, but it might include some help in the garden.

In other news,
Some suggestions on a theme:

Gardening is not farming and cold frames are not greenhouses. While its true that the lines blur at the edges, it is extremely hard to start seedlings in a coldframe during a typical early spring season and it is equally unwieldy to use standard farming procedures on a typical backyard garden. I learned this the hard way. For example, gardeners have enough room to start seeds in pots rather than trays so as to not bother switching from starting trays to small pots to larger pots, which farmers do to save on room (but not on labor - in fact, it'll take a tone of your time for no good reason if you do it this way).

Gardens really benefit from fencing and they're small enough for this to be possible, unlike farms (seriously).

Greenhouses and cold frames are not interchangeable. there is no heat source in a cold frame (unless you just got really fancy - though i bet you didn't) so beware the freeze and, more specifically, the optimal germination temperatures of the seedlings you will be starting. Also, Cold frames are much more prone to shading some of their contents. There is a reason cold frames are used for hardening off seedlings, rather than starting them. Unless you're willing to schlep all your plants indoors most nights and monitor the temperature and light in your cold frame extremely closely (I'd say every few hours), use the cold frame in the last, not the first, step of preparing seedlings for the garden.

No matter how much light your seedlings are getting, make sure it's enough. Full, day-long sun is key. seriously consider that it costs only $30 for a whole grow-light set up and way more than $30 to purchase all of your seedlings (and that's only for one year) if you mess up. Your window sill probably isn't enough, and please see the warning about cold frames above.

Your time, unlike a farmer's is not being compensated, and you are doing this for you - so be realistic about what you are willing to do. when you save money, you are almost always paying for it in your time - and this is a really important consideration, especially when it comes to how you might wiggle out of your best-made plans after 40 hours of work a week.

When starting 12 tomato plants, if 6 die, it's a catastrophe. When starting 120, it's to be expected. Losing that shaded-out row at the front of your cold frame that's pretending to be a greenhouse is probably not going to be worth it.

That being said, I'd love to hear if you prove me wrong.

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