Ready, set ....plant!

Even though June is now upon us, over in the IC organic garden we're still in planting mode.  As our garden crew is almost entirely made up of college students, you can imagine that it's hard to get things done in the weeks leading up to finals and graduation.  Now that our summer crew has kicked into gear, we've got the ball rolling again... or shall I say, planting again.

The trouble is, the word "planting" sounds so simple compared to the actual process of doing so.  Before digging a hole in the ground and inserting a seed or plant, there is a lot of prep work to do.  It's been a couple of years since our big garden expansion when we inserted all our new raised beds, so many beds need repairs.  While the wood itself (black locust) is very durable and rot-resistant, many of the joints have fallen apart.  In fact, the wood is so strong that we haven't even been able to get an electric drill to completely penetrate it, putting a damper in our repair method. Instead, we've resorted to some old-fashioned muscle power - hammering wooden stakes in the ground to hold the boards in place.  Maybe not a permanent fix, but apparently neither were the screws (which snapped in half after just two years).

Alright, so the bed repairs are done. Next step is soil preparation.  This involves weeding (which alone is no small task after the pre- and post-finals week neglect), removing straw used as bed cover for over-wintering, and adding compost.  Each bed takes anywhere from 1-3 wheelbarrows full of compost: lugged from the facilities yard, poured on the beds, and raked out.

Now we finally get to plant! But what goes where? We've got 40 beds and dozens of crops.  Some crops work well with others, and some don't.  Some crops deplete the soil of nutrients and others restore the soil, while others have a minimal overall effect.  Before planting we must consult our mater plan, which changes every year in a rotating crop order based on plant family.

We know which crop(s) go in each bed. We can plant now, right? Almost. Last thing to do is figure out how the plants will be arranged within the bed.  How far apart should the rows be? How far apart should the plants in each row be?  How deep in the soil do the seeds go? Every variety of every crop has its own rule for these measurements, usually listed on the back of the seed packets.  Also a good question, should the crop be direct seeded into the ground, or started in a greenhouse?  Depends on the crop and the time of year. We take the title "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Edward C. Smith very seriously, and is a good resource for determining when/where to plant.

Finally, after all this, we can plant.

But aha! the story is not done yet.

After all this, the seeds or new transplants need to be watered.  If going from direct seed in the ground, most crops will also have to be thinned once they've started growing out of the soil.  Instructions for thinning are also found on the back of seed packets.

So you've got your bed all prepared, planted, watered, and thinned.  You want to move on to the next bed but you find that the more beds you plant, the more you have to maintain! The work never ends! But hey, it keeps me employed for the summer, provides beautiful food for the campus community, and endless educational opportunities for all the students who put so much effort into this little piece of land.   :)

- Amber, co-garden manager