This is How My Warm Season 2020 Crop Began
The Beginning of the Season
Typically planting for the warm season begins as early as February in Delaware. It’s then that you plant vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Vegetables like these take a long time to even reach the size needed to transplant outside! It’s best to seed indoors by the middle of March if you want to grow these types of crops. If you wait to long the warm season will end before the plants have produced all that they can. For Delaware, the warm season ends in September.
I plant mine in small biodegradable paper cups with seed starting mix and earthworm castings. This combination yields me the best results. I set them in front of one of my kitchen windows and with enough sunny days and water soon seedlings begin to pop up.
What I Seeded This Year
This year I seeded 9 different types of plants. I started them late this year (I started in late April.) I started muskmelon (cantaloupe), watermelon, okra, cucumber, two types of eggplant, squash, beets, and pumpkin. Among these are some of my very favorite fruits and vegetables. I am such a sucker for some yummy summer cantaloupe! I am most excited, however, for the okra. This is my first year growing it and I’m looking forward to seeing not only how it yields but also how it grows so I can improve for next year.
Over the course of the next two weeks the seeds all began to sprout. It is always incredible to see seeds begin to sprout because they are the very beginning of all of the joys to come during the growing season. Every vegetable and fruit harvested started right here in a little paper cup on my kitchen counter. They may be small right now, but these little babies will be mighty before you even know it.
While direct sowing is always an option, sowing indoors gives my garden a head start and allows me to grow a wider variety of plants that will produce for longer. Who wouldn’t love more produce to harvest? More produce is not only good for immediate eating during the summer growing months, but also for preserving to get me through the winter. I like to eat as little non-local produce as possible, and that makes it incredibly important to grow enough to freeze and can.
Preparing My Garden
Preparations for my garden begin long before it’s time to plant those first seedlings. Before I can even think about putting anything in the ground I have to do everything I can to ensure that the my plants are going into an environment that will foster the best growth. While I can supplement with adding nutrients later on, it is incredibly important that there be a strong foundation for them to grow in.
For me, this means making what I call my “garden sandwich.” Now I am most definitely not the only person who gardens using this method. In fact, I learned this method from my mom! She grows for a small CSA on our property and this method has worked for her for the entire four years she’s been using it.
Many gardeners and farmers who grow in a permaculture manner use this method because of how beneficial it is to not only the plants, but to the soil as well. By preparing the ground like this you are actively creating new soil levels. That’s important for garden longevity and plant health. If you’ve ever been in a rural area at a time when there isn’t a crop growing in the large swaths of fields, you’ve probably noticed why it is so important to be developing new soil layers.
Creating these “garden sandwiches” is super easy too! I start off with a layer of cardboard. This doesn’t just have to come from all of your old package boxes. It can also be your cereal boxes, your frozen food boxes, I even use my family’s pizza boxes! The next layer is the compost layer. This compost can come in many forms too! I personally use the garden and food scraps compost my mother and I make on our small farm, as well as composted manure from a family friend’s horse. Store bought compost is just fine if that is what you have access too. As long as it is good quality organic material, it is perfect! The last layer is mulch. I use pine chips that my mom and I got through contacting local tree cutters. However, it isn’t super common to have access to this so wood shavings or chips bought from your local garden store work just fine.
Time to Plant!
The day finally came. I’d been waiting anxiously. Every day, watering my little cups of seedlings, waiting for them to be big enough to survive outside. I had been hardening them off over the course of a little over a week an my cucumbers and beets were finally ready to be transplanted outside. Or so I thought. May 2020 in Delaware was a nasty one. It was far colder than usual. We were still having nights in the thirties and it killed my cucumbers and beets.
I wasn’t defeated though. Over the course of the next two weeks the weather warmed up and my okra, squash, and pumpkins were ready to plant outside. I had a lot of confidence in myself and in my plants and that’s very important to have because it’ll get you through even the difficult points of the growing season (and trust me, there’ll be loads.) Thankfully, this second round of plants did far better.
With the majority of my plants now outside, I had to start adding in the first supplements to the soil. One of my go-tos is bat guano. You read that right. Bat poop. Don’t worry, when you buy it it will be dried and, thankfully, not smelly. Bat guano is by far worth it’s weight in gold. It is super concentrated with nutrients like phosphorus and it makes all of my plants grow quickly and with vigor. If you ever have plants that are growing sluggishly, I recommend adding just a little bit of bat guano to your soil and they are sure to take off.
I also add gypsum. With crops like squash and pumpkins they need a lot of calcium in order to set healthy fruit. Without it they are prone to blossom-end rot and you’ll end up with no produce to show for all of your hard work. You can also use bone meal for calcium, however, bone meal lacks some of the other added benefits of gypsum. Where I live the soil is very dense and clay-based and gypsum is needed to loosen the soil so roots can grow properly. If your soil is more sand or humus based, bone meal or clam shells works just fine. (I also like gypsum because it is a vegan source of calcium for my plants)
Now that my seedlings are in the ground and they have the nutrients they need to get their start, it’s up to me to keep at it so they can be successful.
Important Things to Remember In the Beginning
No garden is ever going to start perfectly. There’s always going to be unexpected things that come up, but it’s important to be able to manage the things that do arise. Consistency is going to be your best friend if you’re planning on starting a garden. That means taking time every day to do a thorough check through your garden. That alone will improve your chances of a successful harvest greatly. Regular watering is key as well. Plants, in a lot of ways, are like children. They need attention daily. Just fifteen minutes can go a long way.
It can seem daunting to start a garden, but it doesn’t have to be a huge mountain to climb. Take it day by day, be consistent, and always have confidence in yourself and your abilities. There’s nothing you can accomplish as long as you’re willing to work.
I’m glad you’ve decided to tag along for the ride. Whether it’s for a day, a month, or a year, I appreciate it. -Kate