Gardening season is here and it’s that time of year! For the past several decades, my family has managed a large garden. I always love when spring comes around because I know it’s time to plant. Of course, I also anticipate harvesting hundreds of tomatoes at a time and the marinara sauce that comes of them.
Let’s talk planting basics. If you’ve never had a garden, maybe this is the year to try! You don’t have to start huge, start small.
People often ask us about fertile soil. What makes it fertile and why? New England is known to have rocky soil and it is not always nutrient dense. At our house, we have a compost pile. A compost is basically a heap of dirt, with decomposing fruits and veggies in it. Anything that we use, like orange peels, banana peels, old fruits and vegetables, gets thrown into the pile and recycled into the garden. This definitely helps strengthen the soil.
The garden itself: At the end of the season, we just let everything wilt and die off. We don’t remove it from the garden. In addition to that, we take all of the fall leaves and place them on top. We let this decompose throughout the winter until spring arrives. When the snow melts, we throw any remaining branches from the yard on top and burn a HUGE fire. All of that gets mixed back into the soil as well as the compost and bada boom, delectable soil.
This is how we’ve been able to organically garden for years and not use pesticides.
A few days before planting, it is time to turn the soil. This can be done via rototiller, or by hand with a shovel, or a small rake. If you are using boxes for gardening, you can add fresh soil. Now that you have your soil turned and prepared, it is time to plant!
We separate our beds into 8-9 rows. Each bed has it’s own produce growing. There is a system to the madness, meaning plant certain herbs and veggies at certain times. Rule of thumb: Start to plant when it no longer gets cold enough to frost at night.
- Early May: Plant the hearty vegetables first! When the season is early, around beginning to mid-May, plant your onions, leeks, beets, potatoes, carrots. They can withstand the 40-45 degree nights and still survive.
- Mid/End May: Plant your herbs next. These are your basil seeds, cucumber, parsley plants, rosemary plants, dill, red Russian kale, green kale, spinach, etc. We turn the soil and then using a large stick, create multiple horizontal rows within each bed spaced almost 1ft apart. Gently sprinkle in the seeds and do not cover with a lot of dirt! Gently place the dirt over the seeds and pat the soil carefully with your hands. For cucumbers, we do 2 long vertical rows in the bed. This helps organize the craziness that are cucumbers and their vines.
- Mid towards End of May: This is when you can plant your tomato plants depending on the temperature. It is best to plant these when you know it’s going to stay consistently warm. We always push around May 17th onward. This past weekend we planted 62 tomato plants. For the best flavor, consistency and sauce, I recommend Brandywine, Beefsteak (a hearty slicing tomato), roma, cherry tomatoes and yellow (same taste, less acidic) varieties. Dig down just enough and turn the soil as you loosen to aerate it. Place the tomato plant in and cover with soil, pressing down so the soil holds the plant in place permanently. At this point, we like to place wire tomato cages, so the vines have something to hold onto as they grow taller. We also plant eggplant, zucchini, red and green peppers, yellow peppers right about now. Most of the garden is planted at this point with the exception of strawberries, which are new this year. Watermelon is yet to be planted still.
- Get ready for herbs to pop in about 55 days, or a little over a month and a half. Mid June is a good timeframe to get your first basil pickings. Tomatoes come in later around July/August and come in hot! Our usual yield is about 230 tomatoes per twice weekly harvest.
- Bugs: Because you are organically farming, without pesticides, bugs may come lurking. This is the tradeoff of farming organically vs with chemicals. We do lose about 1-3% of our crop to natural critters, but compensate by growing a little extra. For me, it’s important that we don’t use chemicals in our produce, so I’d rather lose some crop!
- To help create walkways in between each row, simply throw down some grass clippings. As it dries out into hay, it keeps the weeds away and makes perfect pathways to picking!
Recipes will be coming up soon! I’ll be introducing how to use some of these amazing ingredients in your cooking for a healthier lifestyle. Stay tuned!