Virgin veggie-grower vows to do better next year


by SusanBareplot400_3
You all know I’m growing food for the first time ever, right?  There’s so much talk these days about growing
food, though, I can’t say how much I’m swept away by all that, or falling under the spell of two passionate food-growing buddies – Ed Bruske and our own Michele.
Tough duo to resist, and you see the result – my
spanking clean kitchen garden with hundreds of tiny seeds tucked into
that A+ soil (and I have that test to prove it!)  But I’m getting ahead
of myself.

Ed’s strictly a buy-local kind of guy, and he suggested the D. Landreth Seed Company in Pennsylvania and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia.  And John Scheeper
sent me his catalog because I’m a regular buyer of their bulbs.
Following orders, I acquired and finally assembled the catalogs, a few post-its of notes, and got to work.  For a good 10 minutes, I swear.  But after that
I started feeling overwhelmed – just like beginning gardeners usually
feel.  I’m identifying with my clients like never before.
I feel their pain.  I want a coach myself.New2008_084_3

So you see I was unusually vulnerable to bedazzlement by seed packets.  And I didn’t actually PLAN any seed-shopping mischief but since I was already
AT my favorite indie nursery for a free workshop, I thought I’d give
their seeds a look-see and came across rack after rack of these irresistible displays.  So I bartered with my better self: When I get to be a super-sophisticated suburban farmer,
THEN I’ll buy from super-local and heirloom-only suppliers.  For right
now, give me the damn packets.  Below you see my selection.

PLANTING ‘EMSeedpackets300
Back home I got back to following orders – studying my new-old copy of Barbara Damrosch’s Garden Primer, then planning my first veggie arrangement as best I
could.  Next I smoothed the surface of the growing space with a metal
rake, drew rows, and proceeded to drop the teeny tiny seeds as evenly
spaced as I could manage.   And I only have two questions:

  1. How on earth do you get anywhere close to exactly one-eighth or
    one-half inch of soil on top of these microscopic seeds?  Somebody,
    show me a video!  I mean it.
  2. And how do you keep from having a really bad backache after
    all that?  It’s even worse than weeding!  I’m starting to understand
    why everyone touts the virtues of raised beds, REALLY raised.  Where’s
    my physical therapist?  Hey, I just remembered.  A masseuse just contacted me for garden coaching and offered cash OR barter.  What timing!


  1. I don’t know about real vegetable gardeners, but I fill a big bucket with garden soil before the whole leveling/row creation/planting bit, then after I’ve put the seeds down, I just toss dirt back out of the bucket over the new rows. It ain’t precise, but if the number of seedlings I have to murder in the name of thinning is any indication, that’s okay.

  2. I’m so proud of you!

    Seriously, I probably overcover my seeds every time. So I tend to just make a slight depression, get it moist, then scatter some tiny seeds over it. Some scattering of dirt over that, then it’s watch, water and wait.

    You’ll be fine, though a masseuse is a great friend to have. And I am so glad you sipped the kool-aid: you will be so pleased with pulling a local meal out of your beds!

  3. I’m a big fan of small raised beds so all sides of the garden can be reached from an edge. Your walkway through the center does the easy reaching part, but not the height. Next year you can just add a wall and add compost within it to refresh the soil as needed.

    On seed depth, I don’t measure – if the depth is less than a 1/2 inch, I just scatter them on top and press gently down with my flat hand afterward.

  4. Way to go on the kitchen garden!

    I agree with El and Karen: put down the seeds and toss dirt on top.

    As for the backache, I think that gets better as the season goes on. I raked two beds out on Friday and was pretty much flattened for the rest of the day.

    At the end of last summer I was at the gynecologist, and the RN told me that I have great back muscles. I said, “I do?”

    She said, “Oh, yes–do you do a lot of lifting things at work?”

    I said, “Well, I garden.”

    She said, “Ah.”

    And now I’ve talked about my gynecologist on a garden blog. Nice!

  5. Good luck! My fiance and I live in a tiny apartment so we bought some seedlings and then couldn’t resist buying some heirloom seeds online. We hope to get them in the next week or so and plan on planting them in newspapers pots to get them started.


  6. Wahoo, go Susan! (That’s my Growing Challenge cheer.) I use a pencil and make a dot in the soil, then shove the dirt back over the hole with the pencil. Probably takes a *lot* longer than the bucket-o-soil approach, though! For long rows, I dig a trench with said pencil or a small hand shovel or trowel.

    Eliot Coleman has a handy homemade tool that does something similar to the pencil, only it puts in several holes at once.

    I also have a little handy dandy kneeling pad, so I kneel rather than bending over. Our beds are slightly raised – more like mounds, as we don’t have a wooden structure around them.

    The raised beds are definitely good for other things too, like drainage during heavy rains, tricking the wildlife that might want to come and snack (both below ground – like gophers – and above ground – like rabbits).

    And yeah, haven’t really noticed a difference between planting 1/4″ and 1/2″ in anything I’ve planted thus far. Though anything that says surface sowing means it, otherwise they won’t germinate.

    Have fun!

  7. I can never resist the seed racks either because I never manage to get my seed orders in before it’s planting time down here in Austin. We’re lucky to have quite a few choices on our seed racks as you’ll see during Spring Fling’s visit to the Natural Gardener.

    Prepare to be tempted!

  8. Welcome to the ranks of the food growers! You are going to love eating your first harvest.

    Is that picture before or after planting? I hope before because you should put labels where you plant so as the seeds germinate, you know what is what. Good luck and we will be checking back for more progress reports.

  9. The reality of gardening is often a bit more painful than the idealized notion but you know that! Knee pads are essential aren’t they! As far as covering seeds, I carry a bucket of soiless mix when I plant. It is very fine and has no weed seeds in it(not that you have any weed seeds lurking in this bed-they wouldn’t dare)! It is just a bit different in color than the surrounding soil so you can keep track of your row before germination! Depth of planting is just a suggestion! Well, in my book anyway! Can’t wait to see things popping up! The garden looks full of promise. Oh, take a look at the new Martha Stewart on the news stand and check out her vegetable garden-that should be good for a Rant post. Peas envy!

  10. The old tiny veg seed conundrum! These days I just wallop ’em in there and they tend to come up but my dad (who is old skool about this in the English village garden association long thin carrot competition way) uses a salt shaker type thing (parmesan cheese or pepper flake type holes) for seed sowing and a finish riddle/sieve type thing to get a thin layer of soil over the top. Of course our best crop of leeks ever remains those that came up randomly after I dropped a whole packet on the floor by holding it upside down so make of all this what you will.

  11. My first vegetable growing season (okay, last year), I carefully sowed rows that turned out to be not at all straight until my back was screaming. Then I sprinkled seeds on the next row. Messy, but they all came up. I wouldn’t worry about covering anything less than 1/4 inch – 1/4 inch to 3/4, sprinkle with soil. Deeper than that, brush the soil over the hole when you plant.

  12. Layanee beat me to the Martha Stewart reference – it’s a thing of obsessive-compulsive beauty. But the other thing she made (or more likely had someone make for her) was a big wooden plank with little dowels on it for pressing into the soil and making holes for seeds. I can’t remember how big it was, but it looked like it might be 2’x2′. Course, that only works if all your seeds get planted the same distance apart. And she used some sort of pot-making contraption that made seedling pots out of soil only – THAT I want to try. No peat pots wicking away moisture, no transplanting – just pop ’em in the soil. Martha is maddening in her perfection, but she does come up with some good ideas. Now if we only had a bevy of staff to carry out the plans.

  13. I am jealous of your aches and pains-I’m from Minnesota and can’t plant for 1 1/2-2 months yet and can hardly wait to dig in the dirt.My advice to beginners is don’t start out trying to do too much and no matter how long you garden there will always be failures so just don’t stress out but keep on-there’s always next year to try something different.

  14. I’m jealous of those aches and pains too. I’ve still got a foot of snow and ice on the ground. It will be at least a month before I can do anything. For those tiny seeds – and I use ‘wide rows’ or block planting – I shove aside some of the soil, scatter the seeds, and then rub and sift the soil I’ve saved through my hands and pat down. It works well enough. Thinning is still required.

  15. An elderly gardener told about about this trick she uses since she can’t crawl along the ground anymore using knee pads like I do. Rather than bend over, she uses a 3′ lightweight PVC pipe and drops the seed down the pipe to the precise point on the ground. She then uses the end of the pipe to nudge soil over the top if it is a deeply planted seed. Otherwise she scatters soil over the top afterwards.

  16. I am so glad to have found this website and blog. I am equally glad the veggie garden is on your “things to do” list. I’ve tended a veggie garden most of my adult life and can tell you the savings I’ve had with my food bill, not to mention the joy of being able to go out in my yard to “pick dinner”.Yes the back ache comes with it, but raised gardens or ergonomic garden ways can help that.Sadly, my husband and I separated last year and I am now living in an apartment building, so gone is my HUGE yard and gardens, to be replaced with pots and small sections of the yard here. But thankfully many of my friends and family ( knowing my passion for gardening) have graciously offered sections of their yards for me to plant what I want, so I am once again pouring over seed catalogues and planning this years veggie crops.

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