It has begun.
Gardening doesn’t just magically happening, and establishing the garden the first year is probably the most difficult part, at least in terms of initial costs and efforts. Planning and dreaming can happen all we want, but actually doing something is necessary or there will never be a garden. Yesterday I took three big steps towards getting my first garden started this year.
The first thing I did was assemble one of my Christmas presents: a miniature greenhouse. It’s set up in the corner of my dining room right now, as it’s still cold enough that I think seed starts will prefer to be indoors even with the protection and warmth of a plastic cover to help. Seeds need minimum soil temperatures to germinate, and that can be more easily provided in my house right now. We’re still getting below-freezing weather sometimes. When I get a bigger greenhouse I’ll probably be able to do starts outdoors if I get some sort of heat source set up for colder weather.
Depending on the weather this summer, there may be a few things that stay in the greenhouse when I move it outdoors, or at least stay in there quite a bit longer than everything else. I’m not getting too ambitious with what I’m planting my first season; I know that peppers, melons, some squash, and a few other veggies struggle to grow well in the Pacific Northwest unless we have unusual summers like last year. I do have some peppers and squash on my list, but I chose varieties that are more likely to do better in this climate as long as I don’t transplant them out too early.
The second thing I did yesterday was mark out where I want to have the garden plot dug. Right now I settled with a 4’x10′ plot, but I’ll likely add one or two more beds over the next couple of years as I get more comfortable with gardening and don’t have to try to garden in my last trimester or with a newborn like I will be this year. My mom also promised me some large containers that she no longer uses, so I’m pretty sure there’s at least one thing that will get planted in those rather than in the garden bed. Now my husband and brother just need to find a day to dig the bed and bring in some compost and potting soil for me. We currently have access to free bulk manure compost, which is excellent since I haven’t started my own compost pile yet and that stuff can get expensive.
The third thing I did was dig into the two seed catalogs I had ordered. Both catalogs were free when I ordered them online from the seed companies. The first was from High Mowing Organic Seeds and the second was from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Both of these were recommended companies and both are non-GMO organic seeds (GMO is inherently not organic, by the way).
I know that the verdict is still out on the safety of consuming GMOs; some people will say it’s definitely safe, some will say it’s definitely unsafe. However, there’s more problems with GMOs than just whether they’re safe to eat, including their limitation of genetic diversity, the problems with having patented seeds that can ruin a small farmer if his or her seeds get contaminated with GMO seeds, the increased need for pesticides on GMO crops, etc. Three of the biggest GMO crops–corn, cotton, and soybeans–have required a tenfold increase of herbicides such as Roundup in less than fifteen years, and some weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides from this overuse. Roundup comes with its own list of problems.
I’d also like to point out that there’s a difference between regular breeding and genetic modification done in a lab and then patented by huge companies. People tend to say that genetic modification has always been done for a long time, but that’s like saying manipulating the DNA of embryos in a lab to get a “super-breed” is comparable to breeding different species of dogs together to try to get the best traits of the two breeds.
Stepping off my soap box now. Back to the catalogs.
I found more from High Mowing than from Baker Creek, but both were wonderful catalogs to browse. High Mowing did a beautiful job at laying out their selection of seeds — a mixed selection of open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid varieties — in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand way. I was able to easily choose varieties that fit my needs (i.e. spring, summer, or overwintering lettuce) or that would be most adaptable to this climate (i.e. King of the North bell peppers). Baker Creek has the appeal of heirloom varieties that our great-grandparents grew before breeding for uniformity for the grocery store became so common.
I had to practice some realism here. I have limited gardening space and limited funds. While it’s true that this will (hopefully) pay itself back quickly, I had to keep the initial cost reasonable. With that in mind, I was careful to circle only varieties that were most likely to get eaten by us or, if we have an abundance, immediate family. I certainly want to have enough to pressure can and store and/or gift and abundance of vegetables eventually, but that’s probably going to have to wait for future years when I have more of a seed storage built up and more resources to work with.
I was surprised with the appeal of some of the herbs and flowers in Baker Creek’s catalog. Half of what I’m ordering from them isn’t even vegetables.
Once I’d gone through and circled what I wanted to order, I wrote it all down, priced it out, and okayed the final tally with my husband. Thankfully my care in choosing paid off, and he didn’t ask me to cross anything off to spend less. I think the most expensive seed packet was $3.30, and most were $2.75. Our next paycheck will see us with a nice stash of seeds, some of which will be saved for the next couple of years because there’s no way I can realistically plant seed in every packet this year.
As soon as the seeds arrive, I’ll plant the ones that do best with starting indoors in my little greenhouse, and soon enough I’ll have the start of a real vegetable garden.