A visit to the community garden has become my new Saturday am (and most evenings) ritual. A couple of weeks ago it was garden sign-up with a basic orientation, as well as some housekeeping, i.e. pulling stray grass that will crawl its way into the beds.
Master Gardeners organize and run the garden. This is fabulous. They are methodical and have more growing info in their heads than I can fathom.
I’m not a naive, first-time grower, and I know there is a science behind truly successful gardening. I’m sort of a by-the-almanac-kind of girl. You watch, you pay attention to the weather forecasts, make sure you put last year’s compost on and remember what your grandparents – who literally grew and raised everything they ate – did and said.
A friend says, “I was out farming.” I like it, I’m gonna use that phrase.
But, I must say, listening to these intentionally scientific gardeners, I saw things in a whole new light. Now, mind you, I’ve been urban farming in the verdant Willamette Valley for the last several years – it’s easy there – you throw seeds in the ground and they turn into fab food. It’s not that simple in Central Oregon; it’s colder, the growing season is only 90 days at best. Heck, Jack Frost has been known to make random appearances for the 4th of July. I guess he likes fireworks as much as the rest of us.
The soil is sandy, which is great for drainage, but not so much for moisture or nutrient retention. I’m definitely not dealing with sticky clay that cakes to your mud boots, enlarging your feet to clown size proportions. No, it’s a whole new beast.
To top it off, my community garden has a micro-climate all its own; cooler and windier than others in town. That’s where a cloche – mini greenhouses covered with row cloth – comes into play.
One of the Saturday gatherings at the garden focused on a few areas of successful gardening in Central Oregon:
- The use of a cloche or cold-frame and how to build one.
- Soil amendments and watering.
- The how’s of planting.
But what really sparked my interest were two thoughts in the “planting” section of the class.
Square foot or grid gardening. This is especially helpful to an urban farmer who has a small footprint in which to grow vegetables. The basic premise is to lay out a 1 x 1 foot grid on the garden plot and plant inside the framework. For example, a 1 x 1 area can grow 16 carrots, 9 beets or 2 parsley plants. Things like tomatoes take 1 ½ grids – back to the science and planning. They had me going, my mind envisioning a beautiful patchwork of plants. I do like a pretty plot.
All of these words and backstory to actually get to what I really want to share: The Master Gardeners talked about the “hows” of planting. I know that stuff, right? You make a row the prescribed depth using a string to keep it straight, place the seeds in at the appropriate spacing, cover gently with soil, water and grow.
Well, yes, pretty much that is the case, except … oh my goodness, mind blown! Tomatoes! I learned about determinate and indeterminate. Remember, I’m not a total novice farmer, but I’d never really thought about why some tomato plants are bushy and stocky and others decide to go wild, sprawling and crawling, getting all leggy. There we go! It has to do with the type.
I’ve always dug a whole slightly wider and deeper than the root ball, making sure to carefully loosen the soil around the roots, tucked it in, replaced dirt around the plant, popped a cage over it for support and been done. Tried, true and it works.
The gal sharing did it a bit different. For the determinate (bushy-type), she dug the hole about 2 to 3 inches deeper than the top of the root ball, stripped the lower leaves and put it in the ground. She explained that tiny roots would sprout from the additional stem buried in the soil, producing a stronger, healthier plant that would yield more fruit. Yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit.
The method for the indeterminate (leggy) variety was different. It was planted using a trench. Once again the lower leaves were removed to encourage a stronger root system. I’ve always worried about those tomatoes. They seemed so vulnerable when they were first planted, but by laying the stem in the trench with only the top leaves exposed really stabilized them.
Okay, this all might not be rocket science or new info to some, but for me it was a wow! Lightbulb moment that made so much sense. In fact, all the other Almanac Farmers probably knew this, I just missed it somehow.
I’m a happy farmer – Missy