Since some of you said that you'd like to hear what I'm learning about gardening, and since I'm likely to forget everything I learned anyway - I wanted to record some of the information I've been gathering.
Turns out, my garden dreams for this spring, however, have been mostly dashed. Our car broke down on Wednesday, which has put a damper on house buying plans for a few months. Instead of moving in the spring, we are now probably (hopefully) going to move in the summer.
And I just can't do it! I can't cultivate a yard, carefully create magical dirt, plant seeds that I water diligently, watch them grow- and then abandon them right before I get to see the (literal!) fruits of my labors!
So I've started to plan.
A Garden in Three Parts:
Part One: Spring 2015
I will plant a small number of plants (three tomato plants, a pepper plant or two, and some heads of lettuce) into large buckets. Five gallon buckets for the tomatoes and peppers, probably number 10 tin cans for the lettuce. (I'm also considering a hanging basket of strawberries, but think it might be too dry here. Has anyone in Utah successfully done this?)
These can be transported to our new house in the middle of the growing season and hopefully bear some fruit.
Part Two: Summer and Fall
When we finally do move into a new house, I will start preparing my garden for next year. I'm going to make space for the beds, fill them with the right mixture of compost, dirt, and other things. I've even learned about soil PH like some kind of garden scientist. (Most plants prefer a PH of about 6, but most Utah soil is above a 7 or 8- so I need to add limestone or sulfur, but most importantly- compost! See? I've learned so much.)
Part Three: Spring 2016
Real gardening will begin and by Fall 2016 I will be living completely on delicious salads I grew in my yard. Okay. Maybe not completely.
I've even made a list of seeds to buy this year and next year. The good news is, if stored properly, most seeds last 4-5 years at least, and if you buy good quality materials, and keep composting and fertilizing your dirt- your garden just keeps improving. So even though these first few years might be more expensive, I have high hopes that it will eventually at least even out. (I'm not sure that I'll ever really grow enough to save money, but it's not totally about that for me. It's more about knowing where my food comes from, having a relationship with the earth, teaching my kids, being obedient, and lots of other cheesy things.
Places to buy seeds:
Seedsavers.org - This seed company is actually a non-profit, dedicated to preserving unique, heritage, and heirloom seeds. Request one of their catalogs. Go on, do it now. It's wonderful bedtime reading material.
Nativeseeds.org - Another non-profit, this one specializes in preserving seeds specifically for the hot desert south west (think Arizona, Mexico, and Utah to lesser extent.)
JohnnySeeds.com - I don't love this site as much, but I'm nostalgic, so I like sentimental internet-seed-stores the best. But it's still really useful and a great place to find cool mixed packets of seeds like these swiss chard seeds, which I'm excited to grow next spring.
The Square Foot Garden - Recommend, recommend, recommend! This book was awesome! I actually even read it from cover to cover. I kind of assumed I understood the gist of the book without reading it (Plant your garden in square blocks instead of rows), but there was a lot more in there than I anticipated. There's a lot of information on what kinds of soil to grow in and how to make it, how much sun plants need to grow, how to till, rotate crops, and how to plant the right amount of food to feed your family. He even has a little section about gardening with kids where he lists everything you should have your children grow (fast, satisfying, brightly colored plants like radishes, rainbow swiss chard, marigolds, and snap peas). Awesome. Buy a copy of this one.
The Quarter Acre Farm- I enjoyed this book and read it cover to cover, too. It was less helpful than encouraging and the thing I wanted most was a map of her yard and garden. She did have lots of recipes for foods straight from the garden, and advice and tips that will prove useful (like water tomato plants when they look wilty. Make them look sad and thirsty first, and then swoop in with tons of water.) I would check this one out from the library if I were you.
Month-by-Month Gardening in Utah - Maybe this book is more helpful if you want to know about growing flowers and ornamental trees and having a lush lawn, but I'm all about growing food. And the food section in here was pretty slim. This book was also arranged in a weird way, which was not month-by-month. It was arranged by plant type and then it listed what to do in each month if growing that plant. It just seemed counter-intuitive and I didn't really read this book.
Rocky Mountain Vegetable Gardening - another book I would recommend checking out from the library. It seems helpful, but less reader-friendly. I think this is a book that I'll go back and get again when it comes time to determine how much I should water onions versus carrots. But it is helpful that it takes high elevation, cold winters, and hot dry summers in it's advice. The other two books above both were written in very different climates than here. The Square Foot Garden actually recommends only watering once a week in the summer! Pretty much everything would instantly die here if I followed that advice.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A book that I love and have loved for many years! Barbra Kingsolver is totally preachy and has way more resources than the rest of us, but it's amazing and enlightening to read about their gardening experience, going from little gardening know-how (still more than me) to being a complete homesteader.
When to Plant Calculator - In case you were wondering, Salt Lake City's average frost free date is sometime in the first week of May, but everywhere in Utah is different.
Utah State's Vegetable Recommendations for Utah - Wondering what varieties of green beans or tomatoes grow well in Northern Utah? Tah-dah! I found a list o'them.
"There are blessings in being close to the soil, in raising your own food, even if it is only a garden in your yard." Prepare Ye by Ezra Taft Benson