Saturday, March 24, 2012

Resources for Wisconsin Gardeners

I've noticed that some of the search engine traffic that ends up on my blog is from people looking specifically for information about gardening in Wisconsin. When I started figuring all this stuff out three years ago, I was exactly that type of Googler.

Here are some of my favorite gardening resources. These, combined with the blogs listed on the right ("The Vegetable Garden" is a Wisconsin blog), are where I get and record most of my gardening information.

  • Vegetable cultivars & planting guide for Wisconsin gardeners - This is from UW Extension. It lists types of vegetables that do well in Wisconsin weather, and page five has a wonderful chart that lists when to plant your veggies (notice that it's based on Madison dates. See the dates at the bottom for adjusted dates in your area.

  • - The website is great, particularly the discussion forums (find the link at the top right). I subscribed to the magazine for a year, but found that they sent me three issues right away, so the year subscription went very quickly. I now purchase each issue individually through the iPad app. Some stories have great supplemental photo and video content available only on the iPad.

  • Garden Planner - I started using this last winter. It helps you lay out your garden, figure out your spacing, and even print a calendar of planting/harvest dates. You can try a 30-day free trial and decide if you want to put up the $25 a year for the web-based software.

  • Square Foot Gardening - If you haven't gotten around to buying the square foot gardening book (like me), this web resource is a great summary of the concept. I found the chart on page 12 especially helpful.

  • Gardening Books - Over the last few years I've purchased a variety of garden books, and I seem to prefer the type that are presented as a novel full of useful information with a few recipes tossed in. My two favorites are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (I reread this, or at least skim it, at least once a year) and Quarter Acre Farm.

  • Garden Journal - Just this year, I decided to keep a gardening journal to start recording the patterns in my garden. I'm also using this blog for that purpose, but I'm much more detailed in the journal. I purchased the Wisconsin Local Foods Journal based on the recommendation of a local farmer, and so far I like it. It highlights Wisconsin farmers, provides lists of what's available locally each month, and highlights a new seasonal recipe most weeks. It's not too late to pick up the 2012 journal!

  • When it's time to decide what to cook with the garden or farmer's market bounty, I turn first to From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce. This comprehensive book is produced by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. I purchased it at a Farmers Market in 2005, I believe. It was the first taste I had of information about eating local.
So gardeners (from Wisconsin or elsewhere), what are your sources of information you turn to when learning to garden?

I recommend many products in this post that are not free. I've purchased them all, and I'm not receiving incentives from anyone to write this post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Seedlings - Slowly But Surely....

I experimented with my seed starting mix this year. I hate the soil-less seed starting mix. I don't care what anyone says, but I think seeds need dirt. The potting soil I bought was a bit clumpy, so I mixed it with seed starting mix until it reached a softer consistency. It definitely seems that seeds sprout a bit slower in this mix, but hopefully I won't have to repot as often because there are needed nutrients in their soil.

That being said, I've seen basil, broccoli, tomato, thyme, oregano, and zinnia sprouts. The zinnia's are moving quickly, and the basil and broccoli aren't far behind. Tomatoes seem to be taking their time, but every variety other than Blondkopfchen has sprouted at least one seedling.

I tried to take some pictures, but I still haven't mastered the use of my husband's fancy camera. I came upstairs to import the photos and they were all too dark. Oh well.

Monday, March 19, 2012

First Day in the 2012 Garden

There isn't a whole lot going on in the backyard in March, but with the highs consistently in the 70's for a few weeks (what, global warming?) we had to get out into the garden to do some work. Here's how the garden looked before we started to wake it up from its winter nap yesterday.

The garlic, however, seems to have woken up on its own just fine. This is great, as it's the first year I've planted garlic and I was concerned that I hadn't planted it in optimal soil conditions.

The day's work included weeding one of the garden beds. Grass seems to find its way from the paths to the beds constantly. We've got a project underway to take care of that, but that's for another blog post, when we're hopefully much further along.

After weeding what I could see, I removed our winter "comforter compost" (just a covering of last fall's yard waste) from half the bed and found some more grass and weeds. After quickly taking care of them, it was off to find the compost.

We have a compost pile against the fence at the back of our garden, but I haven't been very good about turning it and I don't currently have a screen to sift it. So, much of this year's compost will be purchased. I covered a 4' x 8' section of one bed with three 3/4 cubic yard bags of composted manure. I didn't even mix it in; just arranged it on top. Over time, the rain will seep through and mix the compost into the soil. Also, the soil is still a little wet, so the inch or so layer of compost gives me some soft ground to plant in.

Speaking of planting, I decided I couldn't waste this great weather and had to experiment by planting some of my cool-weather crops, which I normally wouldn't plant for another month. This year I'm using the square foot gardening method for most of my beds. Last year I planted in rows, and I felt like I wasted a ton of space. Since I'm new to this, I wanted a physical reminder of what a square foot looks like. I got out some twine and a staple gun and created a square foot grid.

The grid only covers 8' of the 16' bed, as I didn't need to plant the other portion yet and I wanted to leave the comforter compost to do its work.

With the grid laid out, I planted:

  • Knight Peas (2 squares of 16)
  • Sugar Lace Peas (2 squares of 16)
  • Toppers Turnips (1 square of 9)
  • Tokyo Cross Turnips (1 square of 9)
  • Cherry Belle Radishes (1 square of 16)
  • Easter Egg Radishes (1 square of 16)
  • French Breakfast Radishes (1 square of 16)
  • Boltardy Beets (1 square of 16)
  • Early Wonder Beets (1 square of 16)
  • Crosby Egyptian Beets (1 square of 16)
  • Pine Tree Lettuce Mix (2 squares of 4)
  • Arugula (2 squares of 9)
  • Dash Spinach (1 square of 9)
If all goes well, I'll be eating from the garden in mid-April. Considering I don't have any winter plantings, that's a Wisconsin miracle!

The other garden news is we have a new acquisition: a heavy-duty garden cart. We found this little baby on sale at Lowe's for $50. Great deal, and a great way to haul stuff around the garden and avoid extra trips to the garage.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Seed Starting Extravaganza

Today I started the herbs I planned to: thyme, basil, sage, parsley, oregano, and celery.

I also started plants I had planned to start to weeks later. The weather has been so warm (it's been in the seventies), I anticipate being able to plant things out earlier. So, I also started tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, head lettuce, and zinnias.

I also gave the onions a haircut - they were getting scraggly. Now they're only four inches tall. I wasn't planning to plant them out for another month, but if the weather holds that will happen much earlier.

I also made a run to Stein's and picked up 6 bags of compost, 3 cubes of straw, some bone meal, fish emulsion, and plant labels. Tomorrow I'll amend at least one bed and plant peas and other cool weather crops, which I wasn't planning to plant for another month.

It's possible we'll still get frosts (even snow), but I can always replant. If we don't, I don't want to miss this opportunity to get a head start on the Wisconsin garden season.