Garden Journal: May 13th, 2022

I thought I’d start a weekly post during the gardening season taking you through my garden, sharing what’s growing, what’s thriving and what isn’t, what I’d like to do differently next time, etc.

I want to share this because it’s something I would be interested in from a reader’s perspective, but also as a journal to look back on to see the progress I’ve made, what I’ve learned, what worked and what didn’t. I think that there is a lot to be learned in process. So while I am still very much a beginner gardener, growing on a very small scale, I still believe that there is value here. And I’m excited to look back and see my progress at the end of the season.

Today is May 13th, and we are roughly 3-4 weeks out from our last expected frost. I’m in zone 4b, and our growing season is extremely short. So these three months of summer are really full-on garden mode to try and get every last drop out of it. Right now we are still very much in spring preparatory mode. As soon as we get a weekend with good weather, we are going to be putting in 3 new raised beds in our little backyard, along with an in-ground flower bed. We also have a perennial bed and several containers on both patios.

I really started in on our perennial bed last fall (2021). We had a couple of overgrown shrubs that were quite literally taking up the whole bed. I went to prune them back and realized they probably had never been pruned and needed to be cut back pretty severely. Once I had cut everything away, our front bed was looking pretty empty! I panicked a little and went shopping at our local garden center. We hardly get any sun in this area, it is truly a full shade location. So I added in some hostas, hellebores, moss, and another plant that I found on clearance and can’t remember the name of.

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Right now those hellebores are in their prime. I so enjoy seeing them out my window everyday. We have had a really cold, snowy spring and they have done wonderfully. They really are quite hardy. Just today I noticed some minuscule hosta shoots peeking through! Very excited to see some activity there, as I wasn’t sure if those would make it either. Looking forward to the color and structure that those will bring to the bed. I also was glad to see signs of life today on both shrubs that were cut back hard last fall! This bed is still looking sparse, but I’m not sure exactly how I want to fill it out. I may add to it as the season goes on and I can see how it looks as the plants fill in a bit more. About a month or two back I top dressed everything with compost and pruned my hellebores. Other than that they’ve pretty much been left alone.

I was so excited with my hellebore success that I purchased two more to put in my front containers early this spring. I knew it was maybe a little too early, but I couldn’t help myself. I babied them at first but then they were so root bound that they had to be planted out. And then we got hit with a few really cold spells. Needless to say they are not looking good. There is a lot of foliage damage and not a lot of blooms but they are hanging on. My hope is that they’ll survive enough to come back better than ever next year. Debating what to do with them for now. Thinking I’ll cut them back hard and plant them in the ground. I know they don’t like to be moved, but they aren’t looking happy in the containers. Here’s hoping they’ll do better elsewhere and give me a nice show of blooms early next spring.

We have yet to build our new raised beds, but I have one box I grew vegetables in last year. It is falling apart so it will be replaced with the new beds. This is my third year growing in this box and the soil is just now getting to a good place! We started with cheap soil (don’t make my same mistake) and I was hard-pressed to get anything to grow in it at first. But along the way I’ve learned a lot about how to build healthy soil and the importance of it! It always pays to start where you are with what you can. I’m so glad I made this mistake on a small level, so that now when I put in more raised beds, I know better. I’ve been adding worm castings, Garden Tone from Espoma organic, and just this last year I started mulching with compost. The more organic material I’ve added, the more the soil has improved.

Right now in this vegetable planter I have a random assortment of things growing: some that I planted a few weeks ago and some from last fall/early winter, and even a few volunteer plants! Early this spring I planted a row of snow peas, some radishes, arugula, and spinach. The germination was spotty, probably due to the swinging temperatures we’ve had, but a few came up. I chose not to re-sow since we won’t be keeping this bed. I plan to transplant as much as I can to other locations, and we are going to be re-using the soil in another bed as well. Last fall I planted some spinach and arugula. It came up but didn’t grow very much before the snow came. But ever since it has started warming up, they’ve taken off! I’ve never tried over-wintering anything in ground before here in our cold climate, but it worked out brilliantly! I think I’ll have to do it more intentionally this year to try for an early spring harvest.

I have a couple of rows of chives on their third year as well! I didn’t know when I first planted the chives that they were perennial and would come back again and again. They are bigger and better than ever and always a welcome sight in the early spring. I saw the first chive blossom bud today, and I’m hoping for a nice show of those here rather soon. I also have a few volunteer sunflowers and chamomile popping up all on their own! They make me smile.

I have a big container (it actually belongs to my neighbor. she is kind enough to let me plant in it) that I am planning to fill with herbs this year. So far I have some transplanted chives from the aforementioned bed, some thyme I picked up at the garden center, and a few cilantro seedlings. I’m hoping to add basil, oregano, dill, and perhaps rosemary as the season goes on.

In my other containers I am planning on growing greens- lettuce, rainbow chard, spinach, and kale. My patio only gets part sun, and I have always stubbornly tried to grow tomatoes and the like in these planters. It never works out well! So I am learning and adjusting. Thinking it might just be the perfect spot for some greens so that they don’t bolt as quickly when the weather really gets warm. This is also one of the easiest and most cost-effective things I can grow instead of buying at the store. In the off-season, we buy a clamshell of greens for salads weekly for about $4. That is about what I spend on seeds for greens for a whole season. That is a lot of savings! And a (very small) step towards self-sufficiency. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, and you and your family eat salads, I would highly encourage you to try your hand at growing some greens. They might not be the most flashy thing to grow, but is very easy and very rewarding.

My flower bed is not yet ready, but I am very excited to start in on planting that. My main purpose for this is to add some beauty to the area, as it normally gets overrun with weeds. I also dream of having flowers available to cut and have in the house. I plan to grow lots of sunflowers, zinnias, snapdragons, cosmos, and maybe a few herbs mixed in. I want it to be a loose, layered, wild, unstructured area just for beauty. I am so looking forward to it.

I can’t neglect to mention the little garden I have going on my kitchen counter! This year, knowing I would have more space in my vegetable garden to fill, I finally bought a grow light for seed starting. In previous years I have started seeds on my sunniest windowsill with little success. The seedlings that did survive those six weeks were puny, leggy, and stunted. It always took them so long to catch up to the plants I’d inevitably have to go purchase from the garden center, and it was really disheartening. Last year I about threw in the towel on seed starting, and decided that this year I’d either have to buy a grow light or buy all of my seedlings. This grow light was only about $40 when I purchased it, and that would only buy me about 8 started plants at the nursery. I really enjoy the process of seed starting. It’s nice to have something to grow and tend to when nothing can be done outside yet. So I went with the grow light. And I’m so glad I did. Next year I may need to add another… and a shelf so that my kitchen isn’t overrun.

Most of my seedlings are looking good so far! I started way more than I needed, so I’m about to run out of space. I didn’t account for the up-potting. Some of my plants, however, are not looking so good. I think I overwatered in the beginning, had some mold issues, and a few plants got behind and never caught up. Some of my seedlings were yellowing and looking a bit nutrient deficient, so I just added some worm castings sprinkled over top. Hoping that will give them a boost. I’ve also been sprinkling cinnamon periodically to try and fight the mold issue, as well as trying to keep from over-watering. It can be tricky with seedlings, because you want to let the soil have a break form being constantly wet, but seedlings are also sensitive to drying out. I find bottom watering to be an effective solution, but I just have to remember not to leave them in the tray for too long. I had a problem with my jalapeños germinating last year, and so I sowed a whole container of them hoping for just a few. I think every single one came up! Who knows what was going on last year, but this year we will have jalapeños! Next year I would also like to upgrade to some better seedling trays so I can up-pot in a more orderly fashion. I have really small cells and really large containers, I need something in between.

We’re getting so close to our last frost date, and I can hardly wait to be in full-blown gardening season! Looking forward to bringing you all along.

Until next time,



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