Right now, I’m dreaming of a lovely spring day; a soft gentle breeze is blowing and I’m working on my garden plan for this year…

Wait just a dad-gum minute!

The reality is, right now I’m sitting on top of the heater in my office while the wind howls around the corner and snow blows in under the back door as I head to the pile of pellets to replenish the stove. It’s just plain COLD outside, but this is South Dakota. (If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes and it will change again.)

I’ve been going through the seeds left from last year and making a ‘paper plan’ of my garden for this year. Once I have 'inventoried' what is in the seed box, I can get out the stack of seed catalogs that have been landing in my mailbox since mid-December.

My ‘paper plan’ is just that. I draw out the garden rows that I want to plant and figure where to put the seeds, onion sets, and other plants where they will do the best. It works better for me than the ‘helter-skelter’ planning I used to do, which resulted in cucumbers running over radishes and green beans. And I was afraid to walk through the mess for fear of smashing something with my big foot!

Chicken Coop Mulch: A Gardener's 'Best Friend'

Last fall, I had the whole garden mowed off after harvest and now that spring is ‘just around the corner', figuratively speaking, when the weather cooperates I will be moving the contents of the chicken coops winter straw to the garden as mulch/fertilizer for the coming summer.  I put on a good 2- to 3-inches of the chopped up straw and ‘stuff’ and then till it into the soil. 

Then, when I put my plants in, I dig the holes, set the plants and water them well. I then put a good layer of old newspapers down around the plants and between the rows. Then I water the paper down and cover with a good layer of the chopped straw which is soaked down as well.

The plants seem to take off growing right away. I don’t have much trouble with weeds thanks to the paper barrier. The tomatoes didn’t have any rot problems from lying on bare soil. Sometimes, a stalk of corn come might pop up from a stray kernel the chickens missed, but that’s about it! For the most part, all I have to do is water as needed and harvest when the vegetables are ready. In the fall of the year when the garden is cleaned up, we till the paper under and it just goes back to soil once again.

I knew those old biddies were good for something besides eggs!

Since I have already inventoried the seeds I have on hand, I can order what is needed without too much duplication. Of course, while one variety of lettuce is perfectly fine two or three varieties are better, I think. I especially like the assorted lettuce packets with 6 or 8 different kinds in the mix.  We planted a flat of some of the assorted early last spring in the greenhouse and my granddaughter loved to ‘give the lettuce a haircut’. I’d let it get several inches tall, cut it off with scissors and we would take it to the house, give it a wash, put it in a plastic bag line with a couple of paper towels and in about an hour, the little four-year-old missy was feasting away on a bowlful of fresh ‘garden’ lettuce!  What could be more healthy? No dressing–she pretended she was a rabbit, and "They don’t do dressing, grandma!" We will have a pumpkin patch this year, I hope. Last year, the deer and other critters ate the most of it. Funny though, they didn’t mess with the zucchini!

I love my garden. It gives me a chance to be outdoors for hours on end, digging in the dirt and playing in the mud–sometimes with kids, sometimes without. It’s good exercise and a real good way to “get your bender-upper" in shape, as an elderly neighbor used to tell me. I like knowing what is in the soil, and what I put on it to control bugs, and the kind of water used to soak the soil. My garden gives me good organic produce that I can share with my family and friends. And, my precious food dollars go further. Those of us who live in wide open spaces can have big gardens and do a lot of canning and freezing if we so choose, or just share with the family and friends.

Those who live in more confining spaces sometimes have to be a bit creative to garden. You need sunshine a good share of the day and preferably a fairly flat spot. I’ve seen gardens in pots on decks–a couple of tomato plants, a few radishes and a couple of lettuce seeds per pot is an easy way to start. The lettuce and radishes are long gone before the tomatoes get big and gangly and take over the whole space. I know of one lady that lives in a neighborhood where you can have a vegetable garden only in the back yard. Just flowers were allowed in the front. Her back yard was full of trees and shaded all day so she put a cucumber vine in with the morning glories on the trellis and put tomatoes and peppers in among the marigolds and zinnias. She put radishes and lettuce in with the petunias along the edgings of the flower border, and they were long gone before the petunias bloomed.

Some folks take square bales of hay or straw, make a square or oblong, fill it with good dirt/potting soil/compost and plant away. Some even put old window frames over the tops of the bales so they have a head start come spring.  The garden plants are somewhat sheltered from the winds and storms when they are smaller and are much easier for folks to tend that have a 'bit of a creak' in the old bones. I actually think that bale gardens were the precursors to the raised beds that are so common now, especially in the towns and cities.

Your local library or County Extension Office (www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/) will have many books and pamphlets full of time-tested methods of all kinds. Look up their number online or in the phone book and give them a call–they are most helpful and can answer your questions, or call the ag experts and they will get back to you.

Happy planting.



by Paula Vogelgesang

Paula Vogelgesang is the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", and is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory.

Email her at [email protected]

Please be sure to mention the "Farm And Livestock Directory" when you respond.

«CLICK HERE for more money saving tips from Pennywise!