You talked me into it

This past Saturday my wife and I went to a gardening talk at Schlafly Bottleworks in St. Louis. The talk was actually given by the Schlafly Gardenworks -- an urban garden built on a former parking lot that provides fresh, organic produce for the restaurant. The point of the talk was to get people excited about growing their own food, and I have to say: it worked! Although I started renovating my veggie garden last year, I've been thinking about how to make it even more successful this year, and I got a lot of great ideas (which I'll share as I implement them).

The head gardener at the Gardenworks is Jack, and his relaxed approach to gardening (and talking about gardening) really impressed me. Especially when he talked about planting winter lettuce. He said that once lettuce germinates it can handle freezes, snow, ice -- it's really one of the toughest little plants around. He said he usually plants it on Valentine's day, or Groundhog day -- whatever is easy to remember -- and he always gets a great early lettuce crop. So Sunday I did some work on my beds and planted some lettuce!


My beds are a mess, as I never clean them up in the fall. This is partially because late crops like kale are still around (but no longer edible), partially because I like leaving winter habitat for creatures, and partially because I just didn't get around to it. The main bed that I'll be planting with lettuce is above, but these are the other three beds I have:

I'm not going to bore you with every detail of pulling dormant weeds and dead tomato plants, but I will point out a few noteworthy observations. Like this grassy weed that appears to be a perennial:

I had to pull several roots out of this bed, and they all showed signs of new shoots.

This bowl of onions I'll just move out of the way:

Maybe I'll plant the onions in the ground sometime soon. But no distractions... back to cleanup!

I found several of these peat seed starting cells that I grew the tomato plants in:

I have to say that I'm disturbed by how few roots made it out of the cells:

If I use these again next year, I'll definitely remove all of the fiber covering before planting. I wonder if the instructions said to do that? I assumed the roots would just break through without any problem.

This other one looks a bit better, with roots coming out all around:

Although this third one is terrible:

I'm only cleaning two of the beds today -- those from the first two photos above. The second one contains a couple of trellises that hold Malabar spinach and cypress vines:

Plenty of Malabar spinach seeds, if these are viable:

I suspect I'll have hundreds of Malabar spinach seedlings next year, so even if these seeds are duds I'm not concerned.

About this time my camera batteries died, so I missed a couple of photos -- including the photo of the cleaned and raked beds. If you can't imagine what those would look like, here are some older photos to help:

March 2011

March 2011

I decided to plant all of the one bed and about a third of the second with various lettuces, mizuna, komatsuna, and spinach. These seed packs are a few years old, but I'm hoping they'll germinate fine. I include photos of them here for reference:

The lettuce packs are shown in the order I planted them in the bed, two rows of each. The komatsuna and mizuna seeds look identical (just like kale and broccoli seeds too), and had spilled together. So I'm not sure exactly what I planted there -- two rows of a mix of both I think. They're easy enough to tell apart once they start growing (mizuna has "feathery" or toothed leaves, while komatsuna are rounded and smooth-edged) and I love them both so it doesn't really matter.

I have never planted seeds so early before, but Jack says he's never had a problem with February-planted lettuce seeds. A few warms days is all you need he says -- which is good because it was 65ºF (18ºC) the day after planting with the same in store for tomorrow, and only slightly cooler for the rest of the week. So hopefully I'll have lettuce seedlings popping up before the weekend!

In the meantime I'm thinking about what to do with the other beds...

Plus I really need to replace that fence -- the gate is barely holding together now. First things first though -- without delicious edible plants inside, there's no need for a fence, is there?

So thanks Jack and Nolan of Schlafly Gardenworks for the mid-winter gardening pep talk, and I hope to hear more from you in the spring and throughout the year!


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (January 31, 2012 at 10:58 AM)  

Alan, you've got me motivated to work on our veggie beds this spring!!! :-)

Alan  – (January 31, 2012 at 2:24 PM)  

Why wait? Get your greens planted now! Your cool season is so short anyway.

The Gardening Blog  – (February 8, 2012 at 4:11 PM)  

Yeay! Once you get that first harvest, you won't look back. It is work - but hey, its gardening :-)

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