Gardening for Life: Spring is in the air and blogger Jim Carpenter has the itch to start planting

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By: Jim Carpenter

In my many years of gardening I have tried many things, but one thing I never did — or ever thought I would do — is plant tomatoes in the middle of April in northern Indiana.

I did it for the first time this year. Time will tell of it gains me anything. Before you make any quick decisions about my sanity, let me explain.

I keep pretty close track of weather trends, and temperatures were looking good for the near future. Also, I only planted seven of the 24 tomato plants I have been cultivating under grow lights on my back porch. I actually have extra plants so if I lose these few in the next several weeks I can easily replace them.

I suppose the main reason I took a risk on planting early tomatoes this year is the way I am growing these seven plants. Last year, I took an old, homemade ladder from the barn and used it as a support for my tomato plants. I put the ladder on the prepared soil and planted the tomato plants between each rung. As the plants grew I raise the ladder and the plants bushed out over the rungs. I am doing that again this year on these early plants. With this arrangement it will be easy for me to drop a tarp or blanket over these few plants for frost protection if needed.

I suppose there is also the excitement factor for me in having some warm weather plants in the garden already. At this point I am pretty thrilled to be getting busy on all the outdoor things a new spring brings around.

Except for sore muscles, I have been enjoying working in the soil and starting to plant what hopefully will turn into a harvest. There is a kind of joy in the work I have been doing with my newly transplanted vegetables. Some of these early garden chores seem more fun now than I’m sure they will later on in the season.

While I might be taking a chance on planting these tomatoes so early in the season, I do know it is getting to be excellent potato planting time. I took a big chunk of a day recently and planted about 15 pounds of blue, gold and white potatoes — it sounds like I was planting a rainbow!

I suppose for “normal” gardeners, planting 15 pounds of potatoes wouldn’t be that big a deal. My problem is that I am always looking for a way to make my gardening a little easier. It’s a problem because I put an awful lot of hard work in trying not to work hard! Another part of the situation is that I have several out buildings that are very handy for me to store anything and everything. That’s when I noticed the cardboard.

Five or six years ago I collected large pieces of cardboard to use as mulch in my garden. I used some for a year or two and it worked okay, but I went back to using straw and forgot about the leftover pieces. I found some 5 foot by 10 foot pieces in the barn and decided I would use them in planting some of my potatoes.

I laid the pieces of cardboard on the tilled soil and crawled along cutting holes to plant the potato pieces through. The cardboard will help retain moisture and prevent weeds from coming up. It looks pretty much like you might imagine it would. This type of thing is the reason I don’t have my garden along the road where people can see!

A number of years ago a friend gave me four plastic half-barrels to use as containers for gardening. I filled them with the appropriate potting mixture but haven’t found what grows best in that type of medium. This year I planted 25 onions in one half barrel, keeping them spaced out 4 to 5 inches apart. I will see how onions like the half barrel environment. If a few are too close together I can thin them for green onions when they get bigger.

I also did something different with some carrot seed. I broadcast seed directly over the soil in another half-barrel. I watered it in and hopefully it will turn into a little carrot field. The good thing for me about planting carrots is that if I don’t plant enough this spring, I can always plant a fall crop in August.

I really don’t know how that cardboard will work out in helping with my potatoes. I also don’t know if those early planted tomatoes will benefit me in the long run. I guess it is a way for me to try something different just for the experience of it. Of course it also makes for another story about gardening.

And I do like to talk about gardening.

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