A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Intrepid Urban Farmer: Planting after Mother’s Day cuts down frost danger, doesn’t lighten workload

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

Mother’s Day is that all-important marker of time for gardeners.

I can pretty much always be confident that if I plant my garden the week following it, I won’t have any arctic surprises.  A cold temperature emergency has happened a couple of times in the past twenty-five years, but this is an anomaly.

The pole beans starting—the scene of next year’s sweet spot.

This year, Mother Nature must have felt very good about her day.

The weather after it was unbelievably accommodating.  So accommodating in fact, that I worked myself to a nub trying to take advantage of it.  This is proof positive, that however good or bad the weather is, there is something to complain about.  The human psyche is never appeased and the need to complain about the weather never goes away.

I actually would have preferred one rotten day.  Then, I could have stepped away from my self-imposed toils with no guilt.  It was not to be.

For three days I labored non-stop.  I took inventory of my plants that I had started from seed and the assortment of seed packets I had lined up to be direct-sowed.  Then, I went at it.

This year, I did things a little differently.  My garden plan was executed all at once.

In past years, I would plant things in groups in an amorphous fashion, slowly filling up the garden.  It worked well enough, but it seemed there would always be some portion of the garden that didn’t quite work out as well as it should have.  I wanted to change that.

So, what I did was arrange all of my plants directly in the garden where they were to be planted.  After this, it was simple to figure out the layout of the soaker hoses. This worked amazingly well, and I can’t believe I didn’t do it this way before.  And why I never did it before is probably a question best left unanswered.

One big focus in the planning process is to try to rotate plantings as best I can.  This means trying to avoid putting certain plants in areas following others from the previous season that may work at cross purposes with them.

The lack of rotation can help foster blights, bugs and soil infertility.

This is not easy.  Every book I read recommends a three year rotation.  This is tough to do with a postage stamp of dirt to work with.  Now, I do have a double lot.  I have a 750-square-foot garden and four 4’x8’ raised beds.

I also have a couple of new beds on the periphery of my yard, but this is not four acres.  An acre is 43,560 square feet.  I have about 1,000.  The challenge is real.

Most of these books toss this information around as if it is the essential thing to do…..and it IS.  But, most of these people are gardening at least an acre–easy for them to say.  Why, I bet they even have whole portions of their garden that they can let lay fallow.  If I can get a one year rotation figured out, it is a big deal.

I can always remember last year’s layout and I try to go from there.  I try not to repeat tomatoes in the same place and not put eggplant in the same area.  Brussel sprouts and cabbages shouldn’t be repeated.

The final plan and execution

This is, of course, practically impossible to do.

Fortunately peppers aren’t quite so fussy, and apparently okra doesn’t give a damn where it ends up.  I do the best I can, knowing probably fifty percent of what I plant is going to be unhappy….except the okra.

This is what compromise feels like in my garden.  Just like Congress, each side gets just enough to move forward, but not enough to be happy and the garden/country moves forward another year.

Thank God there is no Senate to weigh in on this.

There is, besides the okra, one other happy constituent.  One of my Burpee Big Boy tomatoes is in the spot where the pole beans were last year.  Since beans fix nitrogen in the soil, this is probably the most fertile spot in the garden—the garden pork barrel.

After I got the plan figured out, it was time to start sticking plants in the dirt.

I methodically planted each one in line with the soaker hose layout and put down two layers of newspaper around each plant.  I am a serious believer in plant supports, so I have a whole arsenal of different cages, poles and stakes.  Each plant got its appropriate support system and then the ground was swathed in straw.

I started using the newspaper and straw plan a few years ago.  It really does work to keep weeds down and keep moisture in the soil.

It is a ton of work and every year, when I’m about half-way through, I have serious internal discussions with myself.  “Why are you doing this?  Is this really worth the time?  This is too much work.  You have a pathological Puritan work ethic issue—pitiful.”

But, I soldier on and get it done.  All I have to do is remember how godawful hot it is in August and how brutal it is to weed then.  That usually keeps me going.  That, and my pathological Puritan work ethic.

Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment