Saturday, June 23, 2007

Battle of the Gardeners

So perhaps I should keep track of all the ways in which I deviate from Mel's recommendations (of All New Square Foot Gardening fame). He is, after all, a gardening guru, and I should pretty much follow his advice to a tee. But that is oh-so hard for me to do. Stubborn Sara.

By keeping track of the deviations, we'll be able to wax more empirical as things start to work and other things don't. Come to think of it, we should also keep track of all the ways in which we go against the advice of the Plant Doctor. She sits at her own desk, surrounded by reference books, at our local, rock-star gardening center, Echter's. She really does answer the phone with the moniker of Plant Doctor.

Deviation from Mel's Advice #1:
The whole point of square-foot gardening is that you calculate (fairly precisely) how many plants can grow in one square foot, depending on what the thinning recommendation is on the seed package. (Interesting aside: Mel was a military guy, and his penchant for precision is pretty apparent throughout his whole approach.) For example, carrots need to be thinned to 3" apart, so you can plant 16 in one square foot. This process prevents the gardener from wasting 1) seeds and 2) time thinning the plants. One you make the 16 holes, you're only supposed to plant 2-3 seeds in each hole. Once the strongest one emerges, you simply snip the other ones (whereas pulling out the extras could actually damage the roots of the strong sprout).

Well, seeing as I have never had a particularly green thumb (or any shade of green, for that matter), I didn't exactly have enough faith to plant 2-3 seeds in each hole. I went for approximately 10-12. Yes, your prediction is right. We now have 10-12 sprouts growing from each hole. Who knew this gardening thing would actually work?

One point for Mel.

Deviation from Plant Doctor's Advice #1:
Matt and I had heard about the possibility of growing tomatoes upside-down. The benefit is that you don't have to trellis them, and there's little possibility of rot, since they aren't touching the ground. Because we used up all of our trellis spots with the pumpkin, watermelon, and cantaloupe (we're growing them vertically instead of horizontally), we didn't want to go through the rigmarole of setting up more support systems. The Plant Doctor informed us that the gardening center had considered systems for upside-down tomato growing but ultimately decided against offering any of the supplies in the store. I delineated the benefits of the upside-down approach, but she argued that rot is not an issue in Colorado because of the dryness and that the soil will dry out too quickly if it's up off the ground in a pot. I laid out a few a morerguments but quickly realized that she wasn't going to budge. I capitulated, and Matt and I graciously followed her to the tomato support system section.

After she returned to her post, Matt and I quietly agreed that we, indeed, wanted to try the upside-down method. We also agreed that we would have to purchase the supplies stealthily, so as not to tip off the Plant Doctor to our insubordination.

After using a box cutter to cut out a 2-3" hole in the bottom of a hanging plastic pot, carefully threading the plants' leaves through the hole in the bottom (while leaving the compacted soil of the tomato seedling in tack so it would prevent the plant from slipping through the hole), filling up the pot with extra soil from our garden, and watering the pot until water ran out of the hole, we are well on our way to having healthy, hassle-free tomatoes.

One point for the newbie gardeners.

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Michele said...

We have a garden too Bobo. Just this year. I love it. We have eaten tomatoes and squash so far and have an eggplant that is almost ready. oh, and a hot pepper that I don't really now what to do with as it stays on the plant and gets hotter and hotter every day. I wanted to grow pumpkins as well but ran out of room. You must telll me how to grow them vertically. Soon.

jimmy jam said...

Yes, your prediction is right. We now have 10-12 sprouts growing from each hole. Who knew this gardening thing would actually work? Visit

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