Monday, March 31, 2014

The gardening season has arrived!

We had a wonderful Seed Fair this past Saturday!

All told, 316 plots checked in, and about 700 people filed into the community center gym including children and grandparents. 

EHCG gardeners selecting seeds at Seed Fair 2014

Committee members Adam and Sandra hosted a gardening workshop, which received many positive reviews. We unprecedentedly sold out of row cover (!!!) and are working on ordering more to sell a new round of the stuff. 

The final orientations were well-attended; my group swelled to about 30 people, all new gardeners at EHCG eager to get into their plots and get seeds into the ground. 

On a personal note, I did get my fava beans, spinach, carrots, peas, radishes, and beets into the ground! I threw down some poppy seeds as well for good measure. I also buried about 50 egg shells and several months worth of coffee grounds into the section of my plot that will soon host tomato plants and basil. Coffee grounds are a wonderful soil amendment! I will discuss this more in a future blog post, later in the season as EHCG begins to truck in its own supply of coffee grounds from local coffee shops.

Looking forward, we will host a cold weather plant sale at EHCG on April 20, a Sunday. Cold weather plant sale items will include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and lettuces. Transplants range from $2.50 - $2.75 in various pack sizes, ex 4 broccoli/pack and 6 lettuce/pack. We are also working on getting row cover and compost for the cold weather plant sale, but those items are still TBA. Photos of last year's plant sales are below.

Cold-Weather Plant Sale - April 2013
A wealth of lettuce!
Scott Williams of Garden-to-Be standing proudly behind a wall of lettuces.
 Warm-Weather Plant Sale - May 2013
Army of tomatoes. Scott provides a large array of varieties,
including heirlooms, that varies from year to year.
Brandywine tomatoes. You may want to do some research about
different heirlooms before purchasing transplants, as flavors,
colors, productivity, etc vary widely.

Finally, a forest of basil.

Complete list of plants to be sold at the 2014 plant sales at EHCG:

What will YOU plant this year?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Seed Fair 2014

Hello all -

Seriously, the Seed Fair for EHCG is tomorrow!

All plots assigned for both EH and UH community gardeners will receive 15 tickets (15 tickets per plot, not gardener). You can redeem these for everything from arugula to zucchini, and they are totally free! Residents and students, show up bright and early at the Eagle Heights Community Center at 9 AM - or even earlier if you want a good place in line. All other registered EHCG gardeners enter at 10 AM. At 10:30 AM there will be a workshop covering planting basics. A big thanks in advance to all of our volunteers completing their work day by lending a hand tomorrow morning.

The final orientation tour will also be tomorrow, at noon. Yours truly will be leading one of the tours at Eagle Heights, in addition to one other EH tour guide and parallel tours at UH.

Time to get serious and get planning! If you haven't yet, check out my sample month-to-month plan, and do some investigating into when to put seeds (or plants) in the ground. I recommend using the search bar for the planting guidance page - it's quite long and you may only be interested in a handful of the entries. Although by all means, if you have the time I appreciate you reading it all the way through!

Our garden worker Will has also recommended the site, which I am told is slick and has all crazy kinds of features. Check it out!

One final note - we are recruiting a new co-chair to replace Josh Parsons, who after his many years in the gardens has finished his PhD and is moving on to a new job. If you are interested in this volunteer position, please email me ( or the registrar ( so we can discuss more.

I will update this post after the Seed Fair with news and photos.

Happy planning, seed fair-ing, and gardening!


Quick edit - photo from last week's orientation at EH:

Will Waller took this picture for us right at the entrance of EHCG.

Thankfully it will be warmer this weekend! I'm sure we're all looking forward to saying good-bye to the ice and hello to sunshine!

(Disclaimer - we have no financial or other affiliation with smartgardener, just an interesting online tool with no commercial endorsement from us.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Opening Weekend 2014

Hello all -

Yesterday was Opening Day at EHCG! We had several dozen gardeners come out for the Orientation tours, and with plot assignments up in the gardens and posted online things are really in full swing.

Maybe I should say "full spring" because, compared to this time last year, we are in amazing shape. (You can look back at the March 17 post in this blog for comparison). One year ago, late March in the gardens meant a heavy snow cover and no signs of frost. Walking around the garden yesterday, I spied onion shoots emerging from the soil in many plots, young spinach, and strawberry plants regaining their green color! My tulips are beginning to come up as well. Plots up the hill at EHCG are doing well a little earlier, as they experience an earlier thaw than those of us to the west.

I hope that everyone has had a chance to find their plot at Eagle Heights or University Houses gardens. If you are a first time gardener, please be careful to confirm that you are indeed in the right plot before digging in. A quick check with a garden worker will resolve the situation for those of you who are uncertain.

Our annual Seed Fair will be held next weekend at the Eagle Heights Community Center. All gardeners registered with us will receive 15 (FREE) tickets redeemable for seed packets. We boast an impressive diversity of seeds donated by many local businesses. I advocate for experimenting a little if you have extra tickets - an open mind is how I discovered fava beans at the Seed Fair last year, and now they are probably my favorite thing to grow (and eat!). Expect an email this coming week with more details from the registrar.

I recommend doing yourself a favor and doing some research before picking seeds. Some seeds need to be started inside before being transplanted outside, such as broccoli, cabbages, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and basil. While you can certainly choose these kinds of seeds at the Seed Fair, if you don't have the time and resources for germinating seeds inside and growing them for the required span (typically 6 weeks or more), it might be a good idea to spend those tickets on direct-planted crops such as lettuces, beans, all root vegetables, and even squashes. Transplants for these fussy sorts of spring and summer crops can be bought at the cold and warm weather transplant sales we are hosting in April and May (more information in future blog posts). Also, you might want to distribute your seed selections between spring or cool weather crops, and summer or warm weather ones.

It may be helpful for you to consult several resources to plan your garden. The last post I published on this blog went over the planting guidelines for the more common crops grown in our gardens, informed significantly by Robin Mittenthal's From the Ground Up gardening manual, a much more comprehensive resource. Several planting guides for timing exist online, including a spring planting calendar I really like. Individual seed packets will generally also give planting information, although I find some disagreement from brand to brand. I have also posted previously a month-by-month garden plan, which is by no means perfect but a basic framework of how one might plan their planting to fit everything in, at the right time.

This certainly sounds like a lot of planning, and of course feel free to throw caution to the wind and scatter seeds with abandon. I think that most plants can be grown chaotically, and have heard some argument that this may confuse pests who are more attracted to large homogenous plantings, as though they are some miniscale monoculture. I prefer to plan because otherwise I will reach early June without space for melons or ground cherries, and bolted spinach that was planted too late to enjoy.

With that said, happy gardening! See you at the Seed Fair.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Planning for the 2014 season: time and space

For many a beginning gardener, there is a significant disconnect between the food he or she wants to grow, and the plant that must be cultivated to grow it. 

Most of us did not grow up on farms, or around agriculture, or even with the luxury of backyard tomato plants. The connection between our produce and the plants that produce them has been severed. Try to conjure the image of an artichoke plant. Can you? What about asparagus? What about broccoli? Zucchini? Struggling with this sort of visualization is very par for the course for first-time gardeners, as most of us have exclusively interacted with trimmed, packaged versions of these crops in the produce section of the grocery store. 

Another challenge is the time required to germinate and raise a plant before its produce can be harvested. While an annual like zucchini takes a mere two months from planting to fruiting, asparagus is a minimum 3 year investment before a single spear can be savored. And when to plant them? Too early, they die of spring frost; too late, the harvest itself is lost to winter.

Planning around the size and time requirements of your crops is a major obstacle between you and a satisfying harvest. Fortunately, many generations of gardeners before you have encountered, tackled, and fine-tuned solutions to the spacial and temporal needs of every food crop under the sun, and resources abound online, in print, and around the garden. This blog post will review common fruit, vegetable, and herb planting guidelines, giving date ranges specific to southern Wisconsin. If you are located outside of this region, you can use other tools to determine good planting dates (here is an example I have used before).

Planning guidance after the jump.