This weekend was all about outside spring cleanup. It’s really the first weekend we’ve had with decent warm weather! We started tackling some of the items on our spring to do list (have you see my handy Home Maintenance and Spring Cleaning Checklist downloadable yet?) and even started on the garden!
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Got the lawn mowed for the first time this season, and got the fertilizer and weed control down. Next up was the garden. Actually, we have three gardens plots. We started with one small one, then the next year we created another one, and then the following year we created a third! (If I had more sunlight and less shade I’d expand even more!) We have a LOT of clay in our soil, so we keep amending it with peat moss and compost, especially the newest plot. It’s been so dry around here that the soil was really easy to turn over this year and we managed to get all three turned over and we even did some planting!
Our first task was moving the strawberries from one garden to another. I don’t think they were getting enough sunlight where they were. Em helped me plant them. She was really motivated to help with this because she loves strawberries! She ate most of the ones we got last year. The squirrels or other critters got the rest. As we were moving them I realized that the spot I’d planned wasn’t really big enough. They had gotten overcrowded where they were and I hadn’t accounted for spreading them out. Luckily nothing else was planted yet so it was easy to adjust. We were surprised to see a few blossoms already. I hope that is a sign that it’ll be a good year!
The herb garden area was next. This is in the first garden plot in the shadiest spot. My spearmint is out of control! Anyone who has ever planted mint knows what I mean. It spreads like crazy. Last year I kept it in pots set in the garden to help keep the spreading down, but at the end of the season I put it in the ground for the winter. Somehow it managed to spread over the entire herb area. I’m not one for pulling out and killing healthy plants, so I tried putting as many in little pots as I could until I ran out of little pots. I figure I’ll give them away or maybe Em will set up a plant stand to sell some. (We’re in the Chicago suburb of Roselle, if you want a plant or six.) Otherwise I’ll be drinking LOTS of mojitos this summer! Okay, I’ll be drinking lots MORE mojitos this summer…
The first new plantings we did were potatoes. Potatoes are so easy to grow, they store well, and I had them on-hand! This is a great gardening activity for kids because you don’t have to be fussy about spacing and how deep like you do with seeds, or being gentle with seedlings. All you need to do is take a potato that is sprouting (the “eyes”), cut it into chunks, and plant them. There are many ways to plant them. We started by planting some of them in an old plastic tub (those big round ones you can get for yard cleanup or use for ice and drinks at a party). The tub was cracked so it wasn’t useful anymore, but for potatoes it’s perfect. It allows for drainage and I can even reach my hand in the hole to check on the size of the potatoes.
You put a few inches of loose soil in the bottom, add the potato chunks, then cover with a few more inches of soil. As the plants grow, you keep adding material, covering up part of the plants (I let them get at least probably 16″ before I cover up about half of that). As for the “material” to add, it can be more soil, straw, peat moss, or just about any loose organic material. I’ve even layered in grass clippings and dry leaves (but not too much grass because it can be too heavy and wet). Towards the end of the season the plants will start to dry out and turn brown and you’ll know it is time to harvest. You can harvest some sooner if you want “new” potatoes (smaller ones).
We actually planted 3 different varieties of potatoes. The store-bought ones that were sprouting were red potatoes. Last year we grew little purple potatoes and small yellow ones (similar to a Yukon Gold). I had saved a few of the smaller ones of each over the winter, covered in newspaper, and stored in our unheated sunroom. As the weather has been getting warmer and more sunlight has been coming through the skylight, the potatoes began sprouting right on cue. Since we didn’t have another big container handy, we dug a few large holes in one section of the garden and planted these along with the rest of the red potatoes in there. As they grow we’ll add more soil and mound it up. If necessary we can add a little chicken wire cage around them to allow even more vertical growth. I love taking advantage of vertical growing space when I can!
While we were planting the potatoes, Laz was using his new favorite power tool. We have a paver driveway and the weeds coming up between the bricks has been a real problem. I hate putting down the strong chemicals to kill them. Laz tried a section last year and ended up killing grass on either side of that section, so I said no more. So he found a propane garden torch to burn them away! It makes a gawd-awful sound, louder than the planes landing at O’Hare. But it really does the job and is so fun to do, especially for pyros like us. (Our group of friends are known as the Pyroblazers, so we like fire… 😈 )
I didn’t get a picture of it, but the torch also works well for burning the old vines and morning glory seed pods off the garden fence from last year, and the little leaves and weeds in the rock pathways. Here’s a little tip for you… do not ever under any circumstances plant a little morning glory plant your child starts from seed in school in your garden. If you think mint spreads, hah! Morning glories look so pretty on the fence surrounding the garden, but at the end of the season they get these seed pods that plant themselves in your garden and you’ll be forever pulling up morning glory shoots every year after that. GAAAAAAAAHHHH!
You can really crank up the flames of this torch. Oooooo…F..I..R..E….!
We still have lots more to do in the yard and garden, but it felt so good to be outside getting dirty… and playing with fire!