Week Two-Finishing My Plot and Transplanting

May 9, 2014

Author: Ian Whittington

Category: General News Stories from the Garden

My plot neighbors Jackson and Rory starting to make progress

My neighbors Jackson and Rory starting to make their rows

I learned two things last week.

One. Always check the weather.

I didn’t expect the downpour we got last Wednesday and Thursday, so I wasn’t able to work on my plot before this week’s class to get it ready for planting. This turned out to be a problem for a lot of people and come Saturday a bunch of us still had lots of work to do before we could plant.

My second lesson? Things will probably be harder than you first think.

When I left class the first Saturday I thought I was nearly done preparing my plot. As far as I was concerned all I had to do was pull up a few more weeds and loosen the dirt a bit.

In the famous words of the Simpson’s Edna Krapabbel, may she rest in peace:


I came early to class last Saturday with the intention of having my plot ready before the day’s lesson. It only took me a few minutes to realize just how much work was really ahead of me. Underneath at least a fourth of my plot was an impressive network of grass roots. I had to loosen the dirt and sift through it to get as much root out as possible. With how muddy the soil was it wasn’t easy. By the time the day’s lesson started I had made progress, but not much.

This week was all about planting transplants and seeds. Before class we were to develop an idea of how we wanted to place our plants. With all the research I’d done I was certain I’d developed a great plan. It turns out I was completely wrong.

It seemed like the more Joe told us the more I realized how wrong my plan was. For instance I thought I could fit six cucumber plants in about a third of a row. It turns out that space was needed for an entire cucumber hill. Sure I’d end up planting five seeds, but that was more for insurance in case they didn’t all sprout.

Joe demonstrates how to create a hill

Joe demonstrates how to create a hill

Hill planting is a method where dirt is collected into a mound and a few seeds are planted at the top. Apparently my cucumbers, like melons and squashes, will have lots of vines. My garden plot will become very crowded in a few months.

Another thing we’ll have to consider when planting is how plants will grow in relation to one another. For instance, tomato plants can get rather tall, so I’ll have to think about how their shade will affect plants around them. I’ll also have to consider how two species planted next to each other will impact one another. This is called companion planting, and thanks to a coworker I have a nifty chart to help me with that.

Although we didn’t spend much time on companion planting the idea was definitely something brought up when I discussed my plot ideas later with NFI volunteers. Really there’s a lot to consider when deciding how you want to plant, so much so that we couldn’t possibly get to them all due to the parameters of the class. For instance, if we were being really hardcore we’d also try to think about crop rotation. The idea of crop rotation is pretty much to not plant the same family of plants in a given area of land for a few seasons in order to mitigate disease and nutrient depletion. Obviously since the plots are changing from person to person each year that isn’t really feasible. That’s fine though, because I’m overwhelmed enough as it is.

That overwhelming feeling went into overdrive after Joe let us loose to go work on our plots. For a while my progress was slow and steady because breaking up the ground to reach the roots was difficult with a pitchfork. One of NFI’s volunteers eventually suggested I used a mattock, a device that sort of looked like an axe. That tip was a godsend. Dirt was flying once I switched to it from the pitchfork. Still, it was a good hour or two before I got all, or at least most, of the roots out of my plot. Then came several trips with a wheelbarrow to get wood chips, followed by even more to get compost. Since there were only a few wheelbarrows available I shared one with a plot neighbor, which only made the process longer.

As annoying as it can be to have to wait though, the fact that we’re going to all have to share tools is proving to be a great way to get to know one another. And it’s not just the people from the garden class I’m getting to know. Some of the owners of the plots for community members were there, and they were very willing to give their advice. For instance, after talking with one lady who had been gardening for decades, I realized if I didn’t move my tomatoes further apart they’d mostly end up colliding into each other later in the season.

My finished plot with newly planted tomatoes and cucumbers

My finished plot with newly planted tomatoes and cucumbers

All in all with everything I had to do, I was at the garden from around 9 AM to 4:30 PM. Class included of course. Surprisingly I wasn’t that tired at the end of the day. Honestly, I enjoyed all the hard work I did. My plot looked so much better when I left than it did than when I first got there. I felt accomplished.

Still, I don’t even want to think about how much longer I would’ve stayed there had I continued to use the pitchfork.

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