Little green sprouts are finally popping out of the saturated peat pellets under a plastic dome in my kitchen. This year, I decided forgo the costly trip to the garden stores. I will not be trading $50 for vegetable and herb plants. Instead, I bought a variety of seeds for less than $5.
In addition to the seeds I purchased, I used seeds from last year’s garden. For the first time in my life, I actually dried and saved seeds from produce we grew in our own backyard. Surprisingly to me, those are the very seeds that were the first to sprout seedlings this week.
My success in using seeds from last year’s harvest gives me confidence in our ability to become semi-self- sufficient. By the time zombies become a problem — an issue about which my children and Hubby continue to warn me — I will be able to keep my family alive indefinitely.
Of course, they will all have to become vegetarians. However, as my future grandchildren will quote me as saying, it’s better to be a human vegetarian than a brain-eating zombie.
It will be May before my seedlings grow into hearty plants ready to survive outside in my urban garden. In past years, I had my garden planted well before mid-April. When the weather would break and the vegetable and herb racks were rolled onto the sidewalk, I would fill my cart.
Of course, when the first mild weather rolls in, it’s merely a teaser. Within a week or two of gorgeous springtime sunshine, winter typically makes another appearance. Had I bought plants, I would have once again had them in the ground just in time to succumb to the last frost.
The money I’ve thrown away year after year buying plants destined to freeze to death makes my skin crawl. Not that I didn’t benefit from the extra exercise resulting from hoeing, digging and planting twice each spring. But as my family has reminded me countless times, had I saved and invested my garden money, we’d have enough resources by now to zombie-proof our house.
In addition to the seedlings bursting forth in my kitchen, I look forward to once again welcoming a crop of volunteers. Many of these surprise seedlings are worthy of transplanting from our compost tubs to the garden. Some actually sprout up in the garden as a result of Hubby tilling in the compost.
Volunteers add an element of excitement to our garden. While I can differentiate between tomato and squash plants, the variety is always a pleasant surprise. Considering what we’ve tossed into our compost piles, we could end up with anything from kiwi berries to avocados.
Not only am I saving money this year by starting late and using seeds and volunteers, I am giving myself plenty of time to plan and prepare the garden area. We fenced in our city mini-farm last year. But I made a few mistakes at the time, costing us a less than bountiful harvest.
My overzealousness resulted in overplanting. I began with three rows of corn. The guy at the garden store suggested a minimum of three rows was necessary for a strong, healthy yield. My corn crop was picture perfect until one rough thunderstorm took out all three rows. In retrospect, I might have had the stalks planted a little too closely together.
The downed stalks, which were nearly six feet tall at the time of the storm, took out half of our squash plants. Prior to the storm, the shade from the corn contributed to us losing the other half of our squash.
Looking back, planting the corn, four rows of tomatoes, three rows of squash, two rows each of lettuce and peppers, a trellis of green beans and a wall of sugar peas amongst two areas dedicated to herbs might have been overshooting the capacity of our space.
In my defense, the plants were only a few inches tall when I put them in the ground. Our garden was picture-perfect last May. But by mid-July, I could barely hack my way past the tomatoes to check the damage from the storm that took out the corn.
This year, I will abide by the theory that less is more. I will cut back on the overall number of plants and find a new place for the squash. I’m sure the zucchini and butternut squash will do well in a newly built, raised garden on the south side of our house. And I’m not planting corn. It gets too tall. Even if I could protect it from a storm, I’d be worried about other corn stalk-related issues.
Growing corn can be a bit too risky for urban farmers. Lush green rows of corn stalks not only attract artistic aliens in need of a large canvas that can be seen from the mother ship, they also provide cover. The last thing we need is a place for zombies to hide when the sun is up.
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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibareinspiredscribe.com