Saturday, March 20, 2010

Planting Lettuce & Broccoli in a Sandbox

We had the best of intentions to do a full spring garden this year, but newborns seem to magically eat time, so we never got around to preparing our raised beds in time for a late winter/early spring planting. When I got the email last week from the local farm that I ordered some transplants from this year that our lettuce and broccoli seedlings would be ready soon, I had to find a place to put them - fast.  So I turned to our neglected sandbox planter.

This was the site of our first vegetable garden two years ago. We took a sandbox that our daughter didn't play with very much, drilled holes in the bottom, layered some rocks for drainage and filled it with potting soil - voila! instant garden space. Last year we bit the bullet and built four 8'x4' raised beds on a sunnier patch of our property, so this little planter went unused and the weeds decided to move in. I had some clean up work to do before I could put the lettuce and broccoli in here.

First, I cleared out all the weeds, acorns, twigs, sprouted acorns with surprisingly strong roots, and then I used my trowel to mix up the soil a little bit since it had become pretty compacted. While I was at it, I mixed in about a cup of pelletized chicken manure to give the soil a little nutrient boost. I probably should have let all that settle for a week or so, but the plants were ready to be picked up, and they needed a new home asap.

I let it sit overnight, and started planting the next morning. Last year, I learned that I am horrible at keeping up with weeds. So, this year I am determined to get things off to a good start and mulch, mulch, mulch from the get go. I had learned about this newspaper mulching method last year, but never tried it out before so I thought I'd test it here. Basically you lay down a fairly thick layer of newspaper, make cut outs in the newspaper where the plants will go, plant and then mulch on top of the newspaper. Sounded simple enough and it was fairly straight forward (although thick, soggy layers of newspaper don't tear quite as easily or neatly as I thought). But after wrestling with the newspaper a bit, I did finally get all 12 plants in the bed.

Next, it was time for mulch. I could have gone to the store and bought some mulch, but another thing that we never quite got around to doing last fall because of our new arrival was raking leaves, so we have LOTS and LOTS of leaves in our yard right now. I decided to use shredded leaves as my mulch. Shredded/chopped leaves are a great organic mulch that actually feed your soil as they help to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist (reducing the amount of watering that you need to do as an added bonus). It would have been best if I had trekked out to our "composted" leaf pile (i.e. big ol' pile of leaves from the last two years) and used the oldest leaves we had back there for the most fertilizing power, but I was a bit pressed for time so I just used what was at my feet. My hubby built a "leaf shredder" that fits on top of our garden cart out of 2'x4's and some chicken wire, so after a bit of sifting we end up with finely shredded leaf mulch.

By this point, my little buddha baby was starting to loose interest and patience with being outside watching mommy garden, so I quickly spread out the leaf mulch and watered everything and, ta da!, we have ourselves a little spring garden:

Pirat Lettuce

Jericho Lettuce

This is our first attempt at lettuce and our second try with broccoli (attempt #1 didn't go so well, which is why I opted to go with transplants instead of from seed this year). So we will see how it all goes.  We are looking forward to some yummy salads and some delicious roasted broccoli with garlic, which is hands down the best way of prepping broccoli that I've ever found. 

Up next ... starting our seeds for our Summer Garden!

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