By Betty Harris
When beginning something new one doesn’t need to make a gigantic project of it. Most people who grow vegetables for the first time try growing tomatoes in a pot. That’s a great starting place and you can find all kinds of info online about how to do it. A Master Gardener friend insists that standard potting soil lacks a vital ingredient for growing tomatoes. She says you need to add calcium to any soil mix you buy to grow tomatoes in pots. She says that there is often an issue with blossom end rot (the bottom of the tomato has a flat black area that ruins the fruit for eating) when tomatoes need calcium.
If you are planning to move this year from that potted tomato on the patio then this is not the year to murder your lawn and grow all vegetables and fruits everywhere. This could be the year you start removing sod and planting perennial flowers instead and sneak in a tomato plant or two in the flower bed. You could also put in some gorgeous rainbow colored stemmed Swiss Chard for texture and color as well as food for the table. Chard tends to grow very well from seeds planted directly in the flower bed and you can squeeze in a few plants in groups or scattered about. If your brain doesn’t do well with designs like mine doesn’t then just try something and watch what happens and each year you learn more and get an image in your mind of what you want to grow at various locations.
When we moved from our condo in Englewood to this property in Littleton I had not gardened for some years and it was pent up inside. The first year was so exhausting-not because of the work HAVING to be done but because I was trying to do too much too soon. But I did have a little success and a great time at it. My friends would come by to visit and say, “You don’t have one of these.” and leave me with a perennial that I’d never grown before. We were so busy with renovating the house that I didn’t improve the soil or anything. I just cut a hole in the barrier cloth under that ugly bark mulch and dug a small hole and put the plant in and said, “You go, girl”. The first year they sorta survived like they were sleepy. The next year they crept along a bit and the third year they took a giant leap. So when I talk about perennials I quote Eric Toensmeier who said, “first they sleep, then they creep and then they leap.” Well, they certainly did so the third year and I have giving them away each year since.
So an easy solution to your garden plans is to start with a few vegetables in a flower bed mixed with perennials that will take over in a few years while you start building some raised garden beds and feed the worms in your soil. And NO, you do not have to touch the worms… you simply have to feed them. Worms are your best friends in the garden and tremendous workers as they transform organic matter into soil. Colorado is not known for its great soil but rather for its clay and dirt. Dirt is chemistry, Soil is biology. You don’t need a science degree to build soil. You only need dirt, organic matter, worms and time.
With Earth Day coming up why not plant a tree? Plant a fruit tree with an eye to locating it where it will not shade areas you may want to plant a garden later. I suggest on the north side of your property. Add some currant bushes south of the tree and in a few years you’ll be able to make some great currant jelly. But in addition to the pleasure of its company you will reap greater rewards as these woody plants help to cool your spot while sucking CO2 from the atmosphere.