What we’re doing differently outside this year

Following up on last week’s post where we focused on our indoor gardening tactics (at least with seed starting), here we’re going to discuss what’ll be going on outside this year.

But first…holy crow the weather!!

Here on the East Coast, we know we aren’t the only ones in the nation who went from 20 degree to 70 degrees in a matter to days! This past weekend was utterly lovely (great for cleaning out the garage!), if also utterly strange. Though, truth be told, we kind of experienced the same thing last year, when we had pockets of unseasonably warm temps in January and February…and then we had a bunch of cold snaps in March and April. If we end up with the same pattern this year, at least we’ll be prepared.

Anyway, as it seems the warming trend is likely to continue for the rest of the month, and likely into March, we’ll take it. The snow and ice always do such terrible things to the yard, so if we can pass on it, all the better…even if it is strange to have summer in winter.

So, let’s talk about the outside. After the issues we had last year, we determined that some changes were in order this year. Here’s what we came up with:

1. Replace the raised beds
Last year we noticed that our four wood raised beds that we installed in 2012 were starting to fall apart. We opted to finish out that season with them, though we did try to replace one with the same landscaping stones that we used to build our stone beds. After the problem we had with rabbits getting into those beds, we decided that this year we would not only replace the beds’ wood frames but also build them taller. After a couple months worth of searching for and researching different options…well, we haven’t yet decided on what we want to do. The number of landscaping stones that we’d need to build the beds up to a foot in height (The minimum height we’d like) is a bit costly (though it’s not out of the question), so we’ve been looking into using larger, cheaper, concrete blocks. We know there are concerns using such blocks (often called “cinder blocks,” though they aren’t made from cinders) near food, but things seem to indicate that they’re safe enough. We’re still doing our research.

2. Flowers, flowers, and more flowers
So. Rabbits and squirrels…and especially rabbits, have been problematic in past years. Despite all our efforts, from using netting to building net cages to using repellent to making intense “squirrel tea,” nothing has worked to really keep the critters away. So this year, we’re taking a different approach — we’re planting flowers. LOTS of flowers. And lots of DIFFERENT flowers. We knew already that rabbits weren’t big fans of marigolds, which we’ve been planting in fits and spurts mostly as companions to our tomatoes. Well, we looked into other flowers that rabbits and squirrels didn’t particularly like, and we found plenty. This year we invested in a number of different flowers seeds: more marigolds, alyssum, strawflowers, and snapdragons. We’ll be planting the smaller flowers (dwarf marigolds and alyssum) as borders around greens and lettuces, and planting the the larger flowers — tall marigolds, tall strawflowers, and snapdragons — in some of the other beds. We also bought some ornamental kale and cabbage seeds. The idea is that these flowers will either keep the critters away or distract them from our vegetables and greens.

3. Pay closer attention to the path of the sun
Granted, this isn’t exactly complicated, but one of the the things that we haven’t done much in the past is plant items based on the path that the sun takes of the yard (in our case, diagonally from northeast to southwest). We do need to be a bit more careful, especially in the stone beds, about planting things in a manner so that smaller plants don’t get overshadowed by taller plants. Now that we have a pretty good idea of how tall some plants are compared to others, it shouldn’t be too difficult to manage the plants a little better to make sure that they all get the sun they need.

4. Use landscaping fabric to help keep weeds down
While we aren’t super concerned with weeds generally, we want to see if we can use landscaping fabric to help keep weeds at a minimum. We’ll be experimenting with this on a small scale in our large plastic barrels at the back of the house where we usually plant tomatoes and peppers. So we’ll be cutting out circles of fabric large enough foe each barrel, using garden staples to keep each piece in place, and then cutting little x’s in spots to house a transplanted seedling. Should be pretty simple!

We still have a little work to do before getting our outdoor plans underway…not to mention the fact that who knows if the weather is going to cooperate! But the focus of the moment will soon be on the seeds. Speaking of which, our seed orders just came in, so next week we’ll be looking at some of the new things we’ll be trying (and won’t) in the garden this year.

In the meantime, we’re going to get outside and enjoy the warm sun while it lasts!


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