snowmelt, seeds, and sun

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Ten days. During that time, I was distracted—and I say it like that because work is a distraction from real life, unless you're one of the unfortunate ones who see it the other way round. In the midst of a working day, I often find myself thinking about my garden, fully aware that's where I'm most fully alive this time of year.

While I was looking away, the salad garden seeds I planted ten days ago broke through the soil. Think time lapse photography . . . ground bulging, light and dark passing over, a seam splitting in the soil to reveal bent seedlings laboring up, popping through into more light and dark, extending tender leaves.

Unseasonable warmth has washed over the Front Range of the Rockies for two weeks, and while that also means drought conditions, a tended patch of garden can be coaxed to life. A gardener in this part of the globe never knows what will be coming, though in the 22 years I've gardened here, I do know to expect surprises. Up ahead lie possibilities of scorching early heat, heavy rains in May, hailstorms small and large, hard frosts, snow, or all of the above.

Constructing a small greenhouse is something I should have done a long time ago, but I finally managed it, precisely a year ago this week. There was a learning curve—I'm still on it—but I did find out through trial and error that I have to open it up, door, vent, and window, every morning; I have to close it down in the evening, and run a small space heater that allows me to keep the night temps at about 60 degrees. If I'm diligent about this—and I plan to be—seeds will germinate and grow very well in this space.

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Constructing a small greenhouse is something I should have done a long time ago, but I finally managed it, precisely a year ago this week. There was a learning curve—I'm still on it—but I did find out through trial and error that I have to open it up, door, vent, and window, every morning; I have to close it down in the evening, and run a small space heater that allows me to keep the night temps at about 60 degrees. If I'm diligent about this—and I plan to be—seeds will germinate and grow very well in this space.

Careful, sequential transplanting into larger and larger pots over the next eight weeks will allow me to select the healthiest seedlings and work on establishing their root systems. They'll be pampered, and they'll respond by putting on prodigious growth. Eventually, when conditions are right for each plant, I've move them out into the garden.

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Careful, sequential transplanting into larger and larger pots over the next eight weeks will allow me to select the healthiest seedlings and work on establishing their root systems. They'll be pampered, and they'll respond by putting on prodigious growth. Eventually, when conditions are right for each plant, I've move them out into the garden.

This is in part a story about investment. Some money is involved, but the real investment comes in the form of time and energy, resources and knowledge. I've spent most of my adult life learning about growing things, and while this has mainly led me to understand how little I really know, I have managed to master fundamentals. I invest all of that again on these spring days and the payoff comes rolling in, now through October, and on into the autumn and winter months when we eat fresh and preserved garden produce at our table every week.

Planning and organizing seeds gives me a great deal of pleasure precisely because it represents this investment. There was a time when I was shooting in the dark, not really aware of how to grow things right, ignorant of everything from microclimates to seed saving. Now, I have a much greater sense of when and how to do things correctly, and while I'm always experimenting, I make fewer mistakes and generally get better, more reliable results.

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Planning and organizing seeds gives me a great deal of pleasure precisely because it represents this investment. There was a time when I was shooting in the dark, not really aware of how to grow things right, ignorant of everything from microclimates to seed saving. Now, I have a much greater sense of when and how to do things correctly, and while I'm always experimenting, I make fewer mistakes and generally get better, more reliable results.

This year we got relatively little snow in the Denver area. Still, I put out a basic catchment system to collect snowmelt and have been rewarded with about 20 gallons. I could use any water to initially irrigate my seed starts but I took special enjoyment in using the melted snow to kick things off.

There's no chlorine in this water. That should help gentle the seeds out of their coats and into growth. My plan is to put in a more elaborate catchment system eventually so that at the start of spring I'll have much more water to work with, and can hope to collect still more from the rare rainfall we get here. Another idea I've been toying with is installing a basic solar system to charge a bank of batteries, for use to power the heater in the greenhouse and also for running basic electrical tools in the garage and shed.

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There's no chlorine in this water. That should help gentle the seeds out of their coats and into growth. My plan is to put in a more elaborate catchment system eventually so that at the start of spring I'll have much more water to work with, and can hope to collect still more from the rare rainfall we get here. Another idea I've been toying with is installing a basic solar system to charge a bank of batteries, for use to power the heater in the greenhouse and also for running basic electrical tools in the garage and shed.

In short, I live in an old suburb—post-WWII war housing constructed south of Denver to house the families that sprung up at the start of the Baby Boom generation. We came forty years later and raised our kids here, and now a whole new batch of families have taken up residence. Our house is surrounded on three sides by people raising young children, and their laughter and cries filled the neighborhood today as I was planting. That's a garden, too.

I wish more people would turn their yards into gardens. It's good for the kids, good for the gardener & family, and everyone benefits from the reduced reliance on the food machinery that fills our supermarkets. We keep chickens here and work the 900 square feet of soil that gives us plenty of fine food. This ought to be the future. Maybe it will be.

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