As planting day draws near for our summer garden crops of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and more – the process of preparing our garden is now in full gear!

For the few weeks prior to planting day – each evening, we take about 15 minutes to turn over a few rows of our raised row beds that have been growing our soil re-energizing cover crops of annual rye since last fall.

 The growing rows a few weeks back still covered with bright green annual rye grass. The use of cover crops has really helped build and sustain fertility in our garden soil
The growing rows a few weeks back still covered with bright green annual rye grass. The use of cover crops has really helped build and sustain fertility in our garden soil

The cover crops make such a HUGE difference in the soil fertility and in keeping weed seeds out of the beds – but it is important to have all of the beds turned over at least a week or so before planting – to allow the rye and rye roots to begin to break down, as well as let the soil settle before the plants go in.

Using that simple  “15-minute a day approach” keeps the garden prepping tasks simple and stress free – and provides a nice little 15 minute work-out each and every day. The best part – in a total of about 10 to 12 easy work days – we have our garden completely ready to plant for the summer!

How We Get Our Raised Rows Ready…

The process for preparing each growing row is the same. We first start by mowing down (we use a string trimmer) the thick coat of annual rye grass into the beds. By cutting the rye first, it not only makes spading over the soil an easy  chore – but it also speeds up the decomposition of the rye grass – adding lots of valuable nutrients and humus to the soil in the growing rows for your soon to be planted vegetable plants.

Once the rye is cut down, turning over the soil with a shovel is easy
Once the rye is cut down, turning over the soil with a shovel is easy

Next, we use a shovel to turn over the soil and cut grass – and then walk back through the row and chop up any large chunks with the shovel.  We finish by running a garden rake over the soil to smooth out the planting row. The entire process from start to finish takes about 5 to 10 minutes per row – and by flipping just a few rows each day – we can have our entire 22 row raised bed garden ready to roll in about 10 days.

All we have left now is to install our tomato and pepper stake a cages this week in the rows – and we are ready to plant!  We always put our stakes /cages in prior to planting – not only does it help us to space out our rows perfectly – but it allows us to tie off our plants right away for protection from the wind – and most importantly – keeps us from disturbing the soil once the plants are in.

Our homegrown tomato plants are getting big - and ready to go in the garden!
Our homegrown tomato plants are getting big – and ready to go in the garden!

It all really highlights just how easy and simple gardening CAN and SHOULD be – and that it doesn’t have to take hours of back-breaking work, expensive gardening equipment, or a bunch of crazy chemicals and bug killers to grow your own food.

Last but not certainly least – it really is one of the healthiest and best ways to exercise – working outside, soaking in the sunshine and fresh air – while growing your own food – it just doesn’t get any better!!!

 We Should All Be So Lucky…

And speaking of having fun and living the dream – Mary and I often talk about how important it is to enjoy what you do and have fun while you’re doing it – and yesterday we got to see that first hand from one of the coolest little greenhouse you could ever find.  In fact, it impressed me so much that I can’t help but talk about it in today’s post.

NightCrawler Gardens
NightCrawler Gardens

The place is called Nightcrawler Gardens, and it sits just outside of a little city called Pleasantville, Ohio. Never missing an opportunity to try to look at all things gardening – we decided to stop in yesterday to see what they had as we passed by on a trip out of town.

As we got out of the truck to look around – there was something we both noticed right away – these people care about plants – care about gardening – and most of all – loved what they were doing!

It was just a little after 10 in the morning, and there were aspiring gardeners everywhere. As we watched the owner scurry from activity to activity helping to answer customer questions – there was one simple thing that you couldn’t help but notice – he was beaming from ear to ear and doing what he loved.

NightCrawler Gardens
NightCrawler Gardens

No – it’s not some gigantic garden center chain store with 50 acres of shelves and hundreds of the same plants – but instead, this perfectly quaint greenhouse had the most amazing array of heirloom vegetable plants, flowers and herbs that you could imagine – and grew them all from seed!  Not only did we see our favorite plants like Purple Cherokee, Brandywine, and Black Cherry tomatoes  – there were hundreds more, some of which we had never even heard of – it was simply amazing to see!

5 years ago – you were lucky if you could find a handful of people who knew about heirloom plants – and here, right before our eyes, was this cool little place with hundreds of them – and people everywhere shopping and picking them up.

So we not only walked away yesterday with a few new cool heirloom plants to try in our garden – but an incredible feeling of how important it is to do what you love – and to love what you do – and to know that gardening is alive and well and growing!

You can find out more about NightCrawler Gardens on their Facebook page here :  NightCrawler Gardens

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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