Spring Planting

Spring is here with a vengeance, and I don’t think there can be any real argument but that the land south of the Mason-Dixon Line does spring better than any other region of the country.

The dogwoods and cherry trees are decked out in a glory of blossoms. Leaves are budding out on the branches, and I now take Maggie on her morning walks through the smell of new grass and flowers. So a week or two ago, we planted the first of our garden.

Because of the move to Williamsburg, we missed on having a good spring garden last year. Things are looking much better this year. We put in two kinds of radishes, two kinds of spinach, and two kinds of lettuce, as well as spring peas. All of the seeds have now germinated. We have little rows of green shoots snaking their way across our garden, and last night we decided that they had gotten big enough to mulch around the young plants. There is something about a garden that gives one a sense of place, even if one lives far from the graves of one’s ancestors.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them. (Jer. 29:4-5)

45 comments for “Spring Planting

  1. Amen. And if we do live close to the graves of our ancestors, then God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.

  2. Nate, have you ever built raised beds for a garden? What are the advantages of a raised bed, and how hard is it to build them?

  3. We may have to do raised beds this year, or go without gardens entirely. The herb garden is definitely on its way; the parsley, thyme, and mint have already been planted in pots, and we’ll be putting in more and transplanting those we already have in the weeks to come (we’ll probably have one or two more evening freezes before spring definitely arrives). But for our vegetable garden, we’re dealing with a house in which Bermuda grass has been allowed to invade almost all the good soil, and the perfect area for our garden was used for years as a driveway, and has four inches of rocks covering it to haul away. And underneath that, we’ve got extremely dark, clay-heavy earth. Our compost pile is coming along fine, and I think we’ll be putting some strawberries in the front yard in short order, but I wonder if we’re going to have to spend this year just clearly things away and getting the soil in our garden plot up to snuff.

  4. RW: My current garden consists entirely of raised beds. It was quite a bit of work to make them, but not undoable. I did everything on them and it probably took me about three or four days. The advantage of raised beds is that you can increase the depth of your top soil and bring in additional, high-quality dirt. They are also somewhat easier to maintain as you don’t have any issues with edges and it is slightly (very slightly) easier to keep them free of weeds. In Williamsburg we have very, very little top soil before you hit clay, so the raised beds are a huge benefit.

  5. Man, maybe we should just do raised beds for our whole garden plot. (It’s about twenty-five feet by ten feet.) Might be easier than all the hauling and tilling I was planning on, even allowing for how shoddy a carpenter I am.

  6. Okay, so do you think by myself I could build a single raised bed, say 4′ x 10′? Is that about the right size for a bed? How many plants could I put in a bed of that size?

  7. RAF: I built our garden over the top of what was grass. I first had to tear out the sod and break the top soil from the roots. For a while we had a problem with the grass invading the beds, but eventually we got rid of it with weeding and mulching.

  8. Rosalynde, Generally you want to keep the beds at a size where you can reach into them to work, so if you can get to both sides of your bed, 4 by 10 is fine. But if it’s by the side of a house or fence, it’s too wide to reach all the way across (but might be getting too much shade anyway). If you can stay out of the bed, the soil doesn’t get as trampled down. And the number of plants in each will depend on what you’re planting.

  9. Paula, thanks so much for your response. I know I could google this, but since I’m not familiar with gardening I wouldn’t know how to evaluate the information. In the spot I’m thinking of I will have access to both sides of the bed. I don’t know what I’ll put in yet, maybe just tomatoes and zucchini.

  10. Rosalynde, we just put in raised beds last week. I have photos here and a video of it being put together here
    My wife has back problems, so our biggest goal was to be able to do more gardening without having to bend over as far. Also the small beds are more manageable if you have trouble weeding larger plots. The area we live is mostly clay, you dig down less than a foot and the dirt is horrible. This way we can get the soil exactly how we want it. You can plant alot in the small space if you do square foot gardening.

  11. RW: The number of plants that you can get in a 4′ x 10′ plot depends on the kinds of plants you put in. If you want to maximize the number of plants opt for things that grow up (e.g. peppers, tomatoes, beans) rather than things that sprawl out (e.g. pumkins or squash).

  12. Also take advantage of vegetables that grow together, pumpkin and squash can be planted in corn and will grow in between the stalks.

  13. WOW, jjohnsen, the video and photos are fantastic! The finished garden looks exactly how I’d like a garden to look: neat, manageable, contained. (Can you tell gardening makes me nervous? And yet I really enjoy what little I manage.) So how did you anchor the box walls into the earth? (Oh to have a husband with Saturdays off…)

  14. Rosalynde–one may need a husband for many things, but not for raised beds. You can even buy little corner-pieces to plug 2 x 4’s into that will self anchor and take care of all the anchoring. Gardener’s Supply Co. is a good source. Do NOT use pressure-treated lumber, because, of course, it’s not “pressure” that does the trick there, but arsenic or other nasty preservatives, which you do not want your children consuming…

  15. RW, I used 4×4’s in each corner, and 1×2/s in the center on each side. The posts go about 4 inches below the surface. The wood is all treated so it won’t rot, and I just bolted everything together. The sides are actually made of Trex, a composite wood that’s used to build decks. At Home Depot they get returns on Trex all the time, people order too much, or don’t like the color. They will mark these returns down so it’s pretty inexpensive, and will last longer than regular wood.

    We wanted the same thing as you out of a garden. Our first garden was 30×20. We came home from a week-long vacation, had a baby, and suddenly it was overrun with weeds. We just gave up and never went back to it. Now we’re going for this neat and easily manageable section. Each large box is only 4×4 with smaller boxes for herbs and flowers. If we do well this year, and feel like it’s under control, we can easily had 2/4/6 more boxes across our backyard.

  16. “Rosalynde–one may need a husband for many things, but not for raised beds. You can even buy little corner-pieces to plug 2 x 4’s into that will self anchor and take care of all the anchoring. Gardener’s Supply Co. is a good source. Do NOT use pressure-treated lumber, because, of course, it’s not “pressure” that does the trick there, but arsenic or other nasty preservatives, which you do not want your children consuming…”
    The really nasty pressure treated wood has been phased out since 2003. If you’re worried make sure the pressure treated wood you buy is ACQ treated instead of CCA(which is the way they did it until 2003). If it still worries you though, use redwood instead.

  17. Nate, I know you hate deer, but how do you deal with the rabbits? I don’t mind sharing, but last year those @%$&* cottontails ate every green shoot right down to the ground. I finally spent a lot of time and money on a fence, just so we could get some tomatoes.

  18. Hey, I’d settle for rabbits. Here, north of San Diego, it’s rats. They like to take big bites out of the underside of ripe tomatoes, so that you think you’re picking a beautiful ripe tomato– but then your hand closes over it and finds that the underside is squishy and oozing where the bite is. Blood meal does discourage some rabbits, and there’s also a product called Shakeaway which does keep our rats away, when I’m careful to use it frequently.

    Rosalynde, you’re welcome. I used to do a lot of vegetable gardening, but our lot’s so small here that I have mostly gone over to flowers. Here’s my garden, three years ago:

  19. On rabbits: I have a dog. It seems to do the trick.

    On pressure treated lumber: They have been phasing the nasty stuff out. Furthermore, most of the pressure treated lumber east of the Mississippi is treated with simple salt. You have to be careful about the salt leaching into your soil a la Carthage, but I wouldn’t be too worried about growing poisoned turnips. FWIW, I lined my raised beds with plastic to avoid the salt issue.

    On raised beds: Husbands aren’t required, but I suggest sinking the corner posts and digging out the edges enough to level the sides. Beds where the sides are not leveled end up looking a little sad INMHO, and you will also run into to some erosion problems if your beds aren’t level.

  20. I’m just tickled to see T&S posters talking about gardening. For some reason it surprises me. It’s like a coed enrichment miniclass. Nifty. Anyone want to be converted to keeping chickens? They go well with raised bed gardening. Nate, nice post. DKL, I agree. We have crocuses and snowdrops now in MA, nothing more. Ah to see something blooming amid all the brown and gray. I always forget roundabout Easter that New England has 6 months of leaves on trees and a full 6 months of leaves off. Having grown up in VA I feel like there should be something more to show for April.

  21. Melissa and I have seriously thought about chickens a few times before, Tona, and we may yet try it one of these days. It would be cheaper than relying on our local farmer for eggs in the long run, and plus we’d get fryers for the occasional dinner. (Though I’d need to find out about Wichita’s regulations about slaughtering, plus teach myself how to do it, before we’d take that step.)

    My brother Stuart and his family out in Oregon has bought a cow. I’m happy for them, and jealous. I like cows.

  22. Tona-

    I would LOVE to keep chickens, as they are fantastic additions to any organic endeavor. Their droppings are high in nitrogen, and their natural diet includes nasty grubs that can kill some plants faster than you can say dead. However, since our HOA doesn’t even like you to build a shed in the back, I’m sure they would frown on a chicken coop! One reason to live outside the suburbs, I suppose.


    I have never done it, but my sister did square foot gardening, and had some modest success. She did some things wrong (like neglecting to water–oops!) but it’s a great way to get started. Don’t be afraid of gardening. If it doesn’t work, then you learned something, and you can make it work again another time. Also, if building full on beds kind of freaks you out (yes, Nate did ALL the work, and it did take him a few days), you can always just start with some veggies in pots in a really sunny spot. With big enough pots, you can coax all kinds of things to grow, especially veggies that tend to grow up and sprawl. We did cucumbers from a pot in Arkansas, and I know you can do tomatoes, cabbages, and probably squash, too, if you put a trellis behind or in the pot, like we did. You might even be able to pull off spinach and lettuce, too, as they don’t need a lot of space and do fine in bunches. They are not quite as inviting as a big garden, but pots are less intimidating, and definitely easy to maintain.

    Warning: when you do have success, even if it is one little cucumber hanging on the vine, you will be addicted. I guarantee.

  23. What does a cow cost? FOr that matter, what does a chicken cost? Chickens must be pretty cheap.

  24. Mark,



    Then there are some great recipes for cooking them. Last year at a neighborhood BBQ we had some cottontail BBQ. It was the best. Better then the chicken.

  25. Russell: “plus teach myself how to do it”

    Teach yourself how to slaughter chickens? By trial and error, or are there written instructions for such things?

    On my mission I lived for 5 months in a dwelling with the worst bathroom I’m ever likely to see in my life. The door had been made out of a plywood sign that said, “Chickens killed daily” in big foreboding black and white paint.

    “Chickens must be pretty cheap.”

    You probably have enough in your pockets right now to buy a live one.

  26. “Teach yourself how to slaughter chickens? By trial and error, or are there written instructions for such things?”

    Right here, Jeremy. Also here.

    Having grown up around animals, particularly cows, you’d think I’d know this stuff. (I do know how to prepare fresh caught fish. I also how to turn bulls into steers, though I wouldn’t want to try it myself. Neither knowledge set will come in handy anytime soon though. We’re going to be picking up a fresh ham on Saturday from a farmer for our Easter dinner, and I’ll have a hard enough time getting that properly cured before Sunday.)

  27. Russell: “Storey’s Basic Country Skills” Cool! I too like gardening and would perhaps also like to try my hand at other, er, ‘country skills’ (not the bull-to-steer thing), mainly as an extension of my cooking. In South Bend I planted for my menu.

    I’d love to get a nice fresh ham for Easter, but I have no idea where to get one around here.

  28. I’d love to raise chickens, but we don’t have a fence and don’t plan on getting one anytime soon. I guess I’d have to check zoning regulations as well to see if it’s allowed.

  29. Thanks very much, everybody, for tips and advice! If the temperature hadn’t plunged to the forties today I’d be out there at it now.

    Kristine, you’re right, husbands are optional on this one. The more I think about it, though, friends from Massachusetts might be required… (I shouldn’t have mentioned the forties outside.)

    For the record, I have no desire to keep chickens. Which leads me to believe that my attraction to gardening is more aesthetic than ecological or spiritual, which probably takes the holiness out of it, huh Adam. Oh well.

  30. RW: Why should we assume that the holiness of the activities that you engage in hinges on your attitude toward them. I see no reason to suppose that you can’t engage in holy activity without your knowledge or intention. There is more to heaven and hell than the subject.

  31. RW: Nate’s right, for one, and for another I don’t see that your aesthetics are unholy or unspiritual. If creating beauty from mud and labor, beauty that you can take in to you, beauty that your children can take into themselves and transform into their own beauty–if that isn’t holy I’m deceived.

  32. “…more aesthetic than ecological or spiritual”

    I suspect that, properly understood, these three labels overlap and inform each other far more than common discourse would suggest. (Also, what Nate and Adam said.)

  33. Hmm, interesting. I suppose the question turns on one’s understanding of the sacramental. When an unbeliever eats the sacrament emblems, are the act and substances holy? I don’t know. (This raises the questions at the heart of transubstantiation debates.) Or maybe the question is about the transitivity of holiness: if sacramental acts and substances are holy per se, can that holiness be imparted to an indifferent heart? I don’t know.

    Russell, you’re probably right. It’s not very reassuring to me, however, that the spiritual is so imbricated with the aesthetic, because I’m not at all confident that I can discern between the two.

  34. I am reminded of a statement that I read saying that for the people who go to heaven it will work backwords into their lives and they will see that earth was just part of heaven all along. For the people who are going to hell it too affects them backwards and they see that their time on earth was just a sojourn in a particular spot in hell. (C.S. Lewis and the Magic bus?)

    Anyways I think holinessis extrinsic not intrinsic – at least as far as things that don’t have a knowledge of good and evil go. In Mosiah it talks about how all the elements obey their creator (the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.)

    Therefore if things are holy they must all be holy.

  35. During a really-boring-for-a-ten-year-old section of General Conference last Sunday my son and I used graph paper to sketch out a rough map of how we are going to turn our new backyard (house still in process) into a mini-fruit farm. The decided-upon fruits of our labors will be blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and a nectarine tree. The Yoshino Cherry tree I insist upon (mission in Japan, must have hanami in backyard) will, alas, be non-fruiting.

    The wife has pledged begrudging support as long as she doesn’t have to cleanup dropped fruit. I purposely didn’t remind her about the bees this yard will attract.

    My Stake President sells chicken compost all up and down the Eastern Seaboard so he’s already pledged to come in, fertilize, till, and plant with me. We’ll close too late this year to plant, so I have to delay my fruit fetish for one season.

    First fruits next year!

  36. Out here in the dry west I have found that compost is critical for successful gardening. If put on thick, compost almost totaly eliminates weeds, greatly cuts back on the use of water, keeps most “fruit” veggies from having their “fruits” come in contact wtih bare dirt and rotting, feeds the earth worms that airiate the soil, provide zillions of tiny sponges to hold water for roots. breaks up clay and allows clay particals to clump together so that air and water can get through, and enrichens the soil.

    Taken as a whole compost also fits in nicely with some very serious theology and a heavenly commandment. One of the very first commandments given by the Lord was to multiply and replenish the earth. Momons’ high birthrate is the result of a misinterpretation. The commandment is really about compost! (smile)

    Seriously though, building the soil really is a wonderful way to get in touch with the Creation. The way you can tell is your soil is good is by counting the number of earthworms in a shovel full of dirt. Lots of earthworms equal good dirt. Few earthworms… Earthworms live on dead plant material. They help break down that material and what come out the end of an earthworm is the perfect food for plants. Earthworms in a garden are the Lord’s little gift to us to help compensate for slugs and other harmful pests that also He created.

  37. “RAF: I built our garden over the top of what was grass. I first had to tear out the sod and break the top soil from the roots.”

    No need, if you can get soil–you can put soil straight on top and plant–the grass becomes great mulch, and feeds the soil well.

  38. I’d love to get a nice fresh ham for Easter, but I have no idea where to get one around here.

    May I suggest instead “Smithfield Smoked Ham”?

  39. “Teach yourself how to slaughter chickens? By trial and error, or are there written instructions for such things?”

    Here, if I can recall correctly, save a few bucks:

    Pot of water, hanging outside over a big fire.
    Cut chicken head off (an axe will do). You’ll need something like a hook or fork to keep the head down and still on the stump. I also strongly suggest a hook on the legs, or you will understand all too well the meaning of “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”. (You might also want goggles for this part–and be sure to wear grubbies.)
    Hang it up by the feet hook, led the blood drip out.
    Take it to the pot of boiling water, dip. (You’re not cooking it.) Pull out, try to strip the feathers. (You’ll probably want gloves for this, esp. with the hot water.)
    Reach one hand up inside, grab guts, and pull–continue until the guts are all out. (When you grab the guts, try not to squeeze too hard when you pull…)
    Your chicken is now ready to cook/ go into the freezer.

    And yes, gardening is not just holy, but great for you and your health.

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