Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Planting the seeds

Getting seeds into the ground is a critical moment, and I always breath a sigh of relief once I've accomplished that task. No matter how well prepared the ground is, until the seeds go in, there is no potential for a crop. Once the seeds are planted, my garden is all potential.

Monday morning I finished preparation of my squash patch by firing up our trusty Troy-Bilt Pony tiller and tilling in the compost. Generally I let John handle the tilling, but this time I did it myself. Well, actually John got the tiller started for me, but I took over from there. I'm proud of myself, since playing with machinery is not my favorite part of gardening. The Pony is a relatively lightweight easy to manage rear-tine tiller,and I was able to turn without too much struggle, although my arms have been aching ever since.

Once tilled, I spent a couple of hours raking the garden smooth in preparation for planting. Then I marked the ground where squash would be planted in hills 3 - 4 feet apart.

By the time I finished, it was hot enough that I had to retreat indoors, but that's ok because the final task before planting was to sort through my squash seeds. Too late to plant the winter squash this year. I'll save those seeds for next year. Still, I had 13 different varieties of summer squash to plant. Some of the packets are as old as 2004, and they may not germinate, others were purchased new last year and should still be viable. The packets varied in the numbers of seeds left. I spent an hour or so Monday evening creating a map of the squash patch to expedite planting.

Last year I had a small USDA Farmer Rancher Grant to study the effect of harvest frequency and fruit size on yield of the plants. I had 40 hills of 4 different varieties for that experiment, with the varieties randomized throughout the garden. This year I hope to repeat part of that experiment, with one yellow and two green zucchini varieties. This time I will have fewer repititions of the experiment - not enough to allow for statistical analysis, but should give me a idea of what is happening. The varieties involved in the experiment will be Butterstick (Territorial Seed), a yellow zucchini, and two similar green varieites: Cashflow (Johnnys Seed) and Revenue (Territorial Seed). I don't have enough of either green variety to use just one, so I planted 3 hills of each. I plan 3 harvest treatments. One hill will be harvested as mini squash, one as regular ~7 inch fruits. A third hill will have a mixed harvest strategy: leave one fruit at a time to grow to 7 inch, and harvest the remaining as mini squash.

I mixed the rest of the varieties throughtout the patch surrounding the experimental hills. Last year my experiment included two patty pan varieties: yellow "Sunburst" (Territorial Seed) and green "Starship" (Territorial Seed). What I learned was that the patty pan varieties sell well as mini squash, but don't sell well when allowed to grow as large as 4 inches across. This year I'll pick them all as mini squash and not bother with the experiment. Several other varieties will be harvested exclusively as mini squash, including round zucchinis "Eight Ball" (green, Johnny's Seed) and Floridor (yellow, Johnnys), Papaya Pear (Territorial Seed). I'd like to plant Flying Saucer, but I'm out of seed this year.

I also have seeds of a couple of interesting zucchini types, including "Magda" , "Costata Romanesco", and "Zephyr "(all from Johnny's), and a few "Raven" (Shepherd's Seeds - these are old and may not germinate).

The pivotal moment for my squash garden came yesterday (Tuesday) morning. Took my map into the garden and placed 3 - 4 seeds at each of the spots that I had marked the night before. After covering the seeds with about two inches of soil, I drew a circle around the spot to mark the hill. All together, I planted 58 hills. I left three spots empty in case I manage to find seeds of "Flying Saucer" or some other interesting variety in the next week or so. At the west edge of the garden I added a row of cucumbers.

And then - we watered! Turned the irrigation water on for about 3 hours before our neighbor claimed the water for his lawn. It was enough to get the seeds started germinating. The seed packets indicate that the young cotyledons should poke their way out of the soil in 5 - 10 days. It will be 40 to 60 days before the plants produce fruits. 50 days from today most of my plants should have fruits ready to harvest. With any luck I'll have squash for market on September 8.

Meanwhile, I hold my breath and cross my fingers that the miracle of germination goes smoothly.

Time spent on the squash patch:
~2.5 man hrs tilling and raking
~2.5 man hrs. planting seed
Total so far: ~9.5 man hours

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