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This is part of an on and off series about organic gardening from some guy who knew nothing about it. The best info is usually found in the comments.

My neighbor likes to give me a friendly, hard time. He goes outside to smoke his cigar in the garage, and I go outside to obsessively check my organic garden, which is mostly dirt right now. And a couple times a week our paths cross.

Every year the same conversations play out.

"Is this the year?"

"Yes! THIS is the year! It's going to be a bumper crop. Tomatoes for everybody."

"Not another weed garden this year?"

"Nothing but tomatoes as far as the eye can see. This is the year."

Last year my organic garden was better than the year before. This year, it's going to be better still. In fact, here it is only early April and I've already got turnips and cabbage coming up. And it's not last frost for another month.

I used to think I had to wait until last frost to plant anything outside. And sometimes I'd risk it but with random things, usually with lousy results. But I've since learned the concept of "early crops."  Frost resistant crops...these are things you can plant as soon as the ground is workable, and they're likely to successfully soldier through the occasional drops below freezing.

I've noticed that it's pretty safe to assume that if a vegetable's first seedling leaves (the primary leaves) are heart shaped, it's probably a frost resistant plant:

We're talkin'

Cabbage
Broccoli
Turnips
Radishes
Kohlrabi

Things with thick, fleshy leaves. They're all frost resistant and can be planted before last frost.

Also:

Leafy things like lettuce and spinach.
carrots
onions
potatoes

The best thing about these plants is, they get the garden activity started earlier and give an excuse to wander out to the garden to see if anything is popping up even if it's still 40 degrees outside and you can see your breath in the morning.

Now...I'm also working on tomatoes. For the last couple of years I've had the worst time getting tomatoes to produce much, or thrive. So this year, I'm trying some new stuff. One, I intend to build a raised bed out of cinder blocks. It'll help to edge my garden and will create a raised, and therefore warmer, place to grow stuff that likes warmer soil, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

I'm also trying these little, self made greenhouses to start my tomatoes. Rather than start them inside, which always ends in death and pestilence for my produce, I'm using clear, two liter pop bottles and hoping I can put dirt in them, plant a seed, stick the two liter somewhere that's sunny during the day, and just leave them there until a tomato plant grows.

The contraption looks like this:

DSC02472

Ya take a two liter pop bottle, and poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Then you take a knife and slice around the top enough so you can open the top up and put dirt and a seed into the bottle. Dirt in, then plant the seed, then close up the top, and tape it closed, throw in a little (a LITTLE) water, close up the top and put the bottle someplace sunny.

I'll let you know how it works.  I've done about five of these, and five more tomatoe plants I'm growing the usual way, planted in pots in the mud room.

Other than that, I've done the usual. I've sprayed around the permimeter of my yard with some anti-deer and anti-bunny stuff called Liquid Fence. It's well worth it.

I've also poured some composted manure and bone meal all over the garden to change the very sandy soil into something more productive. I've been burying my vegetables in hopes of composting it. Last year I buried it about 14 inches down. I buried quite  a lot of it, imagining that this year I'd just dig it up and spread it around my garden. The problem is, I see no trace of any of the stuff I've buried. Could it have composted so fast? It's mostly just dirt down there, and I dug all over where I had buried that stuff. SEems like it's less sandy with more organic material in it. But no matter, I still keep burying vegetable material in the garden where the water doesn't easily reach.

I'll keep ya posted on how the turnips and the cabbage turns out.

If you have any informationa bout organic gardening you'd like to share, please do so below in the comment fields. Or if you have questions, please ask in the comments.

Originally posted to Muskegon Critic on Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 11:32 PM PDT.

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