Category Archives: Getting Started with the Basics

Start your seeds now…

So, the local DB store sells the jiffy seed starter greenhouse kit for $3 (tray, 72 cell pack insert, plus dome lid). I bought one; I have 2 of just the trays only from last year. I found a website that sells the jiffy 72 refill cell packs to insert in my 11×22″ plastice jiffy trays that I purchased last year. Note: the peat pellets just dried out too fast. Found reasonably priced too at for $1.23 for a 72-cell refill pack PLUS shipping of course – but still cheaper than local store (IF you can find one that stocks just the refill cells).

Where I live we are about 8 weeks now before our average last day of frost (May 9). Although I have been told that our zone here in the treasure valley has been changed…I have not checked up on that. I prefer to go by local folklore and look at the snow on the mountains I can see from my kitchen window for most of my plantings.

Today I started the following seeds: Broccoli, Cauliflower (new), Walla Walla Onions, Leeks (new), Green onions (new), turnips (new), Cabbage (new). These are either cool season crops or long growing crops (onions) that will be okay to transplant into the garden in Mid March. In late February or by Mid-march (depending on weather) I will direct seed lettuces/arugula/peas. See Reference Tab for Specfic dates on when to plant what vegetable.

when I receive my additional refill packs next week (as I have 2 remaining trays from last year), I will start my peppers and tomatoes too and grow them indoors for several months; planting early with walls of water around them in May or June.


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A Dibble Tool? “It’s a Good Thing”

I recently went on the search for a dibble tool.  What’s that?  Well, it’s a very basic hand held tool that the Shaker’s used when planting seeds.  It’s a wooden lathed/carved conical shaped tool with hash marks every inch.  One end is sharp and the other end has the handle.

Handcrafted Oak Dibble Tool with 1" hash markings

I was eager to use this to plant both transplants and seedlings.  At first I thought it might be more of a novelty to use because you really just are poking holes into the ground.  But I was pleasantly surprised at how much faster and cleaner I was easier to work the ground with this tool.  I used it to plant 1″ deep seeds as well as used it to spear into the ground 4″ deep and work around to make a wider opening to get transplants into the ground.  For example, for the pole beans, I punched a 1″ deep hole every 3″ the length of my trellis and just popped in a bean in a hole and then swept my hand over the length of it and patted it down.  Done!

I found this handcrafted one on Ebay from Maine for less than $20 (that included S&H).  They are not common; you definitely have to go online. “It’s a good thing”


WHEN do I Plant?

For MID – MARCH – I am preparing to plant potatoes and possibly my onion and brocolli transplants.  I might plant lettuce seed/transplants, spinach transplants, and arugula transplants.  I might think about planting my tomato and pepper transplants near the end of March/early April and cover them with mini green houses called “Walls of Water”.  I will keep you updated as we move through the calendar.  My chives and flat leaf parsley are already growing green again, the strawberries seem to be coming back to life too.

Reminder: Generally your growing season starts after the last frost date.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but play it safe if you are a beginner.

My neighbor, the master gardener, gave me this great cheat sheet titled Treasure Valley Planting Dates, which I suspect she may have gotten at the local university extension office.  I also have a sheet that lists some recommended varieties for the area – Treasure Valley Recommended fruits & Veggies

This is the most precarious topic which I have screwed up many times!! Last year I planted when I was supposed to, during May 7th, but the Shafer Butte was loaded with snow and it continued to reach freezing temps at night and snowed unexpecedly!!!  I lost a lot of my transplants.  Don’t give up!  Because of my bad timing and weird weather last year, I had minimal tomatoes, basil, winter squashes, watermelons that had sprouted up from the year before and tiny peppers.  Oh, well, in my eyes it was still a success.



2011 Garden Plan – My plan for this year.

There are some basic rules of thumb when planning your garden for the year that I learned the second year.

Start small – If this is your first attempt, just choose a few things to try.  Like 3-5 things. Tomatoes, basil, squash of some sort, and marigolds.  Ask your local experts for tried and true things.

Buy transplants – Buying starts from the home improvement store works best for beginners, plant several of the few you chose to plant and follow the directions on planting/spacing.

The most important:  If you plant perrenial veggies/fruits like asparagus, strawberries, artichokes (in some zones), chives, parsley, other herbs, you will want to plant those items in their own spot because perrenial means  that the plant will come back each year without replanting or by reseeding itself.  Keep your perrenials separate from your other veggies because you won’t want to kill them when you are digging things up and out at the end of the season.

I still have some random things growing in weird spots because I did not know this shrewd piece of advice, which my neighbor (who happens to be a master gardener) shared with me.  I have my asparagus, strawberries and sage bush in one area.  But, my chives and parsley are way over somewhere else and I hate to disturb them, so I left them where they are, which is out of the way of my rows thank goodness.

There is a lot of debate about whether to “rotate” your veggies year after year to different spots or not.  So I’ll leave that up to you.  Science has shown that for example,  if you leave the tomatoes in the same spot year after year you are helping establish the beneifical bacterias and nematodes.  I tend to move things to where I think they will do best.  I rotated once/twice and didn’t notice that much of a difference myself.



Okay, so you have chosen a spot in your yard that gets the most sun. Now what? 

The easiest way to start is to make Earth Raised Beds, which is basically rows of mounded dirt which will be your vegetable planting rows.  Mounding the dirt allows that soil to warm faster than the dirt at ground level.  I have earth raised beds.  I will post a picture of my garden with it’s earth raised beds pre-planting.  A book I checked out from the library even suggests just buying several cubic yards of planting soil and laying them end to end to make the rows to start out with – GENIUS!

While you are mounding the dirt you might want to throw in some granular fertilizer or compost to it.

DON’T FORGET – Keep in mind how you will water while making your rows.  I have underground sprinklers and had the spot I chose rezoned in the second year, so that it is on it’s own zone for watering.  I then retrofitted 2 sprinkler heads and capped the rest in that zone.   Lastly I attached drip line emitter hosing to those 2 retrofitted heads so they run the length of the vegetable rows.  We can get into the design later.  Basically, predetermine at least this year how you will get water to your vegetables you will plant.

Now that this is done, you are ready to make your garden plan for the year.



There are some things you need to consider before you set up your vegetable garden:

1) Location/Water: you will want to have it located where it will receive the most sunlight during the growing season (we’ll readdress this).  Water: Is water readily available to this site you will choose?  Garden hose to hook up to soaker hose or sprinkler, or is there a sprinkler zone available for that area only?  If you have several sprinkler zones, you can retrofit and cap existing heads to attach drip lines.  For about $100 you can have a landscape technician set up/modify existing zones for just your garden area like I did.  I also retrofitted the heads to dripline system, which is easy.  I did this myself.  You can make it as simple or complex as you like.

2)Growing Season:  The Growing season is usually designated as the date of your last frost for your area, until the date of the first frost in the Fall.  For me, the Boise/Treasure Valley area the traditional date to follow is the week of May 7th; and the wive’s tale is when the snow melts off the Shafer Butte area which is the one that should probably be followed.  Our season ends around October when the first frost hits.

3)What should I grow?:  Always start small and go from there.  Ask the local garden centers, local university extension (master gardeners), or local farmers market for some suggestions.  That’s what I did.  OR, if you live near rural areas, watch what they are growing in their own fields.  I started out with tomatoes, basil and yellow squash the first year.  This year I have some ambitious plans.