Dear friends,

If you've been gardening along with me, by now your garden bed or beds should be ready for planting. If you're just joining our project now, you can look back at last Tuesday's Monitor for instructions on preparing your soil. One of the best ways to get your garden going quickly is to buy young plants (seedlings) from a nursery or garden center. In many areas of the country, plants in containers are still available at nurseries, and may even be offered at a discount. I'll also show you how to start some plants from seeds.

First you must decide what to plant in your garden. You can make yours exactly like mine, or try some experiments on your own. The crops I'm growing are all things I like to eat or to look at, and that's one of the first rules of successful gardening: Grow what you like (or at least what other members of your family enjoy).

Next you need to buy some supplies at your local nursery. You'll find that seeds come in small packets, and seedlings come in pots or in containers called ``flats.'' To make a garden like my square one, you'll need to buy a one flat of each of these: peppers, eggplant, lettuce, and cabbage. You'll also need 4 dwarf marigold plants and 4 to 6 begonia plants. And you'll need one package of carrot seeds.

For your cage garden, you'll have to decide whether you want cherry tomatoes, pole beans, or cucumbers. I have three cage gardens and will be growing all three, but you may want to just choose one. If you choose tomatoes, buy seedlings. If you choose cucumbers or bean, buy seeds.

If your plot gets only a small amount of sunlight, you can experiment by planting lettuce, carrots, chives, and flowers such as impatiens and coleus.

The point is, we will all learn as we go along. Am I learning too? You bet I am!

Yours truly,

Peter Tonge P.S. Next week we'll start some other smaller gardening projects. Supplies you'll need: String Watering can Spray bottle Trowel or hand fork An old bedsheet 20-pound bag of dehydrated cow manure Small bag of vermiculite A. DESIGNING YOUR PATCH

Once you've decided what you might like to grow in your garden, you need to know how many plants you can grow in each square foot.

In his book Square Foot Gardening (Rodale Press), Mel Bartholomew lists the number of plants he has found he can grow in each 1-foot-by-1-foot square. Radishes, carrots, onions: 16 plants per square foot Spinach, beets: 9 Lettuce, Swiss chard, parsley, marigolds: 4 Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, eggplant: 1 plant per square foot

Here's what my 16-square-foot bed looks like. You can use this picture to show you where to plant your seedlings and seeds. P stands for pepper, E for eggplant, L for lettuce, C for cabbage, M for marigold, and B for begonias. The square with dots in it is for carrot seeds. There are also some empty spaces that we will plant in later on.

Here are my cage gardens. What kind would you like to grow?

Now you might think that some of the plants are too close to each other. But in the system we will practice, large plants will often be able to ``borrow'' space from one another. For instance a cabbage might encroach into the space occupied by a small lettuce, but by the time the lettuce starts needing all its space, the cabbage will have been harvested.

To design your square patch, mark off the bed into one-foot squares with string. Place one string every 12 inches, and stretch it from one end of the bed to the other, horizontally. Then do the same thing making vertical lines. Or simply draw lines in the soil with your finger instead of using string.

As you plant each square foot, take a heaping trowelful of the dehydrated cow manure and spread it evenly over the square. The manure is a fertilizer that adds nutrients, or plant food, to the soil. Dig in the manure with your trowel or hand fork to a depth of about 3 inches. Now you're ready to plant. B. PLANTING SEEDLINGS

1. Plant them in the late afternoon or early evening so that they will have a cool night to help them adjust to their new surroundings.

2. Use your watering can to water the seedlings before you set them out unless you can see that the soil in the container is nice and moist. If you bought seedlings in a flat where several are growing together in one container, be as gentle as possible when you separate them. Some roots will tear off, but don't worry, new roots will grow fairly quickly.

3. Dig a hole a little deeper than the plant's roots. Fill the hole with water.

4. When the water has drained away, place the seedling in the hole and fill the hole with loose soil. Water again.

5. Leave a saucer-like depression in the soil around each plant to collect water when it rains.

If you're planting tomatoes in your cage garden, follow the same directions, but plant them several inches deeper, up to the first set of large leaves. Plant two seedlings inside the cage. C. PLANTING SEEDS

Now you can plant your carrot seeds in the square garden. And if you've chosen to plant cucumbers or pole beans in your cage garden, you can plant those, too. Here's how:

1. Push your finger into the soil wherever you want a seed to go (or you could use the end of a pencil or a short stick). The seed packets will tell you how deep the particular seed should go. Be careful not to plant seeds too deep or they won't germinate.

2. Drop in the seed and cover it with soil -- or, if it is a very tiny seed, like carrot or lettuce seed, cover it with vermiculite to keep the seeds from blowing away. Vermiculite is so light that even the tiniest seedlings can push up through it.

Big seeds like beans go in deep enough so that you can water them with a watering can without any danger of washing them away. But for tiny seeds, I put a small square of cloth (a piece of old sheet) over the square to protect them, and then water them with a can. After that I keep the seeds moist by spraying them every day using a little window-spray bottle. Once the seedlings are up, spraying them every single day is no longer necessary, because they have developed roots that drink moisture from the soil. At this stage the roots are also strong enough to hold the tiny plants in place when you water them lightly with a can.

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