Right when we started this blog, we knew that we were a long ways away from being able to provide construction updates on our home out on the Prickly Peak; But we also knew that due to that, we had some time to perfect some skills that we know we are lacking while having the comforts and availability of an on grid lifestyle.
We want to develop our skills regarding growing our own food and gardening. Nine long years ago, we were starting our first spring / summer in our current home and our home came with a landscaped front yard, but just dirt back yard, no fence, nothing. We knew that we were not willing to install grass until we were willing to invest the time and money to install a sprinkler system but there were some things we could do that didn’t require that.
The first thing we wanted to get started is we knew that we wanted to plant plants purchased from the Natrona County Conservation District. These plants come as bare root meaning that when you take possession, you need to get them in the ground and watered fast. Because of this however, they are at a greatly reduced cost. Additionally, these trees and shrubs are Wyoming native meaning that they are adept to growing in our harsh climate. With where our home is located we are actually in USDA Hardiness zone 4b meaning that we get down to -20F to -25F. Most of the City of Casper is actually in 5a so five degrees warmer.
The only “problem” with ordering the through the conservation district is it’s extremely popular and you have to get an order in early to get what you want. Even then, due to COVID and winters, the nursery they go through will have issues occasionally. That being said I will recommend them time and time again. They are an amazing group of people and offer amazing services to the residents of Natrona county where we live.
But along with planting our baby shrubs and trees, we had bare ground, might as well plant a vegetable garden right?
Our garden the first year we lived here did marginally well. It served more as a salad bar buffet for the pronghorn antelope and birds. We didn’t harvest much and it time and effort that we were putting towards establishing ourselves and planning for the wedding. Therefore, a garden has not been a priority.
A few years later, we installed the required sprinklers to have grass and finished our fencing to keep our critters in and the wildlife out…other than an occasional rattlesnake evidently that likely got Sequoia, but don’t worry, remember, that was only life maybe 3 of her 9. Our native shrubs have done amazingly well and we actually have an existing order with the conservation district to try and grow some native wind breaks up on the peak. Our grass however, I think we have the plights of a lot of other home owners. Most of our grass does fantastically well. One side of the lawn however just does not want to grow and with this knowledge, we decided that this spring we wanted to try something different.
The grass or lack thereof on the western side of our back yard is at the point where we need to till it up and start over anyways, so we are back to square one of our house-Lets practice our gardening / greenhouse skills while we have easy access to a spigot with water. Last time we got seeds we had an idea to have a tabletop herb garden. We got a little planter filled it with dirt and the table top in question had both southern and western exposure so in my mind, plenty of good light. We got the dirt in place, seeds, water and we were able to get sprouts. Not long after though, the little seedlings floundered to their demise and fake plants took their place. This arrangement lived on our dining table until about 2 years ago in order to have more table top space when COVID hit, I started working from home and the homeless shelter welcomed it’s newest tenants.
Now as the definition of crazy is to do the same thing and expect different results we knew we had to do something different. But what exactly? We looked into what plants we could try and grow inside and got our supplies. We purchased a set up of a dual tier shelf with grow lights and while I admit we bought ours as a kit for simplicity, I would not recommend getting the one we did as knowing what we do now, we can easily build on for a fraction of the cost. Using storage bins rather than seed starting kits and soil from when we planted flowers in the front yard, we planted our seeds that we thought would grow inside as our attempts to learn how to grow from seed before we REALLY need to start our seeds for spring planting (our last freeze is around Mother’s day-Memorial day) and with our schedules, we won’t get anything in the ground until June.
Supplies were ordered and picked up, soil prepared and fertilized and seeds selected. We went with some that we expected to do well, Potatoes and tomatoes, ones that we were confident would do well, lettuce and some herbs, and one that we were somewhat pessimistic about, peppers and broccoli rabe. This way we could run the gamut of feeling successful without doing much on our end to figuring out how to do things before we needed to. SO now to wait.
Within five days we had our first sprouts on our lettuce and we were riding the rush and ecstatic, after all, we obviously were awesome. It was only a matter of time before we could show what kind of pros we were. Next came up some tomatoes and Cilantro showed up next. Broccoli rabe followed and we were feeling great!
But one week, two week, three weeks, four weeks and while our potatoes were quickly outgrowing the capacity of the grow lights, some of our herbs were not wanting to sprout or we would have a single sprout that did not want to last. We could not get the oregano, chives and parsley to sprout. So we tried a different route we have seen but that neither of us had ever actually employed.
We got some different seeds to see if it was an issue with the seed and a moist paper towel. Sprinkled some of the seeds on the moist paper towel and placed the paper towels in a Ziploc bag. Then we placed the Ziplocs on the areas of the dirt that they were supposed to grow and let sit for about two weeks. Doing this method, we also learned two things. 1. By covering the dirt and encapsulating the moisture that just existing in Wyoming would be sucked away, we were able to garner some germination from changing the conditions. So in the future, a layer of plastic wrap may help and 2. The moist paper towel method worked.
We were able to create little trenches in the dirt and carefully move the newly sprouted seeds into the dirt…well everything except the oregano. For the oregano, we decided it would be best to cut the paper towel into little strips and cover with dirt. Covered these new transplants for a week to try and help the roots take and that seems to have done fabulously.
One of the other things that I have learned from this trial of planting is that These little seeds for the most part NEED water. But that is also one of my fears…I know from history that I will over love plants to death and drown them and that’s what I have been trying to avoid. We’ve tried to ensure that the soils is never dry but we’ve also started to encounter some seedling deaths. Fortunately, we thought that maybe now that the seeds have taken and roots are starting to go down deeper we need to change our watering method. We had been doing daily light watering, but now it seems that less frequent deep watering works better for us right now at least.
Our excitement over what we have learned is palpable and can hardly wait for when we “really” start seeds for our garden outside. But until then, we’ll take pride in our little seed garden and keep figuring out how to make things work. Follow us on our facebook page The Prickly Peak and Instagram @ThePricklyPeak for up to date progress reports on our planting!