Northwoods gardeners gearing up for growing season

By Jed Buelow

Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor, Sports and Nature Editor

Trays of newly planted vegetables and flowers lined the walls of our greenhouse out in the town of Tomahawk as gardeners across the Northwoods get ready for the start of the 2020 growing season.

May is busy time for those who like to get their hands dirty in order to harvest a bounty in the months that lie ahead and enjoy colorful flowerbeds all summer long. New this year, this gardener started a tray of cucumbers in the house last week in hopes of harvesting a good month ahead of when the seeds planted in the ground will produce.

In the effort to stretch out the harvest season, this Northwoods gardener will also be making a trip to one of the local greenhouses in the coming weeks to purchase a few of those mature tomato plants so burgers can be topped with a fresh slice in July and BLTs can be enjoyed all summer long. After trying a new technique using tarps and growing as bushes on the ground didn’t quite work out, we will be going back to growing our tomatoes in straw bales this summer.

Growing in straw is both fun and easy. The first two weeks are spent conditioning the bales to get them ready to plant. The first day they are soaked in a bunch of water before being conditioned every other day with nitrogen fertilizer and then water to start breaking them down so they are ready to plant. The last couple days they receive a 10-10-10 fertilizer and they are ready to plant.

Our system is set up with a drip line so the daily effort to maintain is simple. Just turn on the water once a day and fertilize every couple weeks and the tomatoes are taken care of. The best part is a makeshift greenhouse can be made over the top of them using plastic sheets in the event a late frost occurs.

The annual flowers that have been growing in the south facing windows inside the house since February will soon start to be taken outside to begin conditioning, or the hardening them off phase. The first day they will be placed in the shade before being brought back in overnight. The next few days they will get a couple hours of sun before being left outside to grow in trays until they are planted.

Around Memorial Day is when things really ramp up. The second harvest of cucumbers will be planted in the dirt along with the squash, carrots, zucchini, broccoli and other vegetables and the tomatoes will be placed in the straw bales. All the annual flowers started indoors will be planted along boarders to add a splash of color to the flowerbeds to mark the start of summer in the Northwoods.

With all the uncertainty over what might be available in the grocery stores and what the cost might be in the months that lie ahead, this summer marks a great time to try growing some food of your own. It can be as simple as adding some soil to buckets with holes cut in the bottom – how we grow our peppers to take advantage of the warmer soil – or trying the easy-to-maintain straw bale gardens that work terrific for raising homegrown tomatoes that can be enjoyed all summer long.

The 2020 planting season is almost here. Give it a shot and perhaps this summer will be the year you find you also have grown a green thumb while becoming a Northwoods gardener.

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