I’m going on a trip next week! It’s a big trip; I’m very excited. Lots of new experiences, wonderful things to see, delicious things to eat, relaxation and exploration. I feel very lucky.
And let me just add: it was not my idea to travel in April, and I’m never doing it again. It’s spring! It’s gardening time! There are so many tasks that won’t get done, so many flowers I’ll miss seeing bloom. Being away now throws my schedule off for months. But so it goes: for this year, I have to adapt.
None of us who are able to take vacations want to miss out, but we also want our gardens to keep growing while we can’t care for them. Given that we can’t take the plants along with us, how to cope? Let me toss out some ideas, and you can add your thoughts in comments.
This is the big deal for me, going away in April. I usually have a busy seed-starting calendar, with many shelves of pots and trays all going at once. At the very least, I have to have my baby tomato plants! But not this year. Here’s what you can do if travel gets in the way of starting seeds:
- Just do less. In late winter I started some kale and kohlrabi seedlings, which are now in the ground under a heavy row cover in case of an April freeze. I’m skipping everything else. I’ll buy tomatoes and peppers or take donations from friends, and the rest can be direct-seeded. It’s painful, but also a bit of a relief.
- Get someone else to care for your seedlings while you’re away. If you do this, make sure to leave very specific instructions (the instincts you’ve cultivated through practice are not obvious to the plant newbie) and do a dry run before you leave. Well, more like a wet run. But not too wet.
- If you’re going away for just a long weekend, self-watering trays or humidity domes may do the trick. But the former may dry out and the second cause fungal diseases if you’re gone too long.
All plants need watering at some point, and unless you only have succulents or a well-established xeriscape, or the weather cooperates perfectly, something will have to be done about water while you’re gone. Especially in the hot summer. Here are some options:
- Hire someone, or exchange favors with a friend or neighbor. This is actually less tricky than getting your tiny seedlings watered, but some gardening know-how is still a plus, so note down what’s likely to need water and how often. Remember that outdoor container plants require frequent watering while those in the ground can go longer. Make the job as convenient as possible, with all equipment easily accessible.
- Mulch well. This helps keep moisture in the soil longer. You also want a soil with plenty of organic matter that will both drain well and retain water, but that’s something you need to work on long before the suitcases are packed.
- Consider installing a drip irrigation system that can run on a timer while you’re gone.
It is no fun to tackle waist-high weeds with jet lag, and your intentional plants won’t thank you for the competition. What can you do?
- Weed well several weeks before you leave, cultivate the soil lightly, and watch to see if any other weed seeds germinate. Then kill those off and put some mulch down (which you’re doing to keep the soil moist anyway).
- Or just mulch heavily from the beginning. A few weeds will find their way through, but you won’t return to a jungle.
- If you can find someone able to distinguish the plants you want from the plants that need to go, hire them and pay them well. This is a job at a whole different level than wielding a hose.
It’s April, so I’m going with mulch well and pray for rain. I plan to ask one of my fellow community gardeners to check my plot after windy days to make sure the row cover hasn’t blown off, but otherwise I’ll just hope Mother Nature does the watering and my plants survive. It’s always worth checking the home weather report in case a big storm or unexpected drought or deluge indicates an alteration to routine.
Another job to keep in mind if you have a vegetable garden is harvesting. Try to time your crops so the heaviest harvest doesn’t occur while you’re away. Remember that planting can be done over a pretty wide range of dates, so if the harvest is likely to mature in 60 days and you’ll be away for two weeks in July, don’t transplant or start seeds in May; try June instead. For crops that produce over a long period, get a friend to harvest while you’re gone (and maybe also water and weed). Many people will accept tomatoes as wages. Again, leave instructions.
And then there’s the matter of reconciling the travel bug with garden bugs. Pest insects can devastate a crop in a short period of time if not checked. Row covers can work for certain plants, or you can concentrate on growing crops that don’t have many pest issues.
Put your gardens on the travel prep list, and bon voyage! See you when I return – if you’ll be in Montgomery County on Saturday, April 27, please come to our Grow It Eat It Open House. Details here.
By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener