Posts Tagged ‘spring’
On February 15th in Ithaca, NY, a snowstorm added several inches to a well-established snow pack. By this time, there was a similar covering in Lewisburg, PA, though a few February storms passed either north or south of Lewisburg, leaving our problems mild compared to those of neighboring states.
Who wasn’t talking about winter this winter? For most of us, it was unusual. Here, we’d gotten used to remarkably mild winters. I’d been able to play golf until January (we’d be cold, but snow-free), and whatever snow we’d get in January and February would melt away before March.
Year-after-year I’d posted a “first crocus of spring” photo pretty close to March 9th. And, unless we had a lot of rain in March, I’d been able to plant peas on March 17th—St Patrick’s day.
On March 11th, snow in Lewisburg had melted away except in heavily shaded places and north-facing slopes. I shot this photo of a north-facing slope around the corner from the Cityslipper ranch (my house). It’s the back yard of a newly-built, unoccupied house and that path through the snow is a deer trail. Four houses have gone up since winter of 2013, eliminating the woods and meadows where I’ve collected black raspberries, blackberries, and elderberries for 19 years. Sure, there are new houses with yards, but the deer haven’t given up.
By early February, we had an amazing accumulation of snow. It was amazing not so much for the amount of snow, but for the snow’s tenacity. Temperatures remained very low and the snow stayed. When things did warm up, it wasn’t enough to melt snow, but it was enough to cause more snow storms. The extreme “polar vortex” cold taunted us whenever we left the house, and the snow tormented our dog whose stomach dragged on snow whenever she went off road.
In early March, we had some less-cold days. What’s more, we had rain! This helped melt snow, but most plants wouldn’t be fooled. We’re used to seeing daffodil sprouts in February, but this year there were none even in the second week of March—or the third or the fourth.
Still, on March 11, spring said hello. It was sunny and warm, and on the afternoon dog walk I noticed how absent the snow had become. What’s more, there were crocus blossoms… pretty much on the same schedule as in our much milder winters. Sure, things have moved along well since March 11, but this post is about that special first truly spring-like day of the season. The photos tell the rest of the story.
With snow nearly gone, I inspected the yard. Someone had eaten many of my young rose plants and my hydrangeas nearly to the ground. That same someone, I guess, also chewed on my thornless raspberry plants. Still, I found promising indicators that spring might actually take hold. This was among the first crocuses about four feet from my main vegetable bed.
A lavender plant I set in the garden in autumn of 2012 has survived two winters. I’m guessing lavender is hardier than rosemary as cold winters have typically knocked out whatever rosemary plants we’ve established. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of lavender as a seasoning, and I’d rather have neutral smells in my living space. So, the lavender will remain an outdoor pet.
On March 11th, healthy-looking oregano leaves peeked through the dead stems from last year’s growth. I anticipate the oregano will try to escape its containment rings this season… I’ve three varieties each contained in a 3-foot circle by a plastic barrier I embedded about 9 inches into the ground.
Even with a sheet of ice nearly covering it on March 11th, my rhubarb plants had healthy “buds” popping out of the soil. The cold held these buds nearly to the end of March before slightly warmer days triggered them to deploy leaves. I’ll share photos in an upcoming post.
The planting bed went unattended for two weeks after I leveled the newly-added soil; weeds had already asserted themselves. The excavation for the rain garden lies beyond the planting bed in this photo, and you can see part of the drainage ditch I cut along the south side of the garden (left center in the photo). It has been so dry this winter and spring that soil was crumbly in March rather than moist.
On May 17 of 2011 I planted cauliflower and broccoli seedlings in the main bed of my small kitchen garden! On that day, I posted about how miserable the soil was—it had been rainless for a week, but still: big gobs of wet earth stuck to my hand trowel. I planted no other spring crops in the garden in 2011 because rain returned and there was standing water until almost June.
The tide has turned! It’s no secret that winter forgot to wint this year (That’s a verb, right? A “winter” is someone who “wints,” yes?). Then, to confuse perennials, summer started in early February. If I’d been on my game, I could have planted spring crops in the garden then… but that’s not me. Confession: I usually plant peas so late that I consider altogether skipping them.
Preparing to Plant Peas
All that summer-weather-in-spring got me into the garden early. I’ve been excavating a rain garden and moving the soil onto my planting bed. The added soil depth should keep roots out of the mud even in very rainy years. By St Patrick’s Day, the planting bed was ready for peas.
It took a bit of weeding and hoeing to prepare furrows for the pea seeds. The bed is 14 feet from end-to-end along the furrows. Each is about eight inches across and two-to-three inches deep. I set peas about an inch apart along each side of a furrow—that’s right around 1,000 peas—and cover them with about an inch of soil.
Life got in the way, and it wasn’t until March 30 that I finally got the peas in the ground. That’s at least two weeks earlier than usual. I want to remove the pea plants at the beginning of July, and they’re usually done making peas after ten weeks, so they don’t need to be in the ground until mid April.
I’ve set the broccoli and cauliflower seedlings in the garden and they’re recovering from transplant shock. I’ve also planted onion sets which led me to want more onion sets to plant. Oh! And I’ve mended and erected the garden fence before rabbits nested in the planting bed.
Having planted peas in March should make me feel as though I have a huge head start on my kitchen garden—especially with all the other projects completed. But the crazy weather makes me feel as though I’m trying to catch up… and if it stays warm as it is, I really do need to catch up.
Here’s more from past seasons about planting peas:
Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 1 – Do you want to grow peas in your small kitchen garden? It’s a tough question. Peas require a lot of space for a modest harvest. On the other hand, garden fresh peas taste astonishingly better than any other peas you’ll ever eat…
Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 2 – You’ve decided how many peas you’re going to plant in your small kitchen garden, you’ve reserved appropriate space, you’ve prepared the soil, and you have some kind of trellis installed or ready to install. I hope you haven’t worked too far ahead. We’re about to plant peas…
Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook Video – I’ve planted peas as late as three weeks after the last frost date and still had terrific yields…..
One of my first pea sprouts of 2012! Peas are amazingly hardy. I once left some too long in the vegetable crisper of my refrigerator, and they sprouted! Cold nights and cool days keep pea plants vigorous, but when the temperature climbs into the 80s, pea plants wilt and die.
For owners of small kitchen gardens, mixing soil can become a springtime ritual. If you grow annual vegetables in containers, it’s good practice to collect the containers, mix together the soil from them, add some nutrition, and fill containers with the mix for a new growing season.
This is a minor chore that I enjoy because it’s one of my earliest gardening projects and it contributes to my feeling that winter is finally behind us. Historically, I’ve used a shovel to mix my old potting soil with compost, but this year things are way easier. I’ve invested in a fully-organic and sustainable automatic soil mixer. This short video demonstrates the amazing, cutting edge technology. Please enjoy and share your opinions:
I figure to set tomato seedlings in the garden in late May so I started seeds at the beginning of April. I love how a tomato sprout pushes up a section of stem and then eventually pulls its leaf tips free.
As a kitchen gardener, I get excited when the first seeds sprout in my office each spring. If I manage things well, those sprouts are lettuces and brassicas (cauliflower and broccoli). They can go into the garden more than a month before cold-sensitive crops such as tomatoes and chili peppers, and it’s great to give them a head start so they have plenty of productive time outdoors before summer heat shuts them down.
My Small Kitchen Garden is a Lake
I planted several varieties of lettuce in early March along with a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower seeds. They came on well, and I figured to plant them outdoors in late March or early April—about when I started tomatoes and peppers in my office.
I started four types of lettuce near the beginning of March. The Summer Crisp and Purple Leaf lettuces in this planter should have gone in the garden two or three weeks ago. We’d be eating fresh garden salads if we’d had about six inches less rain in the past month.
Here’s the thing: my planting bed has been too wet to garden. The longest gap between rainstorms in the past six weeks has been, perhaps, three days. Each storm has lasted at least 12 hours and deposited enough water to saturate the soil and leave puddles on top.
When I first plunged a garden fork into the soil and pressed down on the handle to loosen things up for my lettuce seedlings, there was a loud sucking noise. My soil contains a lot of clay, so if I work it when it’s wet I might just as well be making pottery as tilling.
My tomato seedlings are getting big enough to set outdoors and I’ll probably transplant them to larger pots in ten days or so. In the meantime, my lettuce and brassica seedlings are getting really annoyed. They desperately want out of their planters and into the garden.
The cauliflower and broccoli plants look nearly large enough to put up their central florets. If the garden doesn’t dry out in the next few days, I’ll move the plants into large pots on my deck; I’ve never grown cauliflower and broccoli in planters, but I’m confident they’ll do well that way.
Because the garden continues to remain under water, I may need to set my lettuce seedlings in individual pots and manage them on my deck. Otherwise, it may be so hot by the time the garden is ready that the seedlings will bolt and there won’t be any lettuce to harvest.
Broccoli and cauliflower are a bit more heat-tolerant, and they can go in the garden later. However, they also need more space for roots, so if these rain storms continue I’ll be potting up the brassicas about when I pot up the tomatoes.
Usually I push the season a bit and get my plants in the ground too early. The way 2011 is developing, I can’t get them in the ground early enough. With luck, the rain will let up before June and I’ll be able to set out tomato and pepper seedlings without resorting to SCUBA gear. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to consider growing rice in my small kitchen garden.
How’s your kitchen garden doing?
No, I’m not making it up: my garden is very wet. Word is that local farmers are two weeks behind because of the weather. After a full day without rain, there is still standing water in my main planting bed. Apparently, some types of weeds don’t mind having wet feet.
It looks as though either someone big took one bite out of this clump of wild onions or someone small bit off a few dozen onion stalks. Either way, it has me musing about the viability of wild onion as a ground cover. If my lawn had a dense cover of this stuff, mowing—or even just walking on it—would throw up a delicious aroma.
With spring refusing to show itself, my small kitchen garden is nearly barren. Only my herb bed and the rhubarb patches show signs of life—not even weeds have stirred where I hope to plant annuals when? Last week?
My yard, however, has awakened. Tufts of grass are green and growing. Along the margins, wild onions grow in clumps. Crocuses, lambs ears, and forget-me-nots encroach from the ornamental beds into the lawn.
I noticed a few days back that the wild onions and crocuses aren’t entirely happy. Someone seems to enjoy nibbling them. I wonder if it’s the same someone who chews the bark off of apple twigs I prune from my trees? My brother suggests deer, but I’m more suspicious of rabbits and woodchucks.
Is anyone eating your yard?
Last year’s rhubarb project continues to look successful. Every plant in the new rhubarb bed has sprouted tiny wrinkly leaves. You’re supposed to harvest lightly in the year after planting. I may pretend that this is the second year after planting since I created the bed at the beginning of last season. I can say with authority: there will be pie.
March in central Pennsylvania is such a great time in my small kitchen garden because that’s when the earliest perennials push through the soil and have a look around. Oh, yeah? Not this year! Nope, we’re having a seriously late start to spring around here, and the early sprouts have been timid at best.
Despite the unseasonable cold and way more rain than my kitchen garden needs, I poked around two days ago to see what has sprung. The late early growth is tantalizing, but I’m not ready yet to start the annuals. I hope your kitchen gardens are farther along. Tell me: do you grow a particular fruit or vegetable that you anticipate above all others? I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know in a comment.
Remarkably similar in color to baby rhubarb leaves, tarragon emerges in my new herb bed. I started this bed last spring to receive rhubarb plants, but I realized it would take enormous energy to complete the bed. So, by late autumn I’d finished the bed and set herbs in it. Tarragon and thyme I’d started from seed last spring have wintered over nicely in the new bed. Just looking at these young sprouts makes plaque collect in my veins; I love to make béarnaise sauce and use it (instead of hollandaise) to smother eggs Benedict. More tarragon probably means more eggs Benedict. I’ll need a bigger belt.
Thyme is particularly hardy in these parts. This sprig, on a plant I started from seed last spring, has already produced abundant leaves despite the low temperatures. I expect to have several decent clumps of thyme within the next few years.
I don’t grow chives in my small kitchen garden; there’s no need. Wild onion is one of the most common “weeds” in this area. When the neighboring farmer mowed his hay field in past years, the air would smell of onions for several days! I created a new herb bed in late autumn last year, planted a few perennial herbs, and this spring there are several volunteer wild onions emerging in the bed. In some places, my lawn is more wild onion than it is grass.
The biggest mess in my new herb garden is a grouping of sage bushes that I removed from an old half barrel I’d planted, perhaps, ten years ago. The barrel stands empty awaiting a new assignment while the sage plants remain dormant. As the days warm (they will warm, right?), I expect plenty of new growth on these usually hardy plants. When I can easily see which sticks are alive, I’ll snap off the deadwood and save it to use in my smoker. Ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage… they all taste delightful when you smoke them with sage wood. Yes, that’s a downspout behind the plants; I may need to add an extender that carries rainwater across the bed so heavy storms won’t carve a hole in the herb garden.
My anticipation for red, juicy, sweet tomatoes grows through the winter, spring, and early summer. I usually plant more than half my garden in tomatoes, and add a small selection of other vegetables. In some years, I cram a bit of everything into my small kitchen garden. Still, I crave fresh tomatoes most of all (fresh peas are a close second).
I’ve spent the last five weeks compensating for my small kitchen garden’s winter hibernation. I made a trip to South Carolina, spent several days at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and made a head-first dive into growing alfalfa sprouts. I also have a pot of cilantro struggling away on a south-facing windowsill in my basement.
All of this has helped with my winter gardening blues, but it has also distracted me a bit from important mainstream gardening issues. Key among those: planting season looms large.
What Do You Want to Eat?
Even for a small kitchen garden, it’s helpful to plan for the upcoming growing season. I start all my vegetable garden planning with one thought: what do I want to eat? From years of growing, I’ve developed priorities.
In my laziest years, I’ve planted only peas, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and herbs; I can’t imagine a season without homegrown tomatoes, and fresh peas are so satisfying. Because my tastes are simple, I can find what I need at a nearby garden store. Usually, I buy seeds for Wando peas, Ithaca lettuce, a lettuce “salad mix,” and Bloomsdale Long-Standing spinach—all very satisfactory. I also choose flats from among a dozen or more varieties of young tomato plants. These are always in the store by the time I need them in my garden.
I saved a few dozen seeds from a gorgeous heirloom tomato a neighbor gave me. I’ll start these two, and several others indoors in March so I can transplant them to my small kitchen garden in May.
Even in years when I’ve squeezed more variety into my small raised vegetable garden, I’ve settled for seeds I could buy locally. That notwithstanding, every winter I pour over garden catalogs and hanker for all kinds of seeds I haven’t tried.
Get Ready to Grow
For most gardeners in the United States, this is garden catalog season. If you want to stretch your gardening muscle, you can’t wait much longer: get going with seed catalogs. If you find something special in a catalog, you may need to order now to have seeds in time for planting in your area. Especially if you plan to start seeds indoors, you should order immediately.
I’ll be starting some tomato seeds indoors, and maybe some peppers. I can’t move tomato plants outdoors until early May, so I won’t start seeds indoors until mid-to-late March.
In the meantime, I’ve become an affiliate of Nature Hills Nursery. This company has a history of on-line sales, and offers a great selection of live plants and seeds. Where you can find customer reviews of the company, you find more positive than negative feedback, which is a decent record for on-line nurseries. Here’s my take on the company:
Nature Hills Nursery
For seeds, Nature Hills is making the right moves. They sell Botanical Interests brand, a supplier that has signed the Safe Seeds pledge. This means seeds you buy from Nature Hills Nursery are not products of genetic engineering. What’s more, Botanical Interests has a large selection of certified organic seeds.
For live plants, Nature Hills has a controversial warranty policy. If your plants arrive damaged or dead, Nature Hills will replace them—but they want you to report quickly in case they need to place a claim with their shippers. If your plants fail after you plant them, Nature Hills will sell you replacements at half price plus the cost of shipping. This policy draws ire from some, though customers whose plants succeed seem quite happy with Nature Hills.
If you can live with the half-price warranty replacement policy, you’ll find terrific variety and good prices at Nature Hills. Still, I prefer that you shop locally for live plants (see box), and only buy on-line if you can’t find what you want at a local garden store or nursery. All that said, please check out the Botanical Interests seeds available on Nature Hills’ web site.
Here’s a link to the Nature Hills vegetable seed catalog. This link takes you directly to their organic seeds. You’ll find a lot of great vegetable offerings at both links. And, depending on your sensibilities, check out their selection of live small fruits (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and such) and fruit trees.