In the Garden

Living on the Earth, March 28, 1997: In the Garden

When I first started gardening, local folks told me to plant peas by St.
Patrick's Day, but we just got ours in this week.  It was too cold and wet here,
earlier.  It's good to know that peas can be sown as late as the end of April.
Peas planted later may do just as well or even better than ones planted earlier,
especially in a cold spring like this one. 

There are many vegetables besides peas that can be sown outside as soon as the
ground isn't frozen or too wet.  Just when this is depends on the micro-climate
of your garden and the weather. Turning over soggy soil destroys its structure
by collapsing the pore spaces which allow air to get to the billions of
organisms which make the soil fertile.  Early drying in the spring is one of the
advantages of the raised beds we use for most of our growing.   If your soil
isn't ready yet, it will be soon. 

Before planting, we turn under an inch or so of compost, and perhaps some finely
ground rocks in the form of limestone, rock phosphate or granite dust. These are
important sources of calcium, phosphorus and potassium, respectively.  There are
other things that can be added, but the compost is most important.

Doctors Abigail Maynard and David Hill of the Connecticut Agricultural
Experiment Station found in a 12-year long study that a garden fertilized with
just one inch of leaf compost each year produced the same yield as a garden
chemically fertilized with 10-10-10 and limestone every year.  And, the
composted soil had a better pH for growing vegetables, greater water-holding
capacity and was easier for roots to penetrate.  

You'll be amazed at how much you can grow in a well-prepared, four-by-eight-foot
bed, especially if it's planted with healthful greens. Many different varieties
of mustard, turnip, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and lettuce, of course, can be
sown now.  We're particularly fond of the big, red-leafed mustards, red Russian
kale, ruby red chard and arugula. These plants thrive in the cool damp spring
days.  Mustard, kale and chard provide a long period of eating because their
outer leaves can be harvested without destroying the whole plant, and they don't
go to seed in the heat the way spinach and lettuce do.

Early beets, carrots, and radishes  can be planted now, and parsnips need to be
planted soon if we expect to harvest them this fall.  Onion sets, shallots and
even potatoes can be planted soon, as can wheat, oats and barley.

This is also the time to sow cilantro and dill.  They both grow very well in the
spring, but go quickly to seed, or suffer from dryness if they're started much
later.  Once you grow them, cilantro and dill will likely self-seed,  so they'll
come up on their own in your garden almost every year. They can also be planted
in the fall, like some spinach varieties. 

Inside, now's the time to start broccoli, cabbages, tomatoes, peppers, parsley
and more lettuce.  If you are going to grow onions, leeks, eggplants, Brussels
sprouts or celery from seed, start them inside right away.    

Traditionally, this is the time when cold frames are very useful.  A single
layer of glass or clear plastic boosts the growth of spring greens by raising
the temperature, and can protect tender seedlings from late frosts.

Now's also a great time to transplant, and divide and set out many shrubs and
perennials.  Their vigorous growth in the spring, and lack of leaves, means that
they'll grow new roots quickly.  This year, we're moving blackberry and
gooseberry plants to places where they have more room and sunlight. 

Once we get seeds in the ground, or set out plants, we become connected to the
Earth by the excitement of new life and growth, and by the promise of abundant
flavor and nutrition created out of sunlight, air, water and a few minerals.
It's wonderful to have so direct a result from our labors. 

The Earth is springing to life.  With just a few seeds and a little work, we can
participate in the joyful rebirth of the season.  

Sow some seeds soon!

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

(C) 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491