Guide to Early Spring Seasonal Gardening

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You don't need to do it all. What does work nicely is to try different enterprises - pigs, bees, timber harvests, whatever - over the years to discover what you like best, whether they fit together well, and what most benefits your family, your land, and your budget. Keep what works.

InThe Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner (Story Publishing, 2017) by Ann Larkin Hansen, she believes in working with natural processes and cycles rather than against them. She shows that doing activities and processes in the proper season, when it would naturally occur or when conditions make the job most efficient, is the best way to spread work evenly though the year.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner

Soil thaws and warms through the season to 40 degrees and higher. Cool-season grasses begin to grow, but slowly. Spring small grains are planted as soon as the ground can be worked.

Mud, flood, blossoms, and babies signal the arrival of spring, though the surest sign is the frost going out of the ground  —  and staying out. In early spring the work that’s needed during the growing season really starts: at first it’s just a trickle, but within a couple of weeks it feels like trying to drink from a fire hose. Unless it is dry, the soil is at its softest just after the frost goes, making this the easiest time of year to put fence posts in the ground. As the soil firms and dries, tilling and planting get under way and livestock can go out on pasture (but keep feeding them hay). Traditionally it’s also rock-picking time, if you have rocky soil.

Seasonal Priorities for Early Spring

Garden

Plant peas and other cold-tolerant vegetables as soon as the soil softens.
Spread compost and purchased amendments (such as lime and blood meal) on the rest of the garden when the soil begins to firm up.
Till as soon as the soil is dry and firm enough to work.
Start more seed inside for mid- and late-spring plantings.

Field

Check for winterkill in the hayfields as green-up begins.
Reseed any affected areas when the soil can be worked and at the same time that you disc and overseed winter feeding areas.
Spread manure (from winter feeding areas and the barn) in the crop fields as soon as the soil is dry enough to run equipment without rutting or getting stuck in the mud, then till under both manure and winter cover crops.
Pick up rocks.
Finish tillage, such as discing or dragging, to prepare a good seedbed.
Plant spring small grains as soon as possible.

Pasture

Finish clearing and repairing permanent fences.
Start putting up temporary fencing for rotational grazing.
Disc and seed poor areas if they haven’t been frost seeded.
Start grazing as soon as the ground is dry enough that hooves won’t cause serious damage.

Orchard

Finish pruning before green-tip bud stage, remove the debris, and decide whether to save or replace damaged trees.
Plant new trees.
Continue to look for and destroy tent -caterpillar egg cases and nests.

Beeyard

Continue to feed if indicated up until the first major nectar flow.
Open hives on a warm day to check for health and strength.
Medicate according to regional recommendations.
Clean up any winter mouse damage.
Replace worn combs and parts.
Place new hives, and hive new queens and bees.

Barn

Finish winter manure cleanup.

Finish spreading or stack or compost the manure.
Keep livestock penned in the barnyard or sacrifice area until the soil dries and firms up.
Calving,kidding, or lambing begins for most.
Prepare sty or hut and paddock for weaner pigs, and lock in an agreement for picking them up after weaning.

Coop

Set up the brooder and get the temperature right several days before new chicks are due to arrive.
Purchase chick starter feed and chick-sized grit ahead of time.
Install new chicks in the brooder.

Equipment Shed

Pull out tillage and planting implements so they’re ready to go.

Woodlot

Plant trees and control invasive species.
Maple sugaring ends as both night and daytime temperatures rise.
Seed patches of raw dirt on the trails and spread a light mulch.

Wildlife Habitat

Till and plant native grasses and forbs in set-aside areas as soon as the soil can be worked.
Put up birdhouses built during winter.
Burn established prairies, if needed, at this season.

Seasonal Chores

Garden

As soon as the soil is dry enough to walk on, remove any mulch, apply any amendments, then till or dig the garden, turning under any winter cover crops. (A heavy mulch or cover crop may not till under easily and may have to be mowed first, or removed and composted instead.) If you are observing the NOP Final Rule, don’t put fresh manure on the garden unless you are certain there will be at least 120 days before harvest. Better yet, don’t put any manure on the garden in spring; we apply it on the hay fields in spring and manure the garden in fall. Compost can be spread this season, however, if you didn’t spread it last fall and your compost pile has thawed.

Cold-tolerant vegetables can be sown in the garden; continue to start cold-intolerant and long-growing-season vegetables indoors or outdoors in cold frames or other protective structures (see page 26 for information on starting seeds indoors and soil temperatures for germinating different vegetables).

Order of Planting

Plants differ not only in their tolerance of cold and heat, they also take very different amounts of time to sprout, grow, and mature. Vegetables and herbs that need a long growing season and don’t tolerate cold should be started indoors; those that like cooler conditions and mature rapidly can be planted directly in the garden as soon as the soil is warm enough for that type of seed.

The basic planting schedule below is built around the average date of the last frost. You can vary it according to packet directions for a particular variety (there can be considerable variation within a species) and your own inclinations.

Plant Type: Slow to Sprout  –  parsley, leeks onions (seed)
Start Inside: 15-20 weeks before last frost

Plant Type: Very Hardy  –  Peas, Lettuce, Crucifers (or plan mid-summer for fall harvest), Spinach, Parsnip, Spring Small Grains
Start Inside: 10-14 weeks before last frost
Transplant to Garden: 7-9 weeks before last frost
Sow Directly in Garden: As soon as soil is thawed and you can erect a mini hoop house or cold frame

Plant Type: Moderately Hardy  –  Potatoes, Leeks, Onion Sets, Root Crops (or plant midsummer for fall harvest), Field Corn
Sow Directly in Garden: 4-6 weeks before last frost 

Plant Type: Tender  –  Tomatoes, Peppers, Sweet Corn, Tender Herbs, Beans, Squash and Melons
Start Inside: 4-6 weeks before last frost
Transplant to Garden: After last frost
Sow Directly in Garden: After last frost and after soil is warm


Excerpted fromThe Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner, © by Ann Larkin Hansen, used with permission from Storey Publishing.