Spring is here and thoughts are turning towards the garden. In northern areas, many think that it is necessary to wait for Memorial Day Weekend before the seeds can be sown. While that is true of the tender crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash, there are lots of vegetables that don't mind a bit of frost. I always begin with these individuals and by the time it has really warmed up, I'm ready to plant the sensitive ones.
I prepare the ground by first removing any sticks and leaves that came down over the fall and winter. Next, I dust some kelp meal and organic alfalfa meal over the surface. An inch or two of compost or well-rotted manure is added to that. Then, I loosen the soil by forking it up with a broad fork or a pitchfork. I never turn it over. In nature, leaves fall to the ground and decompose from the top down. Trees don't rototill their leaves above their roots. This allows the worms, micro-organisms, bacteria, fungi and other soil creatures to maintain their domains and pathways. I then gently rake it flat.
I broadcast them meaning that I throw them all over the ground not just in rows. James Crockett used to say, “If you are stingy with your peas, they will be stingy with you.” So I throw down lots of peas. I then use my fingers to push them down an inch or so into the soil, dusting some neighboring soil over them. Peas need something to climb on so it's best to set up some tomato cages, trellises, chicken wire or sticks right in the bed.
I prepare a whole bed, but I only plant a couple of feet at a time. Lettuce gets bitter and goes to seed, so I plant it every ten days to two weeks all summer long. I also broadcast these seeds. The early thinnings go to the chickens, but once they are the size of a tablespoon, I bring them in and eat them.
I like to make hills with a depression in the top (like a volcano) about two feet apart for most, a bit closer for the kale. I always leave room at both ends of these beds to plant marigolds later. This greatly keeps the cabbage moth away. The “gem” series (shown) are adorable as well as edible. I will plant several seeds in each hill even though it will eventually get thinned to the heartiest one.
Swiss chard, turnips and beets can all be planted before the frost is done. I plant these in rows. While I leave a good bit of room between the rows, I sow them fairly thickly. It's not hard to thin them, but difficult to replant if the germination is not good. The Swiss chard and beets are not really “seeds” at all, but small fruit. They will send up many shoots which definitely need to be thinned.
Potatoes can be planted when the dandelions start to sprout. Plant them as deep as you can because the new ones will grow only above where the seed one was planted. If frost threatens once the leaves are out, hoe a bit of dirt over them for protection.
Onions and leeks can be planted early as well. For best results, buy plants. They don't mind being crowded in their pots before being set out in their beds.
The carrot rust fly lays its eggs around May 21st in our area. This turns into a maggot which burrows into the vegetable making it impossible to keep in the root cellar. So I generally wait until after this date to plant my carrots. They can be planted sooner if they are covered with some protection like Remay.
One year, we had a cold spring and I dutifully waited until May 22nd to plant the carrots. No sooner did I have the seeds in the ground, then dozens of flies began flying in and landing just on that bed! I quickly covered it and smushed the ones already there.
These “happy faces” bring smiles to the people who find them in their salads.
While it is not summer yet, it is definitely time to start planting. Happy gardening!
I am offering gardening, canning, freezing and other workshops out of my home this summer. Go to my web site to check it out: www.celestelongacre.com.
Celeste Longacre and her husband, Bob, have lived sustainably for more than 35 years. They grow almost all of their vegetables for the year and preserve them by freezing, canning, drying and using a home -built root cellar. Celeste ferments much of the couple’s produce and makes her own sauerkraut, kimchee, and fruit and beet kvass. She is the author of Celeste’s Garden Delights and writes a gardening blog for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. For more information, visit Celeste’s website, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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