With spring planting hard upon us, here are some ideas to get your garden off to a good start.
It's early spring . . . and while some parts of the country still sleep under a blanket of snow, elsewhere the snowdrops and daffodils make their welcome appearance, and the sunshine-yellow forsythia brightens wet afternoons. Days lengthen, the air mellows, and green shoots break through the damp soil. Spring planting time is almost upon us. Put in a "fingers crossed" crop of smooth-seeded peas on St. Patrick's Day and hope for the luck of the Irish!
If your hankerin' to learn more about biodynamic cultivation/French intensive gardening techniques, you're in luck. MOTHER EARTH NEWS is offering a series of two-week gardening workshops this spring and this summer on her beautiful mountain acreage. Attendance will be strictly limited to six persons per session, so each student will be able to have plenty of hands-on experience with creating French intensive raised beds, wide-row rototiller/mulch gardens, and innovative plots for perennial vegetables and herbs. Attendees will also be able to work in MOTHER EARTH NEWS' solar greenhouses, help design new gardens and landscaping plans, and discuss with experts the latest in horticultural techniques. The cost (including camping) is $250 per two-week session, and special provisions can be made for longer-term apprenticeships. (Since attendance is so limited, there are no provisions for families or pets.)
Seed catalogs continue to appear in MOTHER EARTH NEWS' mailbox, and there are plenty of featured new crop varieties for the innovative gardener to try this season. Two exclusive items in the free 1980 listing from Thompson & Morgan are particularly noteworthy: Blondy, the world's first predominantly female zucchini squash . . . and an exotic Italian broccoli named Romanesco.
Blondy is enormously productive: A heavy concentration of female blooms (with just enough essential male blossoms to ensure pollination) appears even before the true leaves are fully developed ... and the first golden fruits are ready for harvest in just 45 days. The white heads of Romanesco broccoli resemble clusters of tropical coral . . . and you can get two crops a year of the creamy buds if you set your first hardy transplants out three or four weeks before the last frost.
Nichols Garden Nursery also has a number of new offerings. The disease-resistant Corvallis pea will be a boon for damp-spring climates where the soil is unworkable until April. Corvallis is highly resistant to enation mosaic virus, and moderately resistant to pea streak disease. Nichols is also offering Tutti Fruitti, a small French ever-bearing strawberry with superb flavor and a creeping habit. Northern gardeners will be thankful for two new melons from Nichols: Earli-sweet, a three-pound cantaloupe that's ready for the table in just 68 days . . . and Earli Dew Hybrid, a remarkable honeydew that matures in only 75 days.
Southern growers should keep their eyes open for the new Park's Sunbelt Gardens catalog. It's full of plants that produce particularly well below the Mason-Dixon Line . . . . To the list of hydroponic suppliers in P.A., add the name Garden Variety. In addition to pipes, pumps, and nutrients, the firm offers — for only $5.95 — a do-it-yourself "Rain Garden" hydroponic planter kit that includes plans, blueprints, and a half-year's supply of fertilizer.
Is plant growth in your garden disappointing, are your yields off, and do pests and diseases wreak havoc with your crops? Well, how long has it been since you tested your soil? As you may know, nutritional deficiencies can be responsible for many of the most common garden ailments.
Most all county extension services can arrange for soil tests free or at a nominal charge . . . or, if you'd like the convenience of instant results, why not run your own tests? One of the manufacturers of do-it-yourself soil test kits, Sudbury Laboratory, recently sent MOTHER EARTH NEWS a sample. We found it accurate, easy to use, and most helpful in assessing the health of a garden. Small samples of earth are treated with four chemical solutions, and the hues of the resulting mixtures are compared to a series of color charts that come with the kit.
The matching colors indicate the soil's pH and the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash needed to achieve full fertility. In MOTHER EARTH NEWS' test case, a long-neglected garden plot scored a pH of 6 and nutrient needs of 6% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 3% potash. Turning to a provided table of fertilizer equivalents (both organic and non-organic), we were quickly able to determine that 40 pounds of blood meal, 17 pounds of rock phosphate, and 91 pounds of wood ash per 1,000 square feet would restore fertility to our soil. The folks at Sudbury recommend frequent monitoring of soil nutrients . . . and their kit certainly makes the task easy.