Seasons of the Garden: Spring Planting

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PHOTOS: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
TOP LEFT AND RIGHT: French intensive gardening beds. BOTTOM: A worker tends plants in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS greenhouse.

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!

Mother’s Gardening Workshops

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.)

From the Catalogs

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.

New Gleanings

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.

Testing, Testing…..

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.