Archive for the ‘Spring’ category

Forced Rhubarb

January 7th, 2010
Doesnt that look delicious?  Forcing rhubarb results in an earlier, tastier, more tender crop.

Doesn’t that look delicious? Forcing rhubarb results in an earlier, tastier, more tender crop.  The container used to force this rhubarb probably should have been taller – note that the tops are curled over.  Sure is a pretty color though.

Rhubarb is a perenial plant which grows back from the root crowns every spring.  The large leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous, but the celery like stems are wonderfully tart and tangy.  Children like to eat them fresh right out of the garden, but nearly everyone likes it used as a fruit in sweet deserts – pies, crumbles, or just stewed with sugar.  My Mom (a marvelous cook of course – thanks Mom!) used to make it into a pie with strawberries.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Don’t worry too much about those poisonous leaves – they apparently taste so nasty that there is not much danger of anyone eating them anyway.

Here in TN I can barely grow rhubarb – although last year was so cool and rainy that it did pretty well.  It really does much better farther north » Read more: Forced Rhubarb

April in the Garden

April 3rd, 2009
The Garden in April is full of potential.

The Garden in April is full of potential - and mud.

Here in middle Tennessee (zone 6b) April is high time to plant the main season garden. Our likely last frost date is about April 15 and by the end of the month even the most conservative gardeners are planting out tomatoes and peppers.

Spring weather can be very frustrating for gardeners – often going from too cold to too wet – be prepared with seeds, bedding plants and other supplies so that you can  jump on it when the opportunity arises.   By the time the weather is reliably dry for garden work it may be well on its way to becoming too dry – seize the day.

If you haven’t already planted  peas, brassicas, lettuce or other cool season crops or you want to do a succession planting you have a window of opportunity early in the month to do so, but the longer you wait the less likely success becomes because hot weather will arrive before many of those can mature.  However you are more likely to be successful if you set out plants instead of trying to propagate from seed.  Potatoes can be planted any time, but earlier is better for this cool season crop as well.

Once the last frost date has passed most things can be planted with a few notable exceptions.

Sweet corn and beans both require warm soil (70 degrees F more or less) for reliable germination.  Too much rain can also cause poor germination rates, because seed can rot.  It’s probably best to wait until the end of April  for these crops.

Phenology For April

  • “Plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrels ear, or when apple blossoms start to fall.” Consider that a squirrels ear is about 3/4 inch more or less – This old saying is probably a great guideline for field, dent, and heirloom varieties, but you might want to wait a little longer before planting hybrid sweet corn.
  • “Set out tomatoes when dogwood winter has passed, or when wild day lilies start to bloom.” Dogwood Winter is a cold front which often passes while dogwoods are in bloom or may actually trigger them to bloom. This year – 2009 –  dogwood winter was April 6 – 7 and featured overnight lows around 30 F daytime highs around 40  and a rain/snow mix all day on the 6th.
  • “Plant peppers and eggplant outside when bearded iris is in bloom.” This one probably applies to all manor of cucurbita,  cucumbers, melons, and squash.
  • Watch out for “Blackberry Winter” – A cold front associated with the flowering of wild blackberrys – often the last wide spread frost of the year occurs during blackberry winter.

Strawberries will be flowering soon (or already) and – along with other tender plants – will need to be protected from frost once you see blooms.  When berries start to ripen later in the season they will need protection from birds and other berry eatin’ varmints.  Plan ahead to have horticultural fleece, wire mesh or floating row covers ready to deploy if you plan on getting any fruit.  Those same materials can also be used later to protect young squash plants from egg laying vine borer moths.

April is not a bad time to plant strawberries as long as you have realistic expectations.  Strawberries set out in April will yield very little if any fruit this year, but by September they will each produce many daughter plants which can be transplanted at that time for a crop next year, and a great crop the next spring.  A six pack of plants started now in rich soil will be a nice little berry patch by next year if you play your cards right.

It’s Almost Slug Season – Joyous Joy.  Warming wet weather along with tender plants = slug paradise.  Watch for the tell tale holes in vegetation and take prompt swift measures – I favor jar lids full of beer for the slimy little lushes to drink their selves to death in.   Giving the kids each a flashlight and salt shaker could also be an effective – if less politically correct – form of slug based entertainment.  Mulch, rocks, boards and other rubbish provide hiding places so consider removing those things from problem areas if possible.  Also avoid over watering.

Get a Bird House! – While you are at the garden center consider stimulating the economy by buying a bird house.  But, don’t buy one of the cutesy gingerbread looking houses that are more for decoration than for the birds – instead get one which is specifically made for a particular bird – bluebirds and wrens are particularly receptive.  Birds might nest in an ornamental birdhouse, but the poor bird ergonomics can leave them vulnerable to nest predation.   If you put up a bird house now it might have occupants in just a few days.  Getting to see babies in the nest is a great treat for children – and adults.  Educate yourself a bit by Googling for the targeted species to learn about nest box location needs.

In April the greenhouse is full to over flowing.

In April the greenhouse is full to over flowing.

In the GreenHouse

Late this month I will probably remove the plastic covering from my 50 Dollar greenhouse or at least remove the doors.  Right now it is completely full of salad greens of all kinds, container plants, tomatoes trying to get an early start, early broccoli and cauliflower that is just starting to form heads, and tons of chick weed.  However I don’t foresee a lot of use for it once the weather turns reliably warm, and the plastic will be more likely to serve another year if I don’t leave it in the hot sun all summer.  I consider the greenhouse to be a great success so far – well worth the effort and small cash outlay – and I have high hopes that as I learn more about how to manage it, that it (along with cold frames) will become a key part of sustainable year around food production for my family.

The Thing About Strawberries

April 2nd, 2009
Each of those flowers will soon be a sweet juicy strawberry.

Each flower will soon be a sweet juicy strawberry.

When you visit the nursery or garden center in the Spring you will probably see potted strawberry plants for sale – some already with berries starting to form.  The thing is, Spring is too late to grow any strawberries. However, it’s the perfect time to grow strawberry plants – then you can get lots of fresh sweet strawberries out of your garden next spring.

Go ahead and buy a few of those plants this spring, and set them out 16″-24″ apart in a more or less permanent location in your garden.  If you can bring yourself to do it pluck off those berries as soon as possible – they won’t amount to much anyway – let the plants concentrate on growing.  Keep them weeded and watered, and fertilized this summer, and by fall you will have lots and lots of these…

One strawberry Mother will spread by runners to form many daughter plants.  If not thinned in the fall, very few strawberries will form, but each of those daughter plants can be transplanted in the fall and will bear fruit the following spring.

One strawberry Mother will spread by runners to form many daughter plants. If not thinned in the fall, very few strawberries will form, but each of those daughter plants can be transplanted in September or October and will bear fruit the following spring.

In September, transplant those into your “real” strawberry patch.  You could easily get a dozen daughter plants from each of the originals that you purchased this spring.  Next spring you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Starting Early in the Garden

March 25th, 2009
A simple cloche made by cutting the bottom out of a milk jug my be all that is required to protect early garden plants from cold weather.

A simple cloche made by cutting the bottom out of a milk jug may be all that's required to protect early garden plants from cold weather.

By April in zone 6 we’re experiencing some really nice Spring weather.  A few people (me) are already setting out tomatoes early in the month and covering them with milk jugs until they get going.  Some even started planting in March – potatoes, brassicas, and garden peas especially.

I’ve often heard the opinion that starting your garden “too” early is a waste – plants which are set out later will quickly catch up to those which have had to suffer through erratic spring weather.  I accept that this might be true, however I like to get an early start anyway for these reasons:

  1. I just LIKE to get an early start.
  2. The weather is fine and makes the work much more enjoyable.
  3. It’s easier to harden off the plants during cool moist weather than it is once it starts to get hot.
  4. You don’t have to be as vigilant about watering as you would later.
  5. If you wait until later to plant everything all at once the job can be over whelming – so an early start allows you to spread out the work load.
  6. If you get the opportunity to plant early in the season you might want to take it because wet weather (or life)  might prevent you from working in the garden when you need to later.
  7. In my completely anecdotal and unscientific experience – Gardeners who start early have more overall success.

Starting early is a gamble, and you must remain vigilant and prepared in case of cold weather – frosts and overnight temps below freezing are a distinct possibility in April.  As a general rule your plants will survive those late frosts without a hitch if you cover them with anything – sheets, buckets, plastic, mulch, anything – so be prepared with sufficient materials to do so and watch the weather reports.

Even so, every once in a while a really freakish late cold front will blow through and kill a few things – but not very often.

A few things really should not be planted until the soil warms up – notably corn and beans* – these seeds are likely to rot in cool wet soil before they germinate.  However, you can get an early start even with those by planting them under a simple plastic tunnel to warm the soil and protect them from cold and too much rain.

So maybe my tomatoes won’t ripen any earlier, but I’ve never regretted getting an early start in my garden, and I have regretted a late one.

Happy Gardening!

* Fava Beans are different and can be planted much earlier – you should give them a try!

March in the Garden

February 28th, 2009

March is when things really start happening in the garden – even though some wintry weather is normal for this month you can’t help but notice the flowers appearing, the buds swelling, and the birds singing – nature knows that winter is almost over.  If you haven’t already placed your seed order you need to do it ASAP! If you save your own heirloom seeds you don’t have to worry about buying seeds – ever again.

March is the right time for planting many cool season plants, but unfortunately the unpredictable weather means that it might be hard on any given day to work in the garden.  So try to take advantage of any break in the weather to  prepare the ground as soon as possible.  Add  compost, manure, lime and other soil amendments at  planting time if you haven’t already.

Freeze hardy annual and perennial vegetables can be planted or set out any time in March:

  • Potatoes *
  • Onion and Shallot sets
  • Peas**
  • Fava Beans
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Rhubarb
  • Horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichokes

Frost hardy vegetables can be seeded or set-out later in the month: » Read more: March in the Garden

Plan Now for a Fall Garden – Before it’s Too Late!

February 19th, 2009

Before it’s too late?!  Yes, that’s not a joke.  It’s still winter but the cabbage, broccoli, peas, potatoes, etc that you’re planting now (or soon will be) for your early spring garden are almost the same things you will want to plant in July – August (in zone 6)  for a Fall garden.  The thing is that seed will be hard to find, and seed potatoes and bedding plants will be just about non-existant by then.  Buy a few extra now while they are plentiful  and stash them for later.  You’ll be glad you did.

Spring is Here – Time to Garden!

January 13th, 2009
Cocus Flowers in the Snow - Carmelite Monastery Chapel Bettendorf, Iowa

Cocus Flowers in the Snow - Carmelite Monastery Chapel - Bettendorf, Iowa

OK, Spring isn’t here yet, but it is time to take some action. I know, there’s a blizzard blowing down today, but in just a few weeks (around February 15 in zone 6) it will be time to plant spinach out in the garden – and by the end of February it will be time to plant early potatoes. Not to mention anything that you are planning to start indoors.  So, this is just a heads up.

If you’re hoping to plant any varieties that aren’t available off the shelf it’s time to place your seed order pretty soon.  No catalogs?  Just Google for garden seeds and place your order online.

In just a few weeks it WILL be spring with birds singing and buttercups blooming – and you’re going to want to get your hands in the dirt.   An early start really helps you to get the most out of your garden – and will make your garden the envy of the neighborhood.  Act now so you can be ready!