This has been a cold spring. We had a snow shower here on March 12th. With the soil so cold and soggy, starting your vegetable garden can seem like so much effort. Consider using some of our typical cold climate techniques to get the soil warmed for planting. Build cloches out of plastic or old windows, use floating row cover, create raised beds and, of course, start lots of seeds indoors. I generally start many more transplants than I need in my own garden. If I have a particular crop failure (slugs ate the lettuce, rabbits got my broccoli, or weevils got my peas) I always have another flat of vegetable starts I can substitute in that raised bed. With luck I have extra vegetable starts I can share with a neighbor.
If you need motivation to get going in your garden, think about the easy access you’ll have to the fresh, delicious produce just outside your door: wonderful salad mix, sun ripened tomatoes, bounteous zucchini, sweet carrots and onions. All these will be there for the picking. No one had to get into a car and drive to the store or depend on the trucking (oil guzzling) industry for a very fine dinner entrée. Instead of snacking on chips and cookies, take the children (or parents) on a stroll through the garden and enjoy fresh peas or a carrot.
Food gardening saves money and guarantees a diet of more fruits and vegetables. This sets up a healthy lifestyle that will last a lifetime. I am so grateful for the modeling my mother and grandmother gave me for appreciating home grown food. Through gardening, I have developed a greater appreciation of biology, physiology, entomology, chemistry, geology and even meteorology. The activity of food gardening takes us outside where we notice and participate in the natural world.
This month you should continue to plant all the green leafy vegetables you want in your dinner plates this summer: lettuce, mustard, summer spinach, choy, cabbage, broccoli raab, etc. Usually we plant these seeds closely and then thin out the small ones for delicious early snacking. That will leave room for the remaining plants to mature without crowding. These plants like a rich soil, with compost or another organic nitrogen source and lots of water, which our April showers provide. If you haven’t added lime in a few years, mix a handful into the soil where you plant the Brassicas: broccoli, choy, kohlrabi, mustard and cabbage. Our acidic rain and heavy, wet soils can encourage the dreaded club root fungus, which stunts and usually kills many of our favorite Brassicas. Keep a higher pH in your soil (add lime) and club root should not be a problem.
I am watching the return of a couple of vegetables that I don’t have to re-plant every year. I am referring to the perennials: rhubarb, sorrel and asparagus. I started these from seed a couple years ago and will probably harvest them every spring for the next 10 to 20 years. From planting to harvest may take a couple years but it is worth it! We are enjoying sorrel in our salads and sandwiches now. In a few weeks we’ll be roasting our asparagus in a hot oven for 10 minutes with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. For the rhubarb, we’ll be serving up rhubarb crisp, rhubarb pies and perhaps rhubarb jam this year.
Maybe on the next warm, dry day, you’ll have the time to prepare a few beds, adding plenty of compost for the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squashes you’ll plant out in May. I’ll have more information on these warm season crops next month.
Enjoy the coming spring and may the longer days inspire us.