Posts Tagged spring vegetable garden
Cool weather in my part of central North Carolina has been uncharacteristically prolonged this spring. Blooms on our native deciduous azaleas and magnolias have lasted weeks instead of days, as did the spring ephemeral wildflowers like bloodroot. The spring vegetable garden has also benefitted from the cool weather. I do mean cool. Just last week, our morning low dipped down to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and low-to-mid 40s have frequently occurred.
Consequently, the summer vegetables I started from seeds at the usual time — mid-March — have been impatiently growing taller within my greenhouse for quite some time. I tried to wait until nighttime lows looked like they would remain in the 50-degree range, but this past week I finally had to plant my summer vegetable/herb/flower charges before I could promise them fully settled weather. They are in no danger of being killed by a freeze — I’m 99% certain of that — but I’ve read of studies that show fruit production of tomatoes is reduced for the lifetime of the plant if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees. However, I’m fortunate; fewer tomatoes won’t impact my household one way or the other; keeping towering tomatoes in the greenhouse, on the other hand, could have risked our entire crop.
As I planted out the summer vegetables, herbs, and flowers this past week, I pondered why it is I feel compelled to do this every year. I have decided the drive lurks within my DNA. Almost all my ancestors on both sides arrived in North America before the United States was born; most clear-cut forest and planted crops for food and profit. Their lives revolved around seasonal cycles, plant productivity, and insect and warm-blooded varmints trying to eat their livelihoods.
As I dig planting holes in beds I’ve been enriching with compost for three decades, I feel the hands of my grandmothers and grandfathers guiding mine. Food-growing is my connection to my lineage and to the land that shares its bounty with me. The sweat and sore muscles I accrue in the process seem a fair trade for what I am given in return.
I took all these photos yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, I finally transplanted the last few flowers I’d started in the greenhouse. Except for sweet potato slips, which don’t arrive or get planted until the end of May, the vegetable garden is planted.
Our Spring Vegetable Garden
I don’t grow carrots anymore. I never thin them adequately, and most years temperatures get too hot for them before they make much progress. Fortunately, many local organic farmers sell theirs at local markets, so we are always well-supplied. I hadn’t tried peas for years for the same reason, but something told me this year would be different. I started the peas in the greenhouse, because seed germination in cold, wet soil can be unpredictable. As soon as the pea sprouts had two sets of leaves, I transplanted them beside their trellis in the garden. Thanks to the cool spring, I see an excellent pea crop in our future — maybe even enough to freeze some for winter soups!
Wonder Spouse and I love beets. I grow two varieties — Red Ace and Detroit Red. Both make delicious greens that I’ve been popping into our salads for some time. Meanwhile, their delicious bulbs grow fatter in the cool spring weather. I only grew one lettuce variety, because it is so easy to buy organic lettuce from local farmers in my area. The variety I tried this year is New Red Fire; it is wonderfully tasty. Our unfinished basement makes a great root cellar, so we grow onions and potatoes that we store after harvest. Wonder Spouse likes mild, sweet Red Candy onions; I grow them from small bundled plant starts. Mr. Potato Head (aka Wonder Spouse) grows his potatoes in five large grow bags to thwart destructive voles. I know he’s growing two varieties this year, but I don’t remember the names at the moment.
Our Summer Vegetable Garden
This season I exhibited great self-control and only grew/planted three tomato varieties. Sweet Treats will always be our cherry tomato of choice. Picus has become our favorite plum/paste tomato. This year’s experiment with a medium slicing tomato is Rugged Boy. Only Sweet Treats is indeterminate, meaning it keeps growing longer all season. In theory, the other two determinate tomatoes should stop growing taller about mid-season and focus entirely on fruit production. I’ve noticed, however, that in my garden sometimes the determinate tomatoes forget themselves and grow nearly as much as the indeterminate forms. I tie them to either side of a 7-foot-tall trellis. By the end of the season, Wonder Spouse uses a stool to reach the fruits growing beyond my reach (even with the stool).
Peppers are a sweet Italian form, a variant of the traditional Bull’s Horn type that produces fruit half the size of their ancestor — a good thing for us — Bull’s Horn peppers are quite large. We grow a red one (Cornito Rosso) and a yellow one (Cornito Giallo). Because of their high vitamin C content, peppers freeze very well. Their colorful zing adds zip to Wonder Spouse’s culinary masterpieces all winter long.
I’ve had multiple years of success with a Japanese eggplant variety called Millionaire. It has shrugged off flea beetle damage and heat waves to remain productive until hard frost. We have become addicted to having a steady-but-not-overwhelming supply of these fruits all summer long.
I always grow a couple of zucchini plants I start from seed in the greenhouse. When I transplant them out, I cover them in a Reemay tent until they begin to bloom, so they can grow vigorous before I must expose them to the bug varmints of summer. I wrote about my method in detail long ago here. We like a variety called Raven. Its rich, dark fruits contain much antioxidant goodness and excellent flavor.
Because soil temperatures remained cold for so long, I only sowed my summer beans a week ago. After a recent copious rain, seedlings are emerging. Our pole bean of choice is Fortex; no other comes close for flavor and productivity. We love Jade bush beans for the same reason. I’ve taken to growing both on a trellis, allotting half to each variety. I find it is much easier to keep the bush beans upright and productive when I can lean or attach them to a trellis.
I’ve grown borage (Borago officinalis), an annual herb, off and on for years. I love the vivid blue of its flowers, and it is a pollinator magnet. I’ve never used it for its purported medicinal properties, but in researching it today, I learned that “the flowers, candied and made into a conserve, were deemed useful for persons weakened by long sickness.” Perhaps more of us should be growing borage this year to aid those recovering from world-wide sickness.
I know the folks in the Northeast are cold, snow-plagued, and miserable. I know the folks in the Pacific Northwest who prayed for rain for most of a decade are desperately looking for the emergency shut-off valve to Heaven. And I’m sorry for your troubles, truly I am, which is why I feel a tad guilty complaining about the temperatures dominating the southeastern Piedmont region of the US.
Sure, it got down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit at my house this morning. I had to remove ice from the bird baths. But according to the forecasts, I probably won’t need to do that again for at least ten days. And the way things are going, maybe not until next November. My neck of the woods is hurtling full-tilt-willy-nilly into spring.
We’ve already zoomed through crocus season, the snowdrops opened yesterday and will likely be done in a few days. I planted a variety of daffodils that are supposed to provide me with an extended seasonal bloom period, but I’m starting to think that may not happen this year.
I started seeds of greens for my spring garden during the first few days of February; at the time, I wondered if I was overeager. Now I’m exhorting the seedlings to grow faster, fearing that if I don’t get them transplanted into their garden bed soon, summer temperatures arriving by early April will melt them before we’ve harvested more than a salad’s worth. This. Is. Not. Good.
I posted the above shot to my Facebook page the other day, and someone there asked me to list the varieties I’m growing, because she couldn’t read the scrawls on the labels in the photo. So for her — and anyone else who might be interested — here are the spring salad varieties growing in my greenhouse right now.
- Coastal Star — This is my go-to green romaine lettuce. It stands up to the early heat that hits my area in late April/early May. This is the third year I’m growing it.
- Outredgeous — I grew this red romaine for the first time last season, and we loved it. It faded in the heat a little faster, but it stayed alive and productive this whole past winter for me beneath a row cover. I love this lettuce.
- Cherokee — This is a red summer crisp lettuce that I’m trying for the first time, because Johnny’s Selected Seeds (the source of most of my veggie seeds) says it is more heat-tolerant (i.e., bolt-resistant) than most.
- Ovation Greens Mix — I’ve grown this mix several years now. I get a nice assortment of fast-germinating speciality greens that give a nice tang or slightly bitter note to sweeter lettuces. They bolt very quickly in my heat. I direct-sow a few more when I transplant the starts in my greenhouse; sometimes that pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
- Seaside Spinach — This is a new smooth-leaf variety I’m trying this year, because it is touted as being bolt-resistant. I often have trouble persuading spinach to germinate for me in the greenhouse, but this variety is popping up and growing with enthusiasm — a promising start.
- Rosaine — I grew this red bibb lettuce for the first time last year. It produces really lovely thick, buttery leaves. It is supposed to be bolt-resistant, but did not impress me last season. However, like Outredgeous, it produced all winter for me under a row cover. I’m thinking red lettuces may be more cold-tolerant.
- Corvair Spinach — If Seaside remains as enthusiastic as it is starting, I won’t be growing Corvair again. This smooth-leaf variety is a downright temperamental germinator for me — and most everything germinates for me, so this is unusual. The plants that do show up, grow well enough, but I would rather grow a spinach that I can always count on.
- Sparx — This is a new green romaine I decided to try, because it is supposed to be heat-tolerant and high-yielding. It is back-ordered until March 1. At the time I ordered, I figured this would not be a deal-breaker, timing-wise. The crazy weather may preclude a proper test of this variety, but I’ll give it a try when it shows up.
That’s it for the greens. Believe it or not, I really tried to keep down the number of varieties I’m trying this year. I also tried to contain myself when it came to tomato varieties, but I compensated with a new pepper variety, and an eggplant that intrigued me. Seed catalogs in deep winter are very, very hard to resist.
The absurd warmth caused my flowering apricots to zip through their bloom cycles much more quickly than usual. Only Peggy Clarke Senior is still perfuming the air, albeit faintly, with the magical cinnamon-sweet scent of her rosy blooms.
Our Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Stars’ has opened flowers at the top of the tree. The forecasted heat this weekend will no doubt cause most of the rest to explode into bloom.
Both of my Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are in full bloom. I’m hoping the warmth will encourage pollinators to cross-pollinate them to produce fruits this year.
This member of the dogwood family doesn’t naturally occur in North America, but it doesn’t seem to be invasive, so I decided to give it a try. If I start seeing seedlings popping up, I will yank it out pronto.
My patch of Golden Ragwort grows larger every year. It does a great job of reducing erosion, and when it blooms, its bright yellow flowers make the ground glow.
The weekend is supposed to reach high temperatures in the mid-70s here, so Wonder Spouse and I will be outside preparing spring vegetable beds and hauling fallen branches knocked down by winter storm winds. I anticipate plenty of sore muscles and creaky joints. But it’s all worth it when we sit down to the first salad of the season.
I’ll leave you with one last photo. I posted this to my Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here for my non-Facebook followers. On February 10, we enjoyed a penumbral lunar eclipse. Just the left edge of the full moon in the photo below was obscured by the sun’s shadow, but it was discernible. The Amazing Wonder Spouse set up his tripod and took this shot. Enjoy!
My rain gauge recorded 1.77 inches of rain from yesterday afternoon until early this morning. The clouds parted by about 10:00 a.m., leaving clean air (no pollen!), moist ground, and almost visibly growing plants. A walk with the camera seemed essential.
The spring garden is growing well. We’ve been dry, so I’ve been watering lettuces, broccoli, onions, and potatoes to try to keep them growing, but I could see they weren’t as happy as they could be. Of course, some of that may have been because their coating of yellow-green pine pollen made them all look a bit sickly. But this morning, freshly washed, vibrant veggies greeted me.
In the greenhouse, the tomatoes I sowed last week have all germinated. Most of the peppers have too. The Scotch Bonnet pepper seeds I’m growing for a friend are still ungerminated, but they are notoriously slow, so I’m not worried yet.
The spring ephemerals have been coming and going fast, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather. Last night’s rain denuded all the still-blooming bloodroots, revealing erect seed capsules, standing like soldiers beneath the great canopy trees. The mayapples are full of flower buds, and the Atamasco lilies were putting up flower buds.
Blooming Shrubs and Trees — with Butterflies!
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies are literally everywhere, floating at all levels, from treetops to lawn. It is especially wonderful to see after last year’s near-absence of all butterflies. Today I saw my first Spicebush Swallowtail, but it refused to pose for me. There were several other new, uncooperative species, and a gossamer-winged dragonfly that I suspect was newly emerged. The flowers were more cooperative photographic subjects, although a gusty wind (that re-awakened the pollen) did create some challenges.
Despite the rain, Wonder Spouse and I did manage to get our front water feature going for the new season. We anticipate that the local frogs and toads that lay eggs in it every year should arrive as soon as this latest cool spell has passed. The plants in the pots look a bit bare at the moment, but the pitcher plants and the new Venus Flytrap in them have flower buds, and the moisture-loving milkweeds are growing quickly. I think all will come together for the plants in a month or so.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been reported in my area, but I haven’t seen or heard one yet. Just in case, the feeder full of sugar water is in its usual spot. Soon these flying jewels will join the increasingly evident wildlife to enjoy the bounty of blooms that signal Spring’s arrival on our five acres.
Happy Spring, everyone!
It’s been too long since I posted here. My apologies. Late winter in my corner of North Carolina has been a mostly soggy mess. And as I type this, yet more rain is pouring down upon my mushy landscape. I have been posting small items regularly on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page; if you use that social media tool, you may want to check out the photos and announcements of relevant events that I post there.
As I’ve noted on the PG Facebook page, beavers have once again moved into the wetland adjacent to my creek. They have built a dam downstream and off my property, which has raised the water level in the creek so that every rain event involving more than a half-inch is causing the creek to overflow in numerous places along my property, even cutting channels into what has been a stable, flat floodplain for over 25 years. It’s a real mess, and we’re not sure what, if anything, we can do about it.
The beavers are actively foraging all up and down the creek. In addition to harvesting a few saplings, they even “tasted” two of the Leyland Cypresses still standing beside the creek. To discourage them from returning, I sprayed the entire lower trunks of all the Leylands with a deer repellant spray in the hopes that it would make them taste bad enough for the beavers to ignore. So far <knock wood>, it’s working, but all this rain probably means I need to reapply the repellant.
But not all my landscape surprises are less than wonderful. Case in point: a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers appear to have chosen a sycamore just across the creek to raise this year’s brood. Until the forest leafs out, I can see this spot from my living room window and back deck. That’s a good thing, because when I try to walk near this tree, the woodpeckers make it clear that I am not the least bit welcome.
Another pair of late-winter nesters has settled in, as usual, in the wetland forest — Red-shouldered Hawks. They often lurk in the trees near our backyard bird feeders, but I haven’t seen them catch any songbirds. Frogs, salamanders, and earthworms, on the other hand, seem to be dietary staples. Wonder Spouse took that spectacular hawk photo two days ago when it decided to hunt from a tree in our backyard. He actually took the shot from inside our house. He is a wizard with his camera — and his post-processing software.
When we’ve gotten a few back-to-back days of sunshine, we’ve been hard at work preparing the vegetable garden for another season. All my seeds have arrived, and last Wednesday (2-16), I sowed my first batch of greens in my germination chamber. The ones in the above photo germinated in two days! I’ll enumerate the spring garden veggie varieties I’m trying in a new post soon. All the lettuces germinated instantly, along with baby kale and radicchio. The spinaches and parsley are only just now showing signs of germinating, which is entirely normal. When they are all well up and moved out of the germination chamber, I’ll sow another batch of spring veggies.
The two varieties of onion plants I ordered arrived mid-week, and I managed to get them all planted in their garden bed yesterday. I know they don’t look like much now, but if the voles will leave them alone, we have big hopes for these.
It’s always amazing how these stubby little onion starts that arrive with shriveled roots plump up in just a few weeks. I was delighted to get them planted the same week they arrived. Usually I’m not this organized and they wait a week or more. I’m hoping my efficiency will pay off in bigger bulbs. Stay tuned.
We’ve had a few bouts of deep cold and some ice — mostly freezing rain — which damaged my Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ flowers. They opened too early, thanks to the absurdly warm December we had here. Fortunately, not all the buds opened before the cold, so I’m able to enjoy a round of new blooms during our current milder spell of weather.
In addition to the witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ blooming well in the first photo of this post, my Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ trees are bursting with bright golden flowers. I’m hoping they will cross-pollinate each other this year and produce some of the red berries that give them their common name: Cornelian Cherry. I was thus heartened to see a pollinator on these flowers yesterday.
Of course, spring bulbs are well up. My crocuses were eaten by deer before I remembered to spray them with repellent. Snow drops and myriad daffodils are all loaded with buds and will soon be glowing in the landscape as it wakens from its winter slumber. Meanwhile, the lushest, greenest parts of my yard are the lichens, soft and fluffy from abundant rains.
Spring vegetable season screeched to a halt about three weeks ago when the rains disappeared. Drought plus heat plus voles equalled the rapid surrender of the spring greens. Lettuces and spinaches turned bitter and bolted. Yellow Granex onion greens fell over, refusing to push more food into the sweetly pungent bulbs. We yanked out everything but some pitiful (but still growing) carrots and a few smaller beets.
For the first time in our 25 years growing veggies here, the voles actually ate the onion bulbs! Never in my life have I seen this. Carrots? Sure. Potatoes? That’s why we use the potato bags now. But onions? See for yourself:
We hadn’t planned to pull up the onions and beets, but after Wonder Spouse pulled up a gnawed onion, we dug up anything of any size at all. Here’s about half of the pitiful onion harvest:
We found thoroughly chewed beets too, which is why we pulled them up. Fortunately, the voles left more of the beets alone, apparently favoring the onions — go figure. Here’s the beet harvest:
We ate some of these beets for dinner last night, and they were wonderful. Organic beets at the grocery stores have been unimpressive at best. Our freshly harvested purple-red globes were sweet, with an earthy undertone that added richness to the palate. We wish we had grown more.
I do still have a few later-sown beets growing, along with the slow-to-germinate-and-grow carrots, but unless the rains return and the heat backs off, I’m not hopeful about their outcomes.
The evil <expletives deleted> voles even undercut one of my Carmen pepper plants. I am seriously hating those rodents this year. But the tomatoes are tall and full of expanding green globes of future goodness. The beans are tall and full of flower buds. The first zucchinis are nearly large enough to pick.
If only the rains would come. Oh, they’re all over the radar — green globs of precipitation raining on everyone’s house but mine — so it seems, anyway. Theoretically, we still have chances the next few days. I’m trying to hold on to hopeful thoughts.
But even the Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs that had been singing lustily whenever a cloud crossed over have gone silent. Have they given up? Maybe they’re just saving their energy for a night of rainy love calls beside our front water feature, which is already nearly overflowing with tadpoles of varying sizes.
Wonder Spouse is muttering about buying more grow bags. Given the success he’s had with potato bags, he’s wondering if the way to beat the voles is to grow onions and beets in these containers too. We think perhaps our deer fence has discouraged black snakes from visiting our garden. Frankly, I may just grab the next one I see and carry it inside the garden fence. Surely it would forgive my interference for the chance to grow fat and happy feasting on our vegetable-fed voles.
On a happier note, the flowers are still mostly doing well, suffering only a few vole-related insults. And although most of the butterflies remain no-shows, the dragonflies are appearing in increasing abundance daily. And last night was the first time we saw hundreds of fireflies flashing luminescent messages to each other — first at ground level, then gradually dancing through the treetops as the night sky deepened to black. Always, Mother Nature provides compensations for the frustrations. I just have to remember to look for them.
I know that most folks measure the beginning of summer from Memorial Day, which is still a bit more than two weeks away, but I’m thinking summer has gotten a head start this year. My evidence? Well, there’s Tropical Storm Ana, which hammered the NC coast just as Wonder Spouse and I were departing. We had a lovely, mild week of weather, and Wonder Spouse took hundreds of great photos, like the one above (Click on the photo to see a larger version). Let’s all meditate on that tranquil shot and say a collective “Aaaah,” before I return to the garden tasks now facing me.
The vegetables were very busy while we were gone. Wonder Spouse took one look at the growth of his beloved potatoes and immediately unfolded another level of his potato bags, so that he could tuck in more of his magic growing mix around his prodigies.
The Kipfel fingerling potatoes really multiplied:
I’m thinking their reputation for productivity is likely justified. If you’ve never eaten a fingerling potato, try some from your local farmer’s market when they show up freshly harvested in a month or so. Pure potato heaven awaits you.
The Purple Vikings are not as numerous, but the plants have really bulked up. I suspect their tubers are doing the same thing.
My beans germinated while I was gone. The Fortex pole beans came up enthusiastically, but the Jade bush beans did not. I wasn’t home to water the soil to keep it softer for germinating seedlings, and the Jades, which are not as robust as the Fortexes, may have suffered accordingly. Or the voles ate the seeds. I seem to have a bumper crop of voracious voles this year. I try not to hate any of Mother Nature’s creatures, but I’m still searching for a reason to appreciate voles.
The peppers and tomatoes are filled with flowers and tiny fruits. I spent a good half hour or so tying up tomatoes that shot up a foot while I wasn’t home to watch them. The squash seedlings now have multiple leaves; they’re still safely tucked beneath their Reemay tents until they begin flowering.
The bed of greens needs a good harvesting before the heat turns them bitter. The dill, chives, and parsley really filled out, and enhance just about every meal we eat (I don’t put them on my morning oatmeal, but they make scrambled eggs sing).
And, of course, I can’t close without showing you some of the fabulous flowers currently adorning our five acres. The Fraser Magnolia finished blooming while we were gone. I can just see small seed cones beginning to develop. Currently, the Ashe Magnolia is showing off, and I do mean showing off. This shrubby small tree decided to bloom from top to bottom this year. And when I say bottom, I mean touching the ground.
I could smell the sweet perfume of this magnolia before I got within 20 feet of it.
The Ashe Magnolia’s bigger cousin, Bigleaf Magnolia is full of buds. It will complete the native deciduous magnolia show in another week or two.
The deciduous azalea show is winding down, but the cultivar of Rhododendron flammeum — Scarlet Ibis — is peaking this week. The blooms don’t look scarlet to me, but they are indisputably spectacular, with a subtle perfume that adds to their wow factor.
A few more currently blooming floral highlights before I close this post:
The two Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ plants I added some years ago have become a Sweet Kate horde, and that’s just fine with me. They will bloom off and on until frost, barring severe heat waves/droughts.
To close this update, let’s meditate once more on the peace and tranquility that only a spring trip to the NC coast can provide. Wonder Spouse took this shot from the deck of our rental cottage. After several hours of rain, the sun returned on the final day of our visit and painted the sky with a rainbow framed against departing clouds (Click on it to fully appreciate the shot).
Sorry for the prolonged silence, folks. I’ve been too busy to write, thanks to a break in the weather. After the snow melted, we got 1.28 inches of rain, which caused my creek to flood.
Although our vegetable garden is at the top of our hill, a good 200 yards or so up from that active floodplain, the raised beds were still unworkable for a while. I actually hit ice in the first one I tried to weed before the rain came! But my property is blessed with sandy loam instead of Carolina clay, so my raised vegetable beds became workable a few days ago, and just in time. My greenhouse was overflowing with eager spring lettuces, spinaches, and assorted other greens.
I rid two vegetable beds of their winter weeds. The crimson clover I had planted to prevent their takeover was killed by our super-cold February temperatures. But the henbit and chickweed thrived. At least they are relatively easy to remove.
I was hoping to direct-sow some carrots, but they need a minimum soil temperature of 55 degrees, and as of yesterday afternoon, my soil temperature was 48 degrees. Maybe next week, if the clouds will part to allow the sun to warm the beds.
I know they don’t look like much, but that’s a lot of potential salad in that shot. I left a bare spot in the middle for a few carrots, when the soil temperatures allow. I mulched the new transplants with the last of the mushroom compost we had delivered last season. I finished off that pile, so we’ll be getting more delivered as soon as the weather allows.
The kind folks at WordPress who created and maintain the blog software I use provide me with many useful statistics, including a daily list of search terms folks are using that lead them to my blog. From this, I know that a number of Piedmonters are starting to think about spring gardens and what they should plant. So I thought I’d share with you what I’m growing this year and why.
First, gardening — especially vegetable gardening — is a trial-and-error endeavor. Even if you grow the same varieties every year, you won’t get the same results. Weather, diseases, insects, seed quality, pollinator availability, varmint invaders — these are just a few of the variables that make it impossible to be sure you’ll end up with what you envision. That being said, I’ll tell you what usually works for me.
This assumes, by the way, that your garden area is already prepared and waiting. If you’re just now contemplating breaking ground for a spring garden, forget about it — unless you’re going with a container garden. The soil is too wet, and you don’t have time to get it ready for a spring garden. If the soil dries out soon, you could still grow summer crops in new ground, but it will take some serious work on your part. I wrote about soil preparation here.
What I Grow
I like to experiment, so most years I try at least a few varieties that I’ve never grown before. Sometimes the hype in the seed catalogs leads me astray, but sometimes I strike gold. That’s how I found Sweet Treats tomatoes — a cherry tomato variety I can’t live without now.
In the spring garden, there’s really only one kind of onion variety that grows well in our area. Onions are tricky, because most are sensitive to the amount of daylight they receive. The only kind I find worth growing are Yellow Granex onions. These sweet onions remain reliably mild. Mine rarely obtain the enormous size of the ones I see in the grocery stores, probably because I never manage to give them as much water as they want. But we always end up with a nice crop of medium to small sweet onions that store very well in our cool basement.
Spinaches come in two forms — smooth-leaved and savoyed-leaved. Savoyed-leaved varieties have wrinkly leaves. For me, the savoyed-leaf types seem to grow better, but if I plant early, I usually get at least some smooth-leaved leaves worth eating too. Spinach in my garden bolts at the first sign of heat. An 80-degree day is enough to get it to start sending up its seed stalk. When that happens, the leaves turn bitter and inedible very quickly. I always look for varieties that are described as “bolt-resistant” or “heat-tolerant.” Even so, the spinaches are done well before the lettuces every year in my garden.
This year, I’m trying three different spinach varieties. Tyee is one I grow every year, because it always seems to be the last to bolt. It is a savoyed-leaf type. I’m trying another variety, Crocodile, of the same leaf type. This year, the smooth-leaved spinach I’m trying is Corvair. I purchased all three varieties from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
OK, I admit I always go a little nuts with the lettuces. Back in January when I’m perusing catalogs, I’m nearly always craving fresh greens. I look at all the pictures, read the enticing descriptions — and I just can’t seem to stop myself from ordering an array of selections. A few tried-and-true varieties are always on the list, but I’m always on the lookout for new varieties touted as heat-tolerant, productive, and tasty. My selections this year:
- Annapolis — This is a red romaine that I grew last year and loved. I think it was the last lettuce to bolt last year.
- Coastal Star — This a green romaine that also holds up very well in the heat. In the most recent growing years, the romaine lettuces have outlasted all other types.
These are the only two lettuces I ordered from Johnny’s this year, because I had already been tempted by the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog to order a few of their offerings:
- Merlot — a leaf lettuce reputed to be “the darkest red lettuce in existence.” Red lettuces, as with red/purple fruits, contain beneficial phytochemical nutrients. Baker’s claims it’s very bolt-resistant. Time will tell.
- Slo-Bolt — a green leaf lettuce with a name that tells you why I’m trying it. The Baker’s catalog claims it to be an excellent variety for the South. That’s me.
I also love the bitter speciality greens so often featured in fancy salads these days. The arugulas, mustards, and assorted other brassica relatives are very quick to bolt in my spring garden. So I limited myself to one mix from Johnny’s called Ovation Greens. They did produce a nice mix, which I interplanted in the bed with the lettuces and spinaches. I also got a complimentary packet of Tuscan Baby Leaf Heirloom Italian Kale from Renee’s Garden. The packet says it is a fast-growing variety designed to be picked small for salads. Free seeds for salads? You know I had to try it. I suspect it will bolt quickly; I’ll keep you apprised.
I started a few dill plants in the greenhouse when I planted the greens. Like the greens, dill bolts in the heat, and I wanted to try to give some an earlier start than I can provide with direct sowing (that soil temperature thing again). Interplanted with the greens are a few, slightly spindly Superdukat Dill plants from Johnny’s. This variety is supposed to produce more leaves than flowers, and it is the leaves we use in cooking. I’m hoping the plants will look more lively after they adjust to their new surroundings.
Interplanted with the onions are a few Red Ace beets that I started in the greenhouse. They germinated quite well for me. I’m hoping that I’ll get bigger beets by having plants in the ground this early.
I am absolutely gambling on the weather by transplanting now. I plan to cover the greens bed in a tent of heavy-weight garden fabric to protect them from freezes. But I won’t be able to get to that for a few days. If the temperatures dive more than predicted, I could be in trouble. But the prospect of an early, prolonged salad season was too tempting to ignore.
After I finished planting yesterday and took pictures of the results, I walked around the yard to document some of the early-blooming trees and shrubs beginning to explode with color. I’ll share some of those shots soon.
For those of you wondering about summer garden plants, if you’re growing from seed, you should not wait any longer to start your tomatoes and peppers. I’ll share my progress with those veggies soon too.
So much to do and show and tell. Surely, it must be almost Spring!
Is is just my yard, or is everyone seeing an explosion of growth from their gardens? There is so much to see that I really need to be outside every day with the camera. I am certain that I’ve missed peak moments of some of my spring beauties.
Everywhere I turn, I am wowed by another gorgeous flower — like that iris in the above photo. Long ago, I chunked some irises into a bed in my vegetable garden, thinking it would be nice to have a place for cut flowers and to bring in pollinators. I’ve forgotten the names of the varieties planted there, and most years, I am very slow to get their area weeded. But despite nearly complete neglect, they reward me with spectacular flowers every year. I love that about the bearded irises.
Speaking of which, check out these:
These jaw-droppingly gorgeous blooms live in my front garden — another currently very neglected part of my yard. But do they complain? Never! They continue to multiply, blooming ever more magnificently every year.
Another plant that stops everyone in their tracks in my front garden this year is the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’). It grows and blooms so wonderfully that I’ve had to prune it severely several times over the years to prevent it from pulling down the trellis it perches on.
Why, you may ask, am I missing daily walks and neglecting beauties like those above? Two things: the vegetable garden and the greenhouse. As you may recall, my greenhouse was jam-packed with plants I grew from seed — veggies and flowers. However, in my part of NC, by early May, our temperatures are usually getting summertime hot. Even though the roof of my little greenhouse is covered by shade cloth and ventilated with a temperature-sensor-controlled fan — and I keep the door wide open during the day — temperatures get into the 100s in there pretty early.
Thus, I’ve been in my annual race to get everything growing in the greenhouse planted and/or moved to their summer spots before they sautéed themselves in the greenhouse. I’ve been working dawn to dusk at least every other day (weather permitting) to achieve that goal. And I just finished yesterday. Yes, I am tired, and yes, my aging, overused joints are not entirely happy with me. But it’s done. Every seed-grown start has been transplanted, watered, and mulched. Now it’s up to them and the whimsies of weather.
Top priority was the vegetable garden. Food plants always trump flowers. If I do say so myself, that part of my yard is looking pretty darn good. See for yourself.
The Fortex pole beans are making excellent progress.
One thing I love about a late spring vegetable garden — everything looks so neat and tidy. After the plants have grown a while, weather, bugs, and diseases create a more “lived-in” look.
Today is the first day my area will go into the 90s since last September. I have not missed those temperatures. Also, all the bugs are back — the good, the bad, and the really annoying — biting flies, gnats, ticks. It’s a jungle out there again, or getting there anyway.
No more working dawn to dusk for this gardener. As summer temperatures settle in, I’ll be up at dawn for a bit of quick pruning, tying, watering, and harvesting, then back indoors by 9:00 a.m. Unless a rare cool spell stops by.
Also stopping by this week, a couple of critters I don’t often see. A Red-headed Woodpecker hung around my yard for about 4 days, even sampling my suet feeders. I see them every once in a while, but they never seem to stay. I’ve always wondered if the Red-bellied Woodpeckers drive them away.
This other critter was trying to hide in my garage when I found him. I suspect he escaped from a load of wood chip mulch that I’d been spreading. That’s where these beetles live, so it was likely my fault that he was wandering around my garage. I relocated him to the mulch pile.
I haven’t begun to enumerate all that’s showing off in my yard right now. The Ash Magnolia blooms will be open very soon. The deciduous azaleas are amazing this year. The swamp wildflowers are ridiculously enthusiastic, likely from all that rain they had last summer.
I confess I spend my too-infrequent walks around the yard exclaiming over the loveliness of a bloom, the rate of growth of a particular shrub, the tiny discarded cones beneath my towering Dawn Redwood. Spring in my garden makes me a child again — surprised and delighted by every gift Mother Nature bestows on me.
It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks, but Wonder Spouse and I have just about got the vegetable garden where we need it to be. Mostly, anyway. Certainly, the bed of lettuces, spinaches, arugula, and broccoli is doing very well. We’ve enjoyed a number of quite tasty salads. However, as usual, the arugula has already begun to bolt. It’s really too bitter to eat now, and I will force myself to pull it up as soon as the scary weather predicted for the next several days is safely past us.
The spring garden was planted later than usual, because our darn temperatures wouldn’t stabilize, and because the ground was too wet to work longer than usual. My greens are doing well, because I started them in the greenhouse and then transplanted them to their bed.
But by the time I direct-sowed the beets and carrots, it was already about a month too late. They’ve sprouted beautifully, but the plants are still really seedlings. I am not hopeful that I’ll get much from them unless May high temperatures are much, much lower than normal.
Wonder Spouse’s potatoes are doing well. Here’s what one bagful looked like earlier in the week:
This past weekend, Wonder Spouse unfolded another third of the bag, filled in around the plants with the rich leaf mold/compost mix he devised, and counseled the plants to produce yet more tubers at this higher level.
The onion plants I transplanted in mid-March are doing well. I’m trying to be very attentive about watering them. For once, the well we use for the garden is full to the top, so I can be more generous with this precious resource than in recent past springs.
Of course, as soon as the spring garden was in, I began weeding the beds set aside for summer vegetables and flowers. Weather — again — slowed my progress, as did my cranky joints. Alas, this aging gardener has discovered that repetitive gardening tasks are ideally allotted to alternating days, at least if I want to walk upright.
When I saw the weather forecast for this week — basically, an entire week of rain — I knew that the tomato starts in my greenhouse would never last another entire week confined there. So, ignoring my joints and with the help of Wonder Spouse this past weekend, the tomato beds were power-weeded, planted, and mulched.
It is a very satisfying feeling to step back and admire a well-planted, well-mulched bed. Of course, now I will chew off my fingernails worrying about hail and damaging winds.
The first summer bed I prepared was for the Fortex pole beans. I think I planted them about two weeks ago, and I may have gotten 100% germination from them. I am excited.
I also got my squashes planted yesterday. I start them in the greenhouse, to ensure top-quality plants. Direct-sowing isn’t a terrible option, but when you have a greenhouse, you might as well use it. I transplanted three plants each of two kinds of zucchini — Spineless Perfection, and a new variety for me — Dinja. As soon as they’re tucked in, watered, and mulched, they are covered in their garden fabric tents to prevent insect pests from devouring the baby plants. As I explained here, the fabric comes off when the first flowers open.
I interplanted a few basils and marigolds with the tomatoes, but I have many, many flower and herb plants impatiently waiting their summer homes in my greenhouse. I can’t even think about their relocation until this terrifying weather pattern is past and the ground dries out. My area is predicted to receive 3-5 inches of rain. I’m praying my yard receives the lower end of that range.
Several of the tomato plants were displaying their first open flowers when we transplanted them, so I’m praying that the weather will be kind, and I’ll be devouring fresh-picked tomato fruits soon.
That’s about it for the veggie update. But I can’t close without mentioning the arrival of two species of birds that I associate with late spring — Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Summer Tanagers. The grosbeaks visit for about two weeks every spring and fall on their migrations to their summer and winter homes. My well-stocked feeders are a favored stopover for them.
The Summer Tanagers nest in my region every summer. I rarely see them, but I hear them often. They exchange a chipping call high in the treetops as they hunt for and devour the zillions of caterpillars that feed on the leaves of my canopy trees.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks in the middle of the country being hammered by tornadoes. It is indeed a cruel twist of Fate that Spring is often as destructive as it is beautiful.
Stay safe out there, ya’ll.
I am not a gambler by nature — except for gardening, of course. Anyone who tells you gardening is a science is kidding you, or themselves perhaps. Science can help a gardener, to be sure. Understanding the environmental microclimates on your property, the species that naturally occur on it, and the geology of your land will absolutely contribute to your gardening successes. But wild cards abound — weather fluctuations, animal predation, neighborhood vandalism. Stuff happens; gardens suffer. Sometimes.
As a gardener for over five decades now, I weigh all the variables as best I can, then I go with my gut. Experience should count for something more than wrinkles, right? It should help me make the right gardening calls when my options are not absolutely obvious.
Thus is the dilemma of spring vegetable gardening in my region of North Carolina. Some years, spring has come so reliably early and warm that I’ve planted out tomato plants in early April. Then there are years like this one. For most of last week, weather forecasters were calling for snow for my region today. Measurable snow is not unheard of around here this time of year, but it is unusual — and entirely unwelcome.
As last weekend approached, the weather seers began to vacillate. Perhaps the snow would miss my area and pound the northeastern US instead. Perhaps. But is perhaps enough to gamble my spring vegetable garden on?
Surveying the size of the greens thriving in my greenhouse, and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to plant them out for at least another week if I waited, I decided to gamble.
On Friday, I planted the onion plants that had been patiently waiting for me since Monday when they arrived in the mail. Onion plants are remarkably forgiving. Even though they look a bit shriveled and worse for wear when you make them wait, experience has taught me that they’ll plump up in no time, sending up green shoots, putting out fresh roots, and fattening sweet bulbs for later harvest.
I mulched the newly planted onions with mushroom compost from my favorite local supplier. This material is used by local mushroom growers once, then recycled into compost after harvest. It makes my local earthworms deliriously happy, and it protects the onions from heavy rains. I planted onions at either end of one of the long beds. In between, I’ll sow seeds of beets and carrots as soon as this latest round of wintry weather passes and the following warm rains end.
On Saturday, Wonder Spouse focused on his beloved potatoes, while I tucked in all the greens I described in my previous post. As I mentioned in that post, I did acquire a flat of broccoli seedlings to plant with the greens. They’re in the back on the left in the top photo.
After his success with potato bags last year, Wonder Spouse was eager to use them again, with a few variations, of course. Instead of placing the bags on top of the soil of a bed, this year, he dug out shallow holes for the bags before he filled them. He has three bags, so he’s growing one variety per bag. Here’s what his supplier had to say about the varieties he’s growing this year:
- Viking Red — Bright red skin, holds well in storage. Full-bodied flavor for baking and boiling that is extraordinary. Grows great in Texas and hot climates as it has ability to withstand heat. Rapid sizing, can grow from golf ball to baseball size overnight.
- Purple Viking — Has all the characteristics of its parent Viking Red, but it has a true purple skin with pink-red splashes. Perhaps its most remarkable attribute is its waxy snow-white flesh. Drought-resistant and a yielder of large tubers. Its unique taste is loved by many and will get sweeter with time.
- Marris Piper — This favorite from the British Isles never disappoints! Producing high yields of large, cream-skinned, cream-fleshed oblong tubers, Marris Piper makes awesome French fries and mashed potatoes that are out of this world. It’s very similar in taste and texture to the Kerr’s Pink and Yukon Gold potatoes with higher yields.
Here’s the first bag just before he buried the seed potatoes:
At the back of this photo, you can see my bed full of newly transplanted greens. Here’s what the bed looked like before I started.
Here they are newly planted and fully mulched with more of that lovely mushroom compost:
The garden fabric we used is heavy enough to protect from heavy frosts, but probably not out-and-out prolonged freezes. And what we had on hand was not exactly the right size, so Wonder Spouse performed his usual magic to make it work for us. Here’s the final result:
Although the snow now heading for the northeastern US missed us, the cold will visit for about 48 hours. Lows are forecast to be in the mid-twenties, which at my house usually means low twenties. But one night will be windy, which is actually a good thing, as long as the hoop fabric holds.
The next night, however, will be flat-out colder than normal for this time of year. Will my transplants survive? See my first paragraph above. Sometimes, a gardener just has to go for it.
I carefully weighed the pros and cons. Experience has taught me that spring temperatures don’t last long in my area. Spring greens are only happy when the air is cool. Thus, I made the call to not wait another week to get them in the ground. I’ve done all I could. They’re well mulched and watered, and they are covered securely by their fabric shelter. They are also still small, which makes them a bit more resilient, at least, that’s usually the case.
I’ve got about three nervous days in front of me before the weather warms and turns rainy for the weekend. Will my garden gamble pay off? Stay tuned, my gardening friends. Whichever way it turns out, I’ll be sure to share the outcome.
I confess I am hopeful. After all, we’ve already dodged the accumulating snow once forecast for my region today. Here’s hoping fresh-picked spring salads are just a few weeks away!