Posts Tagged spring vegetable planting

Charge of the Lettuce Brigade!

Here they come!

Here they come!

Can you feel it? The Spring Peepers can; they sing in my swamp with more vigor every day and night. Even the House Finches are feeling it. One came to the bird bath on my deck this afternoon with his mouth full of nesting material. He dropped the bundle of grasses beside his feet to drink, but the strong March winds blew it away before he’d taken a sip. I don’t think he was really ready to build a serious nest anyway. Perhaps the imminent Vernal Equinox (March 20) has him a bit addled.

I’ve been waiting for below-normal temperatures to abate so that I can start preparing my spring vegetable beds. It looks like this weekend will finally bring proper preparation conditions — and the amazing Wonder Spouse has even agreed to lend a hand. The timing is good. The seven kinds of greens growing in the greenhouse will be transplanting size very soon. And I need the room — it’s nearly time to start sowing tomato and pepper seeds.

I did not originally intend to grow seven kinds of greens this year. I had settled on five from my favorite seed supplier — Johnny’s Selected Seeds. But then I got my complimentary seed order form from Renee’s Garden (courtesy of my membership in the Garden Writers Association), and temptation overcame me.

This season’s spring garden will consist of the seven greens currently growing in the greenhouse:

  • Lettuce, New Red Fire
  • Lettuce Salanova Home Garden Mix (more about this another time)
  • Lettuce, Coastal Star
  • Spinach, Emu
  • Vitamin Green Greens
  • Spinach, Summer Perfection
  • Asian Greens Mix

The first five are from Johnny’s, Summer Perfection is from Renee’s, and the final Asian greens mix was a freebie seed package from some other supplier, whose name I’ve managed to lose track of.

Also currently growing are seedlings of Bouquet Dill from Johnny’s and Blue Boy Cornflowers from Renee’s. Ideally, dill is best direct-sowed, but unpredictable weather — mostly in the form of hard rains — usually gives me sparse results when I direct-sow. As long as I transplant these herbs while they’re small, their somewhat temperamental tap roots should adjust without difficulty. One can never have too much dill, in this gardener’s opinion.

The Cornflowers are gorgeous blue annuals that bloom early, laughing at late frosts. I love the intense blueness of the flowers, so when I saw Renee was offering some, I jumped at the chance.

Because these are early spring plants, I didn’t use my germination chamber with the propagation mat to warm them. They don’t need the help. Even my cool greenhouse (I set the heater to come on at 45 degrees Fahrenheit) didn’t slow them down. All but the dill germinated in under five days. The dill took seven. The cornflowers won the contest, sprouting in less than 24 hours — now that’s enthusiasm!

Dill seedlings in the right foreground, cornflowers in the right background, spinach front left, Asian greens mix left back.

Dill seedlings in the right foreground, cornflowers in the right background, spinach front left, Asian greens mix left back.

When the garden beds are ready (i.e., weed-free), I’ll tuck in the greens, mulch with some fibrous compost mix I picked up from a local supplier, and enclose them in garden cloth supported by wire hoops. The cloth will protect the greens from all but the hardest of late freezes, and will also discourage rodents, who have learned to slip through my fence and help themselves — either field rats or meadow voles — or both.

I’ll be direct-sowing several varieties of carrots and two varieties of beets as well. Carrot seeds are as hard as dill seeds to germinate reliably, but Johnny’s offers pelleted seeds. They encase the seeds in little balls of clay, which dissolve when exposed to moisture. It is vastly easier to place these little clay balls where I want them — and to keep them where I put them. This year’s root crops will include:

  • Beet, Red Ace
  • Carrot, Early Nelson
  • Carrot, Sugarsnax
  • Carrot Nantes Starica
  • Carrot, Snacking Rotild
  • Beet, Dutch Red Baron

The last three are more freebies from Renee’s Garden that sounded too good not to try. Those carrots aren’t pelleted, so I’ll have some side-by-side data for comparison.

The only other spring crop this year will be Wonder Spouse’s potatoes. The order is due to arrive next week. I’ll keep you posted on that experiment, which I mentioned previously here.

I’ve given up on peas, either English or Sugar Snap varieties. Weather patterns have grown too unreliable for them, no matter how early I get them in the ground. Early heat waves destroy pod production just as flowering grows enthusiastic.

Early heat is the main enemy in a North Carolina Piedmont spring garden. Most of the greens I picked were chosen specifically because of their purported resistance to early summer heat. Carrots and beets are less affected — unless the heat leaps in the 90s in April — and heaven help us all if that happens!

Even after the spring garden is planted, there will be no time to rest. The summer beds will need to be prepared to receive the tomatoes and peppers that I haven’t even started yet (another week or two). As soon as the ground is warm enough, I’ll direct-sow the beans. I’ll start the squash seeds after the tomatoes and peppers are well germinated. They need less time to reach transplanting size.

So much to do, and an aging body to do it with. But Wonder Spouse and I will persevere, knowing that the rewards are delicious and good for us too.

But first, all those vigorous winter weeds must be removed from the planting beds. Charge!

Winter weeds have responded with frightening enthusiasm to recent rains.

Winter weeds have responded with frightening enthusiasm to recent rains.

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The Agony of Success

Lovely, aren’t they? Due to a childhood filled with perpetually pink gifts from a well-meaning grandmother, I’m not usually a big fan of pink. However, these daffodils were freebies from the same company that gave me the pink hyacinths I showed you here.

Both sets of bulbs have prospered. And in my fantasy garden land where I stay on top of all my chores, they would have been divided and spread around several years ago to prevent the crowding that inevitably leads to diminished blooms. These bulbs are rapidly approaching that limit. Will I get to them? Unless friendly garden elves suddenly appear to help me, probably not.

Most days on my five acres, I am so besotted by the beauty I encounter at every step that I manage to ignore all the to-dos clamoring for their turns. Today, as creaky joints and aching muscles protest my every move, the beauty is being outshouted.

I spent the last two days finishing the initial planting of the spring vegetable garden. I was pushing hard to exploit a window of absurdly mild, dry weather that preceded today’s morning rain (a mere 0.28 of an inch). This weekend, temperatures will dip a bit below freezing — not enough to slow my well-watered and tucked in spring veggies.

Remember the greens I started that needed transplanting? I last showed them to you here. Now they are all tucked into their final destination:

Mulched greens

I was delighted by the number of earthworms I annoyed as I prepared this bed on Wednesday and planted it yesterday. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can just make out the wire hoops over the bed that support the weight of the garden fabric that you can see here:

No varmints or cold spells will bother them now

I realize the cloth isn’t exactly draped elegantly. The wind was blowing in a cold front, so I settled for functionality and disregarded aesthetics.

After I got them in, I direct-sowed seeds of beets, two carrot varieties, two more lettuce varieties, a package of mixed mesclun greens, and another spinach variety. They don’t look like much yet, but here they are freshly buried and watered:

And here:

You can see that I am not compulsively neat. Functionality is my concern. I’ve found that these crosswise initial planting rows usually work well. I sowed the seeds relatively thinly, but if the plants germinate well, I’ll need to thin them. That’s why I left spaces between the planting sites. If I end up not needing the space for greens, I’ll tuck in flowers and herbs there.

The greenhouse looks much emptier without its crowd of robust greens. But the remaining seedlings are — mostly — doing well. I always start six plants of each tomato and pepper variety. I plant out two, and find good homes for the rest. That’s never a problem; I’ve found that few folks say no to free tomato and pepper plants.

Indigo Rose only yielded two excellent seedlings and a puny-looking third — 50% germination. I’ve sowed new seeds in the spaces that didn’t produce. Here they are sitting by themselves in the germination chamber:

Indigo Rose germination disappointed

However, Super Marzano — my other new tomato variety this year — yielded a 100% germination rate. For some reason, I lost my mind and planted twelve seeds. Here they are with my four reliable tomato varieties, all of which also germinated 100%. The Super Marzanos are the big ones in back that had a two-week head start over the others.

The peppers and basils did not disappoint me either. Here they are raring to go on the greenhouse shelf beside the tomatoes:

Note the purple-colored Amethyst basils at the top right.

The Super Marzano tomatoes will need to be upgraded to individual pots very soon. And it’s almost time to sow more flower seeds in the greenhouse. In fact, it’s probably time right now. After the upcoming chilly weekend, next week’s temperatures are predicted to soar into the upper seventies, with nighttime lows not dipping below forty. That’s crazy talk for mid-March; much more what I’d expect for middle to late April.

The good news? I am well-prepared with an abundance of enthusiastic veggie seedlings to try to wrest spring and summer veggies from too-warm, too-dry soil. And as soon as I am able to once again walk fully upright without limping or groaning, I’m going to get right on that.

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Racing ahead of the vernal equinox

See those little green sprouts just peeking up through the soil? Those are the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas I planted two weeks and four days ago. A few peas have been up for several days, but this morning I counted 24 pea sprouts. When the warmth returns day after tomorrow, I predict that at least that many more will appear. I like peas. I planted a lot of seeds.

Although I thought I had watered them well, I think the peas were waiting for a significant rain event, which we finally got this past weekend. My rain gauge reported 1.1 inches of rain for the two-day event. My creek actually rose and got silty! The floodplain held puddles of rainwater for over 24 hours. That hasn’t happened in so long that I can’t remember the last time it happened. Ten years ago, the floodplain was usually puddle-covered most of the winter. Of course, it helps to actually have a winter season, something we didn’t get this year.

Which brings me back to those enthusiastic peas. Most years, I’m just thinking about planting them, and this year they’re up and running. Did I mention how much we love the flavor of snap peas? They freeze well, so no pea is ever wasted.

It’s not just the vegetables that aren’t waiting for the vernal equinox to start their spring shows. Check out the blooms on my Chinese Redbud:

Chinese Redbud

Not all the blooms have opened, but enough now display their lavender radiance to brighten that corner of my winter landscape.

The native spicebush is covered in diminutive yellow flowers that make their visual impact by their sheer numbers — especially effective against a winter sky:

Lindera benzoin flowers 

The crimson flowers of the red maples are morphing into equally vivid seeds — samaras, the botanists call them.

Acer rubrum flowers morph into winged crimson seeds

Many of my ornamental stars are rushing full tilt into spring bloom. Check out these pink hyacinths:

My beautiful Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ is cracking open its petals. I’m hoping they’re still closed enough to avoid getting zapped by tonight’s predicted temperatures in the low twenties.

Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ showing hints of yellow

There’s more, which I’ll show you soon. Every time I walk our five acres these days, something else is taking a headlong leap into a spring that hasn’t officially started yet.

Meanwhile in the greenhouse, all the tomatoes I sowed last Wednesday have germinated; most achieved 100% germination. Viva Italia, Early Goliath, Sweet Treats, and Big Beef are all up; these are my old reliable varieties, and I’m not surprised they’re raring to go. Indigo Rose seedlings began showing up a day after the first sprouts of those other varieties, and now all but one of the seeds I sowed has sprouted. My primary supplier of tomato seeds sent me a freebie package of mixed heirloom tomatoes, which I couldn’t resist. Most of those have germinated now, responding in about the same time frame as Indigo Rose.

With the impending explosion of tomatoes in the greenhouse, it is imperative that all spring veggie starts get planted out into the garden ASAP. My goal is to get them all tucked in before predicted rains return this Friday. I’m also hoping to direct-sow all the other spring garden veggies: beets, two carrot varieties, and many varieties of salad greens. Before I can start, I must pull winter weeds and crimson clover off of two large beds. I see a tired body and cranky joints in my near future.

But the pain will be worth it when I’m dining on just-harvested spring salads. My timing is good. The full moon will be smiling down on the newly planted garden this Thursday while Spring Peepers and American Toads chorus in the swamp, and the eerie territorial calls of Screech Owls (heard for the first time ever yesterday) echo among the still bare trees.

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Seventy degrees tomorrow …

Chive bed on morning of 2-20-12

Last Sunday night, a cold rain morphed into brief snow, just as the weather seers predicted. It began melting as soon as it stopped, so Wonder Spouse ran out with a ruler to document it: right at an inch — for about 15 minutes.

The next morning after the sun rose, I grabbed a few photos of the yard before the white stuff from our twenty-four-hour bout of winter vanished. In the above photo, those are chives that I grew from seed last year. They had already begun putting out vigorous new growth, and they are laughing at this bit of snow — probably enjoying the added moisture.

I told you about the onions I planted here. This is what they looked like yesterday morning:

Snow onions — for 12 hours

You can barely see them poking through the snow, but they’re there, and they are just fine. Ditto for the skinny ones I planted on either side of the sugar snap pea trellis:

Snow sugar snaps and onions — for 12 hours

I am hoping the peas will emerge later this week during the bout of predicted 70-degree weather.

The rain that preceded the snow coated many of the trees and shrubs, and that water briefly froze as the snow fell, creating thin ice encasements for some branches and buds. But, again, it didn’t last long enough to hurt anything. Instead, the ice added to their aesthetic appeal, as you can see here:

Emerging Cercis chinensis flowers capped by fleeting ice

Alas, the weather forecasters were correct when they backed off on their precipitation quantity predictions. All told, our rain gauge reported a mere 0.75 of an inch. Not enough to begin to quench the rising thirst of wakening vegetation. If the rains don’t come soon, it will be a very depressing growing season indeed.

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Game on!

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’ laughs at the threat of snow

Tomorrow, the weather seers are forecasting cold rain for my region, a rain that may end tomorrow night as a light dusting of snow. If it occurs, that will be the first, and I suspect, last frozen precipitation of the season.

I’m much more interested in the rain forecast. Earlier in the week, the weather gurus were promising me 1.5 to 2.0 inches of rain. Today they have backed off to a measly half inch. We’re in moderate drought here, and as buds swell and early flowers bloom, the tiny bit of soil moisture we have will be rapidly consumed by thirsty just-wakening plants.

This morning just after dawn when Wonder Spouse went out to fetch the morning paper, he called me outside so that I could hear voices we haven’t heard in our yard in fifteen years. The haunting pipe-organ-deep calls of two Great-Horned Owls echoed across the floodplain as they called back and forth to each other. My bird books tell me they probably nested a month ago. Perhaps they were searching for one last tasty rodent to feed nestlings before they all settled in for their daily snooze.

We are delighted these nighttime hunters are back. Don’t get me wrong, we love the Barred Owls that have shared our landscape with us from our first year here. Their calls are lovely as they echo through naked trees, but to my ear, the calls of Barred Owls are much livelier — friendlier, if you will — than those of their Great-Horned cousins. Both sets of dawn-calling voices are welcome in my landscape as the sun begins to color the eastern horizon. The more rodent-eaters in my landscape, the better, I say.

All the birds have been lively during our continuing Winter That Isn’t. We suspect the eggs in the Red-Shouldered Hawks’ nest must have hatched, because all we have to do is step into that side of the yard to provoke both hawks into warning calls: “No trespassing here; babies on board!”

Finally, salamander egg masses are clearly visible in the little shallow pond on our floodplain. You can see the swelling eggs embedded in the gelatinous mass that Wonder Spouse photographed yesterday:

Salamander egg mass

I’m a little worried about the impending salamander larvae. Today I noticed at least one enormous bullfrog tadpole loitering in the shallows of the pond. They are notorious gobblers of anything that moves. Wonder Spouse and I are considering investing in a net so that we can remove these unwelcome additions to our salamander haven.

When I’m not watching the animals, I’ve been working on spring vegetables. On Valentine’s Day, I spent the afternoon transplanting the lettuces, spinaches, and swiss chard that I started a few weeks ago. This is what they look like now:

Spring veggie transplants adjusting nicely

Also on that day, I loaded up the germination chamber with newly sowed seeds of three pepper varieties and one tomato variety — Super Marzano. Peppers are notoriously slow to germinate, usually taking at least a full week even with bottom heat in my cozy germination chamber. I had room for one tomato variety. I picked Super Marzano because the package says they require 90 days from planting to picking. That’s about 20 or so days longer than most of the other varieties I’m planning to grow, so I figured they could use a head start. Today, 8 of the 12 seeds I sowed have germinated. Some are taller than others, but you can see at least parts of 8 seedlings as they push their way toward the light.

Tomatoes emerge while peppers take their time

Also on Valentine’s Day, my onion plants arrived in the mail — one bunch of Yellow Granax Onions. They are kin to the sweet Vidalia onions of Georgia fame. They did very well for us last year, so we figured we’d try them again. Of course, they arrived after I’d finished gardening for the day, and their bed wasn’t ready yet anyway. Fortunately, these dormant little plants can wait up to a week to be planted, so I tucked them into a dark, cool spot in the garage and promised them I’d get to them soon.

Last Thursday, I sowed Sugar Sprint Snap Peas into the bed I’d prepared for them the weekend before. This is two full weeks earlier than I’ve ever planted peas before, but I’ve also never seen a “winter” like this one before. The soil was barely moist and merely cool, not cold. It took four gallons of water from the watering can to moisten the soil sufficiently after the peas were tucked in. I am hopeful they’ll be eagerly sprouting next week when our absurdly mild February weather returns.

This afternoon, I planted the onions. It always amazes me how many tiny plants are in one bundle. I devoted one entire bed to them — 127 of them to be exact. Here they are after I watered them in:

127 newly planted onions

They don’t look like much now, but in a week or two, they’ll be greening up and thickening. Right now the roots are rehydrating; tomorrow’s chilly rain shouldn’t hurt them at all. Even a little ice shouldn’t bother them at this stage. The challenge with onions is water; they need an inch a week. I’m definitely gambling on the weather with these veggies.

Of course, I had more onion plants than bed, so I tucked in the remaining plants (47 of them) on the outer edges of the pea bed. I’ve done this before with good results. Here’s how they looked after getting watered in:

Pea bed with newly planted onions

As soon as the peppers and Super Marzano tomatoes finish germinating, I’ll be moving them onto a greenhouse bench so that I can sow more tomato varieties. Meanwhile, I’ve got to prepare the other beds in the spring garden quadrant of my garden, so that I can sow carrots, beets, and many more lettuces and spinaches. Plus I’ll be transplanting the starts growing in the greenhouse. I’m aiming for the end of the month to have the spring garden completely planted. That will be two to three weeks earlier than I’ve ever done this in all my 40+ years of gardening in the Piedmont.

Will I regret my rush to take advantage of what seems to be a record early spring? Maybe, maybe not. But for good or ill, the game is on!

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