Gardening 101—Spring is here!
Easter is behind us. We hope you enjoyed a most blessed time with your family and friends…and now Mother’s Day is in front of us. Our average last frost date of May 28th is quickly approaching.
You can be in full gardening mode soon.
April 28 through May 4
This week you can start hardening off your cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprout seedlings, as well as all seedlings in the crucifer family, for transplant. The ideal situation is to have a cold frame, but if you don’t have one, place your seedlings in an area that is somewhat protected from harsh, cold and drying winds while still getting a good amount of sun. Gradually increase the time you leave them outdoors, watching carefully for signs of stress until you can leave them outside full time. You MAY be able to cover your seedlings with plastic to provide the necessary protection at night, as long as the temperatures continue to rise during the day and the temperatures are not below freezing for more than 4 hours during the night. Remove the plastic during the day so you don’t “bake” your tender seedlings. Mustard greens are included here, and if you haven’t started your greens inside, this is the time you can actually get your hands dirty and put those seeds in the ground.
Make sure the rest of your indoor-planted vegetable seedlings are growing well. Watch for signs of stress, like wilting or yellowing foliage, and adjust your watering schedule as necessary or move them to where they are getting sufficient natural light outdoors. If your natural light does not seem adequate, put a grow-light on the plants for at least 8 hours per day. You can also set up a foil-wrapped piece of cardboard in order to reflect the natural light from the window back onto your plants.
Additionally, it is quite common for seedlings to look spindly. Studies have shown that gently brushing an instrument, like a wooden spoon or dowel, or your clean hands (smokers can pass along tobacco mosaic virus) across the tops of the growing seedlings a few times a day results in stronger seedlings; these plants “get a work-out” from the gentle stimulation and stress. Just doing this for about a minute, two or three times a day, can yield amazingly stronger seedlings. You can also set up a small fan to simulate the wind they would be experiencing outside, but keep in mind you will be watering more often, as the fan will dry the soil out. Not all seedlings, however, will benefit from “brushing”; those seedlings that are more brittle, like peppers or lettuce, are more likely to break, while your tomatoes will love it and benefit greatly!
This week you can also plant a variety of herbs in a strawberry jar and place it outside in a sunny spot, only covering it at night if the temperatures will be dropping below 40°F for an extended period. A strawberry jar is one of those fairly large planters with planting pockets arranged around the outside and a larger planting area in the top. They are really attractive and decorative and are ideal for growing herbs on your patio or deck. Make sure to include oregano! Studies have shown that herbs actually have more antioxidant properties than veggies do, and oregano has the highest concentrations. Consider “spicing it up” and reduce your sodium for a healthier family. And consider putting your herb-filled strawberry jar on a platform with casters. Herbs are not huge fans of super-sun in the summer and will appreciate being moved to a partially shaded area during the highest heat of the day.
May 5 through May 11
If you haven’t yet thought about a Mother’s Day gift for your mom, daughter or wife, now is the time to do so. You might consider planting some seedlings, starting an asparagus or rhubarb bed, or helping to prepare the vegetable or flower garden beds, if it is not already done. You can apply weed and feed and mow the lawn or you can, of course, purchase a collection of gardening implements, totes, seeds…or whatever you know her gardening heart desires. Even a gift certificate for garden supplies can make a fantastic gift and make a gardener’s day. Don’t forget the card!
If you haven’t gotten “a round tuit” yet, and the soil is workable, get those cold hardy seeds, such as peas, cauliflower, onions, lettuce, spinach, chard, kale and root crops, in the ground. While you’re out there, thin those seedlings that you’ve already planted, like beets, onions, carrots and parsnips. Cut the tops of the onions back to 2-inches if they are looking spindly. This will send more energy down to the bulb, increasing the bulb size.
Sow your squash, cucumber, gourd and melon seeds indoors in individual peat pots if you will be transplanting. You can also do a second sowing of cabbage and broccoli indoors for transplant later in the season to keep your yield going longer. Do the same with cilantro and dill if you know that you will be using and preserving a lot or selling at your local Farmer’s Market. Having fresh herbs later in the season can make your efforts extremely profitable.
And if you’ve got rhubarb, check it for those stems ready to harvest. This perennial, along with horseradish, Egyptian onions and asparagus, will be the first vegetables ready to harvest in the spring. A note when it comes to harvesting rhubarb: Pull the leaf stems from the plant, do not cut; the wound from cutting can allow the entry of viruses to your plant. You should be able to harvest rhubarb until you are tired of everything you can possibly make with this versatile veggie. Also, if flower stems appear, cut them off. They will only take energy the rest of your plant can be using, while contributing absolutely nothing. In fact, the emergence of blossoms on your rhubarb can indicate a need for more nutrients or soil enrichment. You can also harvest asparagus now, except in its first year of growth; only harvest moderately in the second year, and then harvest to your heart’s content in subsequent years.
May 12 through May 18
Remember to wish your loved ones Happy Mother’s Day on the 12th (and run out for a bouquet and a card if you’ve been so busy in your garden you forgot the day) and remember those military service members who have served so selflessly as we celebrate Armed Forces Day on the 18th.
Now…to the garden! If you have spinach, beets and chard actively growing, you may want to cover them with cheesecloth, row covers or your preferred protection from leaf miners. Adult flies lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves at this time of year and the resulting maggots, or larvae, will feed on the leaves, leaving behind those recognizable squiggly trails. At the first sign, pinch off the affected leaves, discarding them (not in your compost pile) and then cover those crops being “mined” by these nasty little critters. Being proactive and covering them prior to the egg-laying time will mean you don’t have to pinch and discard leaves. As spring is coming to a close and summer is ramping up, you can remove the cover. By the way, this cover can also protect these crops from late season cold snaps and help to retain moisture while maintaining the soil temperatures.
Plant your bare root strawberries now. The planting hole should be wide enough to spread the roots out comfortably, with the hole just deep enough for the crown to be at ground level. Strawberries will send out trailers that will fill in your beds over the coming years, so plant sparingly, about 2 feet apart in rows that are 3 to 4 feet apart. We have an article on our site called How Many People Will a Strawberry Plant Feed? Just for fresh consumption throughout the harvesting season, which usually lasts about a month, planting six plants per person in your family will provide plenty of scrumptious munching. However, if you plan to freeze or otherwise preserve your strawberries, you will want to double or triple the number of plants.
Watch for signs of cutworms on young seedlings. Cutworms do just what their name implies. The first sign of infestation may be seeing your young seedlings cut off at ground level. NOT a good thing! You will probably not see cutworms during the day, as they are nocturnal, but pay particular attention to corn, tomatoes, bell peppers and cabbages for signs of their activity. They will eat everything from the roots to the young leaves, so if you see your plants failing, you might want to dig into the ground or look under stones to find the culprit. They will look like caterpillars and are almost always smooth-bodied and dully colored. They are the larvae of certain moths, most of which will have gray or brown mottled wings, be of medium size and have squat-looking bodies. Controlling the winter habitat of the moths by plowing and tilling your garden at the end of the season will help to destroy their nesting places, thereby preventing infestation the following year. In order to guard against damage, as a proactive measure, some people use stiff paper or cardboard around the plant stems, especially right after transplanting. You can also use diatomaceous earth (DE), crushed egg shells and used coffee grounds around the base of your plants to help curb cutworm activity, though the best form of control may be to use an insecticide, formulated specifically for the control of cutworms, applying it in the late afternoon for the best results. We opt for trying less aggressive means first.
And if you’ve planted potatoes, you may need to hill some soil around the growing plants if they are about 5 inches tall. Hilling the soil, which simply means pulling the soil up around the base of the plant, with a hoe or with your hands, prevents the tubers from being exposed to sunlight and turning green. You can also put a 6-inch layer of straw around your plants, this method making harvesting much easier, and also enabling you to more closely and easily monitor the size and condition of the potatoes as they are growing. The straw will also inhibit weed growth and help to maintain moisture levels.
May 19 through May 24
If you haven’t already done so, take a look at your leafy greens, spinach and chard, and thin to the strongest plants as necessary. You don’t have to throw these away: eat them! They are at their most tender right now. In fact, you can heavy-sow your greens seeds to ensure plenty of tender seedlings when it comes time to thin them; it takes quite a few to make a meal, though they are fantastic sprinkled fresh on salads and can be a great addition to stir-fries, as well.
You can also begin hardening off your tomato plants for transplant now. Tomatoes are grown more than any other vegetable. In fact, we don’t know a single vegetable gardener who doesn’t grow tomatoes. Even if you live in an apartment with a small balcony, you can grow tomatoes in containers. Some people have even been successful in growing them indoors! Hardening off, however, will slow growth in some warm weather crops, so wait a little while to harden off your squash, eggplants and peppers so as not to affect the yield later on.
And if you have garlic growing, ensure it is getting plenty of water and plenty of nutrients right now. Through mid- to late summer, garlic bulbs may be particularly small if grown in dry conditions now. Once the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, an application of a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as dried cow manure, will also help to increase the size of the bulbs.
May 25 through May 31
You can probably sow or transplant just about anything you choose to at this time, without worrying about frost taking its toll. Cucumber, melons and squash seeds can even be sown now for an earlier crop, though warmer soil temps will result in higher germination rates. We suggest if you sow those seeds now, cover the rows with a floating row cover to increase the soil temperature. You can sow your first planting of sweet corn and if you are adventurous, now is the time to sow those edible flower seeds, like nasturtiums, calendulas, daylilies, violets, Johnny-jump-ups and cornflowers. Planting them in and among your vegetable garden adds a whole new dimension to the “look” of your veggie garden, while experimenting with edible flower uses will broaden your family’s horizons. China is very actively researching the benefits of edible flowers, so expect to hear more about their antioxidant and nutritional benefits in the next few years. Flowers will also help to attract beneficial pollinators to your garden, meaning you may not have to be out there shaking the corn stalks for pollination to occur! Do your homework, though, and Google “edible flowers” to make sure you are only feeding your family those safe for ingestion.
And weed, weed, weed. We can’t say this enough. Not allowing the weeds to take hold in your garden is the surest way to have a successful garden. Later, as the vegetable plants reach full size, weeding may not be as important, but right now weeds can do irreparable harm to your young seedlings and transplants. As always, a thick layer of mulch (at least 2 to 3 inches) will decrease the time you spend weeding and will also help to maintain moisture levels. Mulch can be worth its weight in gold!
Spring is here
We hope you are as excited as we are! In the next couple of weeks you should be checking your garden at least three or four times a week, checking it daily as vegetables start to grow. Take your morning coffee out and make it a family affair. Look for signs of insects and take quick action to eradicate or control them. Pinch new blossoms off your newly planted strawberry plants to encourage thicker plants and even more prolific blooming. Sow your okra seeds directly into the garden as the soil temperatures warm to a sustained 65°F, sowing popcorn and chicory at the same time. Bush beans and pole beans can also be sown, if you haven’t already done so, or if you want to extend the harvest season and have plenty to preserve for use throughout the winter. Yes, even as spring has arrived, the wise gardener is already looking toward winter and what fresh, preserved vegetables will be needed, while thoroughly and completely loving every minute (or almost every minute) of the growing season.
Happy Gardening! We have enjoyed our time with you and hope that this series of articles has proven to be informative and helpful. You are always welcome to contact us if you have questions or just want to share photos of your crops. We are on Facebook, so you can post photos and questions there, or visit our site. Our customers often have exceptional advice and most assuredly have a combined amount of experience that surpasses what we have. We are always ready to listen and to learn something new!
This series of articles has been sponsored by Garden Harvest Supply. You can find them online here: www.gardenharvestsupply.com.
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