One of the Joys of Maturity
One of the joys of getting a bit older is having the time to putter around in the garden. Below is my garden blog. This site also contains sections of recipes and features about specific, and often obscure, gardening lore.
The folks doing the local TV news last night were laughing about yesterday marking the beginning of what they called meteorological spring. Their humor, of course, was caused by the totally unspringlike conditions much of the nation is currently experiencing. They went on to explain that meteorologists group their seasons by month for ease in record keeping, among other reasons, with the official first day of spring for the rest of us still to come on the vernal equinox, March 20.
The spring equinox pretty well marks the point when day length in the northern hemisphere begins to exceed night length, maxing out at the summer solstice on June 21. For gardeners, all that information may be a bit unnecessary, except for those keeping a flock of laying hens. For them, somewhere between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox, day length drops below fourteen hours, about the amount required by light sensitive chickens for laying. So to keep their flocks laying into the fall and winter, some kind of artificial light, often just a 75 watt bulb hung over the hens' roost, is necessary to keep the eggs coming!
For us here at the Senior Garden, a spring thaw appears to be at least a week or so off. I guess I'll be glad about that, as I need to get out and spread alfalfa seed over the snow on our East Garden to establish a cover crop for the summer. With the medical issues I'm facing this year, we plan to let our large (80' x 80') East Garden plot lie fallow for the season. Sadly, that means no home grown melons, squash, or sweet corn for us this summer. But we do hope to put in and harvest a good garden from our raised beds in the back yard before my mid-summer hip replacement surgery.
I started more petunias today. Our petunias for hanging baskets started in January are just about ready to be moved to fourpacks, so I started three more egg cartons of petunias to take over growing on a window ledge in our kitchen. The fourpacks of petunias will go back under our plant lights in the basement, as fourpacks won't fit on our windowsill.
The petunias started today were Celebrity, Carpet, and Ultra, all varieties better suited for bedding in the garden than for hanging baskets. The tiny petunia seed, fortunately, was all pelletized, making it far easier to get just one or two pellets in each egg cell. (Vial of pelletized petunia seed shown at right at approximate actual size. BTW: Used vials are great for storing gloxinia and other small seed.)
As usual, I used sterilized soil for the planting to avoid problems with damping off fungus. I very lightly watered the egg cells of soil with warm water before dropping seed on each cell. Rather than try to pat the seed into the soil without it sticking to my fingers or getting buried, I used a syringe to target several drops of warm water on each seed. That helps melt the pelletized seed coating. With petunia seed, one wants the seed in good contact with, but still on top of the soil where it will receive the light it requires to germinate.
The tray got covered with a clear humidome and went under our plant lights with our heating mat under the tray. Most sources recommend a germinating temperature of 75-80° F for petunias, so I set our heating mat thermostat at 80° F. I went with the higher range temperature and also seeded rather heavily because the seed used today was all seed we'd had stored in our freezer for some time. Packet dates for the seed were 2014, 2013, and 2009. I'll be happy with anything over a 60% germination rate, but really expect to get around 80% germination.
The late Jim Crockett began his classic, month-by-month gardening book, Crockett's Victory Garden, with March for good reason. It's the month when the pace of gardening rapidly accelerates. Transplants started in January and February are ready to go outside under a cold frame to harden off. More transplants, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, need to be started indoors or in the greenhouse (if you're lucky enough to have one:-). For those who have the space to grow melons, mid- to late March is the time to start transplants in our area, which produces manageable sized plants to put out around May 1.
Possibly the biggest event of the month is getting some early pea seed into the ground. Since we prepared a bed for our peas in the fall, planting involves pulling back the mulch from the center of the bed and making a furrow with a hoe to plant the seed in. If the ground stays partially frozen, one can spread peas over the soil surface and poke the seed into the ground with a finger (Frostbite alert - your finger will get really cold doing this.). And if the ground remains frozen solid, one can even spread pea seed over the frozen soil and cover it with an inch or so of compost or bagged garden soil to get an early start.
Pea seed seems to "know" when conditions are right for it to germinate. But this is one planting that does require treated seed to prevent the seed from rotting. If your seed doesn't come already treated, slightly wetting the seed and sprinkling a bit of Captan over it should suffice.
Perennials and fall planted bulbs begin to show serious growth in March as well. Crocuses and daffodils begin to bloom, if they didn't already in February! Tulips may also begin to show through the ground. And March is time to rake off the heavy layer of mulch covering our bed of garlic, lest it mat and prevent the garlic shoots from coming up easily.
We occasionally have a few spears of asparagus emerge in a warm March. Of course, the last time that happened after the mild winter of 2011-2012, we had the drought of 2012. On balance, I'll be glad to wait until April for asparagus. But whether we pick any asparagus or not in March, I hope to spread a good layer of compost over our asparagus beds, something I missed doing at the end of the 2014 gardening season.
We have another cold frame to put together this month. The new frame we constructed last March using PVC pipe is a good one, but building it revealed a number of improvements we can work into another cold frame. My plan all along was to build two cold frames which together could be used to cover one of our narrow raised beds in either the spring or fall. I've been tripping over the various parts for the new frame for months now, so it will be good to get them put together for something useful.
We begin moving plants under our cold frame in mid-March. Of course, we often have to bring everything inside for a few days when we have our usual, last cold front, often with a good bit of snow, move though in late March. But we also get to begin putting out our hanging baskets of flowers during some of the warm days of March.
And if the weather cooperates, it would be great to be able to till some ground in March, even after the fall tilling we've done. Of course, we're starting this morning with over a foot of new snow on the ground, over what accumulation we already had!
Fortunately, our year-old truck was able to cut a path to the road...with the 4-wheel drive turned on. Unlike most of the fluffy snow we got in February, this snow is heavy, heart attack snow. I'm guessing that I won't even be allowed to shovel the steps.
Although long out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still the best reference volumes I have on gardening. Fortunately for others, they're still available used at very reasonable prices (often $4 shipped) through Alibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Many of the things I write about on Senior Gardening, such as intensive gardening and grass clipping mulch, originally came from Crockett's books and/or the old PBS TV show, Crockett's Victory Garden.
at Senior Gardening