One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
March is a month of anticipation for the gardener. Some days are springlike and others carry the full blast of a cold winter rain, sleet, or snow to bring one back to reality. With our outdoor thermometer near 55o yesterday, I threw caution to the wind and began moving some of our hardier transplants from under the plant lights in the basement to our cold frame. Since I'm getting these plants outside really early, I'll have to be especially watchful of nighttime temperatures and be ready to bring the tender plants inside for the night when freezing weather is predicted.
One of our flats of onions had become a bit leggy under the plant lights. So before moving it to the cold frame, I gave the onions a quick "haircut" to about two inches in height. The onions will regrow, stronger than ever.
Two flats of onion plants and a full tray of assorted brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, & kohlrabi) went outside for their first sunshine. Getting the plants outside allows them to harden off a bit and frees up valuable space under my plant lights. Hardening off transplants is necessary "so that seedlings become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights and less-frequent watering."
Another tray of stuff I just wanted out from under the lights also went outside. It included some pot parsley, a pot of forced tulips, and a begonia that simply didn't fit under the plant lights anymore.
I lowered the cold frame immediately after putting the plants in it, leaving only a four inch air space open. The 2x4 prop will come out before sunset, allowing the cold frame to fit snugly against the ground to retain heat overnight. I'll gradually leave the cold frame open longer and longer on warm days.
Some rough plans for building such a cold frame are available in the feature, A Simple Cold Frame.
A day or so ago, I used a garden fork to hand turn the row of garden I plan to use for spring peas. When I checked the row today, I saw that it had dried out enough that I could turn it with the rototiller. Since the area is low, I turned an area about five feet wide and then raked the soil into a small plateau for my peas. This is the area of the garden where my green beans flooded out in last spring's heavy rains.
I limed last fall, so other than a light dusting of lime in the row, my soil pH was okay. I also added a bit of granular soil inoculant. Since some of my seed is treated, seed inoculant wasn't an option (since the seed treatment would probably kill the inoculant). The inoculant helps the roots of the peas fix nitrogen, thus enriching the garden for future crops.
I divided the row into thirds, planting my favorite, Encore, another good variety, Eclipse, and a new one for this year, Maxigolt. I'll add T-posts and trellis a bit later, as we have a nearby tree that either must be topped or totally come down this month.
This planting of peas is the earliest we've been able to do for years. I read somewhere that March 1 or later was optimum, and I've actually spread pea seed in the past over frosty soil and poked the seeds in with a finger one at a time! With the current warm stretch of weather we're having, it was a bit easier this year. Freezing nighttime temperatures are in the forecast for late next week, but peas seem to tolerate such stuff pretty well.
The main Senior Garden is still pretty much at rest, although it gathered some treated landscape timbers this week. My sweetie had given me a Menard's gift certificate for Christmas. So on Friday, I made the trip to Terre Haute to buy 6" x 6" timbers and 3/8" x 22" rebar to anchor the timbers. This is one of those projects that will never, ever pay for itself, but it's also something I've always wanted to do. I got enough timbers to even get started on enclosing our asparagus patch (shown at the rear of the photo).
I finished up the remaining two sides of our large raised bed garden plot this week. I'd added treated landscape timbers to the south and east sides of the plot last April to control erosion. Those timbers went in two deep to correct for the slope of the yard and garden.
The timbers that went in this week on the north and east sides of the garden are just one deep. As you can see from the image at left, I still have a good bit of backfilling to do on one side of the timbers.
I also need to begin adding soil inside the raised bed, as it is several inches below the top of the timbers. To get the drying benefits of a raised bed, the soil level needs to be above the surrounding terrain.
While my raised bed is far larger than most at approximately 16' x 24', it's what I wanted. As I age a bit, I may add timbers in the center to cut it to two long 4' x 24' beds or even a "U" shape. I also may just make part of our old garden plot a 3-4' x 16' raised bed. But as long as my health holds out on working a large bed, I like it this way.
The advantages of a raised bed are as I mentioned above, that it dries out a bit more quickly than the area around it. Another giant advantage, some of which I've given away by the sheer size of my bed, is being able to work the bed from the outside while standing or kneeling on lawn. This is especially helpful for working intensive plantings such as the one at right from last year of onions, carrots, more onions, beets, and more onions again. Obviously, to work the inside row, I have to lay a walking board to reach the plants. Working the bed from the outside allows access in wet weather and also prevents soil compaction from walking across it.
I purposely bought a few extra timbers to begin enclosing our bed of asparagus. That project will be much more an effort at enclosing, as raising the bed too much would expose the asparagus roots to winter heaving. I've had my old garden walking boards around the asparagus bed for a couple of years now when they're not in use elsewhere in the garden. One of the walking boards is now almost completely rotted out (after just 14 years in the garden), so it's definitely time to do something else with the bed.
While the asparagus isn't showing any tips of growth yet, our fall planting of garlic is beginning to push through its winter cover of leaves. And as the weather moderates and more and more plants under our plant lights mature, our annual, pleasant problem of plant overcrowding moves from under the plant lights out to our cold frame.
Our plantings of petunias, alyssum, and others remain under the plant lights for now. When some of them are ready to harden off outdoors, the onions will move from the cold frame to the back porch to make room for them.
And in case you were wondering, I'm still working very hard at being patient on getting my pepper, tomato, and melon transplants started. I'm watching the calendar with a transplanting date of May 1 or so in mind. Working backward, it appears that starting these plants in the next week or two should be appropriate for this region.
The two vigorous asparagus sprouts at right got me started again on raised beds. Our asparagus bed is located on some gently sloping ground, and I've held most of the soil in place the last few years with a couple of old pieces of lumber.
Since I added a number of bags of composted cow manure last fall to protect the plants through the winter, the boards, now rotting, had to be replaced. There was just too much soil to hold back with a 2x4 and a 2x6. And I really needed to spread out the crown of cow manure that was covering the asparagus plants.
Eventually, I'll get a feature story posted about building raised beds. For now, I'll give a quick recap.
Since I'd worked pretty hard last spring to get the main raised bed on a true north-south line, the first step in building the new raised bed was to string some builders' twine from the main raised bed to the asparagus bed. Then it was just a matter of using a spade to scrape away the grass to create a level surface for the first 6"x6" timber. It's really, really important to make sure that first board goes in level (both ways). On projects such as this one, you definitely need a good level. Mine wasn't terribly expensive, as I picked it up several years ago off the sale table at a local hardware store.
Then I used a right angle tool to set my string for the perpendicular side timber. I use stakes and builders twine for projects such as this one just as one would for putting in a foundation. Since the sides ran two boards long (approximately 16'), the string was invaluable in keeping the second timber straight.
From there on, it was just a matter of digging out a level trench for the timbers, adding a second level 4"x6" timber and anchoring them with rebar.
I did cheat a bit this time and strung extension cords to the construction area, as my cordless drill's battery packs are only good for about 4 holes through the combined timbers before they die.
Note that the 8' part about the timbers was variable. Some were 98", and others were a bit longer!
You can see from the photo above that the base 6"x6" timbers pretty well disappear into the soil as the ground slopes upward to the left. Since the slope was really pretty gentle, I was able to use 4"x6" timbers for the second level.
If you're thinking about building your first raised bed, this one is what I might recommend. It measures around 4'x16', with the interior workspace being about 42". I can reach any area of this bed for weeding, picking, etc., without having to step into the bed.
Peas and Brassicas
Our peas planted earlier this month are up and looking good. I also transplanted broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi into the garden. I have enough transplants left to plant a couple more rows of brassicas next week.
The plants under our cold frame and on the back porch seem to change daily. I moved our onions and the remaining brassicas to the porch to make room for some petunias and geraniums that are ready to be hardened off.
The back porch will continue to become more congested as more plants are ready to come up from the basement plant light area. I'm quite busy now getting our lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, and a few more flowers seeded.
One of the side benefits of working late in the garden is witnessing some very pretty sunsets. The two below are from Monday and Tuesday of this week.
As will happen this time of year, we had a frost this morning. I'd brought the most tender of our transplants inside to protect them. Under our cold frame, it appears a couple of my tomato plants may have gotten nipped a bit. I did worry a bit about the brassicas in the garden, as one cabbage plant looked a bit sad from the kitchen window. But when I finally got outside this morning, it had recovered.
I got busy and finished up the feature, Building a Raised Garden Bed. I also snapped the photo below of our raised beds and the original garden plot.
And yes, it's close to the first of the month. As usual, I have my well worn copy of Crockett's Victory Garden out to see if there's something I've forgotten to do (or something new to try). While long out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still the best volumes I have on gardening. Fortunately for others, they're still available used at a very reasonable prices on Amazon.
at Senior Gardening