One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
I began my first posting for last month, "Getting Started." And while we truly did begin gardening last month, April is a month when things really shift into high gear. Having not gambled on early planting despite the incredibly warm weather much of last month, we have broccoli and cauliflower, lettuce, and onions to transplant and carrots to direct seed almost immediately.
Possibly the most noticeable thing about our main garden last week was the erection of our pea trellises. Since I really hate bending over a lot to pick peas, I grow mostly taller varieties on nylon trellis netting strung on clothesline wire from T-posts.
Our weather forecast still calls for ten days of incredibly warm weather for this time of year. A light overnight rain made things just wet enough that I had to put off tilling our main, raised garden bed until late afternoon. I spread a bit of fertilizer around the garlic row that cuts our large bed in half before working it in with a scuffle hoe to knock down some small weeds. The rest of the bed tilled up well, but by the time I got done, it was much too late to begin planting.
While working up and raking the main bed, I noticed that our asparagus really needed to be picked. I'd done a heavy picking yesterday after we'd been out of town for a couple of days. I thought I could skip a day before picking again, but the tasty spears are coming on strong, our reward for several years of nurturing the bed.
Our planting of asparagus looks pretty spotty above, as some of the roots haven't yet begun to emerge (down the center of the bed). I've also let some very small seedlings begin to grow that are too small for picking, but will fill in some bare spots at the ends of the bed nicely.
When I saw that it had rained overnight, I really thought I'd just take it easy today. But with the tilling of our main bed and a few test rows turned over in our East Garden, I should sleep well tonight!
Since I'd tilled our main garden bed yesterday, I was able to get an early start today transplanting our brassicas. Our transplants were started on February 23, so our plants were at an ideal size, nearly six weeks old. Something I didn't mention yesterday was that I'd done several soil tests before tilling and found the soil pH to be at an acceptable 6.5 (slightly acid - 7 is neutral). Had the soil proved to be quite acid, I would have tilled in some ground limestone to counteract the acidity. As it was, I added just a touch of ground limestone today to each planting hole to prevent clubroot, a disease that thrives in cold, acidic soils and can devastate cole crops.
I use an old, but effective soil pH meter to monitor our garden plots. While we live in a geographic zone that is listed as having mostly neutral soil, we also live near two coal-fired power plants and an oil refinery. We use a lot of lime to keep our garden plots fairly close to a neutral pH. Of course, some crops like acid soil. So for potatoes, we omit the lime and add sulphur to the soil to make it acid enough to deter potato scab.
In the United States, areas east of the Mississippi generally have somewhat acid soil. Areas west of the Mississippi usually have an alkaline soil pH. Some old hands can fairly accurately tell a soil's pH just by the plants growing on the ground (for example: clover grows well on "sweet," neutral soil). For the rest of us, testing several places in our garden is the only way to be sure.
Getting back to today's task, I first measured, staked, and ran string for my rows of plants. One usually should leave around three feet between rows of broccoli and such. Since I'm squeezing this area into our garden plan, I put three feet on the outside of the two rows I staked, but just two feet in between the rows. I spaced my holes 18" apart in the southernmost row and 20" apart in the next row. My holes were about six inches deep, but I worked the bottom of each hole a good bit deeper, working in a bit of limestone, 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer, and bone meal in each.
Of more importance, I watered each hole with a dilute solution of starter fertilizer (4-12-4) and Maxicrop soluble seaweed. The soluble seaweed seems to provide trace elements for the soil. For years, our pepper plants would bloom, set fruit, and die. We now grow beautiful peppers, and the only thing I can think of that I did differently was to sprinkle soluble seaweed powder over the garden one year before tilling.
We've had trouble with cutworm damage in our brassicas and pepper transplants in the past, so I use cut out paper cups as cutworm collars now when putting in tender transplants. I've also been treating our main garden area with Milky Spore for several years to deter both cutworms and the moles that feed on them (and make a mess of a garden plot). I didn't see a single cutworm as I tilled yesterday, but I also remember tender transplants cut to the ground in previous years. And the cups were all used, so they didn't cost me anything extra but a bit of time. I'll cut and remove the cups in a week or so, after the stems of the transplants have toughened up enough to be unattractive to any remaining cutworms.
Then, it was just a matter of doing the transplanting. I backfilled the holes with soil and made a small hole for the paper cup cutworm collar. The transplants go into the cup and get firmed in with a bit more soil. I always have to make sure that my cutworm collars stand about and inch or so above the soil line.
The brassicas will eventually get mulched with grass clippings to control weeds and hold in moisture. I mowed and raked a bit today, but our garlic seemed to need the mulch more than the brassicas, so they'll have to wait. I also still need to spray the brassicas with Thuricide, a biological control for cabbage loopers and white cabbage worms. I've already seen a couple of the moths fluttering around this year!
One thing I did remember to do was to spread a bit of dog, rabbit, and deer repellent around the brassicas. I used the more expensive Shot-Gun Animal Repellent rather than common blood meal, as it also deters dogs. Our new puppy has already done some digging in our row of peas! I omitted this step last fall, and a rabbit, I think, ate almost all of our fall brassicas in our main garden. Fortunately, I had transplanted our extra fall brassica transplants into our East Garden, so we still had lots of fall broccoli.
I didn't get all of our brassicas planted today. There just wasn't room for the kohlrabi transplants I had started, and I still have lots of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower plants left. They'll go into our East Garden (somewhere...they're not in the garden plan as yet). I also didn't get our kale seeded, even though I received an Eat More Kale T-shirt from Bo Muller-Moore in today's mail. I had sent Bo a quart of our Portuguese Kale Soup to sustain his strength in his uphill fight with Chick-fil-A over trademark infringement.
What I did transplant was:
I'd mentioned last month that I'd ordered some gloxinia corms from Nature Hills Nursery. The corms arrived in today's mail and look okay. They were shipped in wood shavings and appear just a little dried out, but the size was good.
As soon as I finished my transplanting today, I unpacked and potted the corms in six inch round pots. For gloxinias, I mix peat moss with regular potting soil in about a 1:4 ratio to lighten up the mix. I also add a bit of ground limestone to neutralize the natural acidity of the peat, along with a bit of bone meal, if I have it on hand, to promote root and corm growth.
While I did the potting outside so I wouldn't have a mess to clean up inside, that's the last trip outdoors the gloxinias will make. They went under our plant lights in the basement. I've never had much luck growing gloxinias outdoors or even on a shaded porch. And when I've tried, I always seem to bring bugs back inside when I return the gloxinias to our basement plant rack.
I haven't added Nature Hills to our listing of seed and plant suppliers in our Gloxinias feature story as yet. I'm waiting to see how these corms do. At a bit over $10.50 each (with shipping), all four need to produce viable plants for me to be a happy customer. Their "guarantee," beyond covering damage in shipment, isn't all that great. If one of the corms doesn't make it, they'll replace it in the first year for half price plus shipping. I guess such a policy is necessary for them to stay in business, but with something like a gloxinia corm that will take some time to show growth (or death), it's not all that good a guarantee.
It rained last night. Actually, it poured...so hard that it woke me up during the night. And while tilling won't be possible for a while, we really needed the rain. Sadly, it would appear that the showers were a bit spotty, as the Weatherunderground reporting station about six miles south of us got only a half inch of rain, while we got a couple of inches!
Along with the rain, it appears that we're going to be getting a stretch of more normal April temperatures for a while. That will make working outside a lot more pleasant, but I'm also keeping an eye on forecasted overnight low temperatures in the mid to upper 30s for the next few nights. Our frost free date in this area is around May 1, so a hard frost is still a possibility.
Besides our lawn becoming a much deeper shade of green overnight, our peas, freshly transplanted brassicas, and especially our garlic all look much better this morning. I'd fertilized and cultivated around the garlic last week, but saw little response due to low soil moisture. Other than a few nasty spots on leaves where I splashed fertilizer on them, the garlic greened up a good bit and many previously limp and droopy leaves look healthy again.
The cooler temperatures also seem to agree with the variety of hanging basket plants we have all around our back porch. Other than a geranium and some petunias in a planter on our cistern, the hanging basket plants are the only tender plants we have outside unprotected. And of course, if those predicted mid-30s should turn into a frost, we can always bring the hanging baskets inside overnight.
I started two trays of melon transplants yesterday. Because melons can be a bit touchy about being transplanted, I start ours in whatever pots they'll stay in until transplanted into the field. (I do sometimes move multiple sprouts to other pots early on.) I started out using some old, but sterilized 4" square plastic pots, but eventually devolved to whatever round or square pots I could fit into the second tray. The drawbacks of using such large pots are that it takes a lot of starting mix, and I can only get eight of the 4" pots to fit in a tray under a humidome. The soil volume pays off by being able to support more than one plant per pot, and they don't dry out as quickly as smaller pots or fourpacks can.
Our downstairs plant rack remains crowded with lots of transplants, along with our gloxinia collection. The first tray of melons went onto our heat mat with a rather high setting (85o F) that is necessary to germinate seedless watermelon. One seed vendor recommends a 90o temperature for starting seedless watermelon, but I burnt out a heat mat when I tried going that high a few years ago. If 85o won't do it, we'll just have to spit out seeds this summer when we enjoy our watermelon.
Since I planted heavy (4-5 seeds per pot) and can move multiples, I started just one pot of each variety (for now...we'll do more later).
Wow! Looking at all the stuff above, I think I went a little nuts starting seed yesterday. And the listing doesn't even include the fourpack of marigolds I seeded! I'll also be starting some butternut squash and pumpkin transplants a bit later. I have to keep our butternut planting separate from the melons, as the butternut vines will take over an area, crowding out the less vigorous melons. I like to wait on starting pumpkins, or we could be carving jack-o'-lanterns in August!
Full disclosure: Not one of the variety links above is to any of our affiliated advertisers! I included links to vendor product pages so readers can easily find the varieties if they're interested. But I certainly do appreciate all of the readers who have clicked through one of our affiliate advertiser links and purchased something. The commissions are small, but they do add up and help.
A pleasant surprise this morning under our plant lights got me busy updating our Gloxinias feature story. I'd taken three leaf cuttings from a gloxinia last November at the same time I was getting cuttings from our ivy leaf geraniums. While the geraniums rooted quickly, the gloxinias took a good bit more time. The first produced a baby gloxinia in February. This morning, I saw that the last two browned and shriveled gloxinia leaf cuttings each had a baby gloxinia at its base.
I added a section to the feature story today on how to take leaf cuttings from gloxinias, since I now can tell the whole story from start to finish. Well, almost to the finish, as it will be a few months before the plants from cuttings begin putting out beautiful blooms. And in the process of writing, I decided I needed better photos of the leaf cutting process, so I now have two more leaf cuttings (from a red blooming parent plant) sharing space in one of our trays of melons transplant starts.
I didn't get much gardening done over the weekend, as one of our daughters and her boyfriend had driven down from Chicago to camp at Turkey Run State Park for a couple of days. We had a great visit and enjoyed hiking the Rocky Hollow trail at the park. I hadn't been to Turkey Run in years, but its just as beautiful as I remembered it being from past trips there. If you're passing through Indiana this summer on I-70 or I-74, Turkey Run is about an hour's drive off the interstate on U.S. 41 (north from Terre Haute on US 41, or south from I-74, again on 41) and a great place for camping, hiking, canoeing, and family gatherings.
You'd think after taking a couple of days off from gardening, I'd be hot at it today. But our weather forecast calls for a pretty good chance of a frost, if not an outright freeze, on Tuesday night. So I held off on transplanting onions or lettuce today, although both would probably survive a light frost. I had plenty of other chores that needed doing.
I mowed the small field adjacent to our property for the second or third time this spring, but this time windrowed and raked the grass clippings. I needed to turn and move our working compost heap, as it hasn't heated back up this spring, and the pile sits in an area I may use for melons, squash, and/or pumpkins. The grass clippings were layered into the pile as I mowed, raked, moved compost, and layered in grass clippings, commercial fertilizer, and lime. The job took most of the afternoon and all of my energy.
The small compost pile in the foreground at right is our "mature" pile that I still need to finish screening and using. The limed ring is where our working pile stood, and in the background, our long-term pile of heavy stems and leaves, the freshly moved pile, and our ugly burn pile. But as you can see, it was a pretty setting in which to work.
We've actually treated this field pretty much like a bad lover, taking and never giving. I have a couple bags of lime and a couple more of fertilizer to spread on the field soon, as you simply can't take hay (clippings) over and over and expect the ground to still produce. I may even spill a little grass seed on it.
Let me add something here that has worked for me on a number of occasions. I often use the site where a compost pile has been to direct seed or transplant a large hill of butternut squash, pumpkins, or a similar crop. The limed ring in the photo above was the site of a previous compost pile. When I used up that pile last spring, I transplanted butternut squash to the site. Lots of nutrients leach out of the compost pile into the ground below it, making such a site ideal for later planting. Since I had a vining crop on the spot last summer, I'll probably need to rotate that spot out of production this year (sigh, hate to waste fertile ground).
That's last year's butternuts (above) growing on what was and then became again the site of our compost pile with the rest of our East Garden in the background. Our East Garden changes in configuration each year as we adapt the area to our growing and rotational needs.
It doesn't matter much which weather service report one uses. They all agree that we have a frost or freeze coming both tonight and tomorrow night! The only good news about it is that we had plenty of warning for this one, as it was predicted several days ago.
And really, it is just April 10. Even though we've had weeks and weeks of non-freezing weather, our frost free date for this area is May 1 or so. But it still doesn't make getting ready for the frost any easier.
Fortunately, I'd held off putting out any tender plants, other than a few flowers I stuck in a planter on our cistern. They're now covered with a scrap of floating row cover left over from last fall's lettuce crop.
Our tender transplants are all under the cold frame. I closed the cold frame a bit early this evening while the sun was still on it. I wanted to allow a little extra heat to build up in it. Even though they're fairly hardy, our lettuce and beet transplants went under the frame, as we had space available. Our leftover brassicas and our onion transplants will get to tough out the cold on the back porch. And all of our hanging basket planters are lining the walls of our kitchen tonight (and probably tomorrow night, too).
In terms of real gardening, I turned about a third of what will be our East Garden this morning. I began with the toughest section first, areas that hadn't been turned over for a year or two. The tiller didn't penetrate far into the soil, but ground up the vegetation on top pretty well. The section I turned will have to be tilled at least twice more before it's planting ready. Most of the rest of the East Garden was in production last year, so the soil should turn over pretty well and fairly deep. "Should"...
With the way I'm going about it this year, I'm going to have to turn all of the sections in the East Garden area that we've used since we started gardening this area in 2009. But at least a quarter of the tilled ground will go back into a cover crop to improve the soil a bit for next year. Part of what I turned today had patches of alfalfa I had planted last year as a cover crop. The alfalfa really didn't take well in last summer's heat, but enough survived that it may have done some good penetrating the plow pan that exists in part of the East Garden.
Before I could till, I had to get the last of our mature compost screened and moved. It went into the bed where our onions, carrots, and beets will be.
And of course, it was a touch chilly out this morning, but it turned out to be another gorgeous day to be working outside.
The weather folks were right, and it got down to a little below 30o last night. We didn't experience any frost or freeze damage, as our tender transplants were all under our cold frame and our hanging baskets spent the night in the kitchen. Equally important, I got outside early enough this morning to open the cold frame before the full sun was on it. I missed doing that one morning last year and ended up cooking some of our transplants. The hanging baskets all went back out to the porch, only to come back inside late this afternoon, as we have another frost advisory for tonight.
Once the sun got out today, it was a glorious day for working in the garden. I decided to get the rest of our East Garden tilled, but ended up just tilling the whole thing. A few areas that now have been turned twice could be planting ready, especially the row where I dug our sweet potatoes last fall. But most of it will take a couple more rounds with the rototiller before I can direct seed to it. I may get by with just one more pass in the melon areas, as I mostly transplant melons and can hold down weeds with later tilling and mulching.
I didn't get out a tape measure, but the area currently tilled paced off at about 75' square. As I mentioned yesterday, we won't use all of that area, but will plant 1/2 - 3/4 of it, putting the rest into some kind of cover crop.
After a couple of frosty mornings followed by day of doing taxes and another spent mowing, I'm ready to go gardening. But it's going to be a day or so yet, as we got a much needed rain overnight and have more on the way this morning.
Along with the long stretch of unseasonably warm weather we've had, it's also been much dryer than usual. I'd guess that our local water table can use all the precipitation it can get.
But the main garden really looks great after, well, in between, rains. There's lots of thunder outside as I write as the next storm cell approaches.
Ohio gardener Mike Bryce sent me some great shots of one of his garden plots from last summer and of what he currently has going in his greenhouse. In the absence of me doing anything worthwhile other than watching it get really, really dark outside, I'm going to share his images for you to enjoy.
I'm probably never going to have a greenhouse, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the beauty of others' greenhouses.
While working on a posting for our other web site, I decided I wanted a pig graphic with a Robert Heinlein quote to illustrate the apparent futility of trying to communicate with our nation's elected political leaders. I poked around some free images search pages, only to come up empty.
In one of those "Duh" (accompanied by a palm smack to the forehead) moments, I realized that I probably had a suitable pig picture somewhere in my image files from our farm days. And while overlaying the text onto the photo took a lot longer than it really should have, I had my graphic in fairly short order.
I'll leave to you which party one might apply the graphic's message (both?), as I try to keep this site non-political.
BTW: The sow's name was Leslie. She was a very good mama...most of the time.
It remained cloudy and very windy today. With the ground quite wet, I confined my outdoor gardening to picking asparagus. In between showers yesterday, I did get our paper cup cutworm collars off of our brassicas. I use scissors to cut down the sides of the bottomless cups, removing half at a time to keep from disturbing the roots of the plants too much. Then I pull loose soil around the stems and pack it down to fill the holes left by the cups and ensure good root contact with the surrounding soil.
Our spring peas appear to be off to a great start. The warm weather allowed us to seed our late peas a full month earlier than usual, and our first peas went into the ground at the end of February. I did have to reseed the center of our row of tall, early peas. Two of the four varieties planted just didn't germinate.
Last year, I had to repeatedly reseed our late peas to get an acceptable stand. So while things look a bit uneven, I think we're doing much better than last year with our peas.
Looking at our main garden plots from the end of our property and our asparagus bed, things look pretty good for this time of year.
I transplanted and seeded a bed to onions, beets, and carrots today. I used our newest raised bed for the planting. Its interior 3' x 15' dimensions made me change my usual planting practice. I like to plant double rows of onions, carrots, onions, beets, and more onions in our softbeds. The three foot width made me omit the usual middle double row of onions, but I won't have to step into the bed until harvest time. All cultivating and weeding can be done from the edges.
After a light raking of the bed to smooth it, I set my row marker stakes at 4" intervals. While I often leave a 4" space in double rows for onions and such, I also just left a 4" space between vegetables, where I usually leave 8-12". Such tight quarters would make cultivating a nightmare, but I plan to hold down weeds with grass clipping mulch. I've never used such close spacing, so we'll see how that one works out.
I just use a wide trowel to pull open a hole for the onion plants. When separating the onion plants in the flat they were grown in, I often lose most of the soil off the roots. Fortunately, onions seem to tolerate being bare rooted into the ground. Using the trowel to pull soil over the roots also makes the hole for the next pair of onion plants.
I leave 3-4" between onion plants in the row. In the past, I've left less, thinking I'd be back and use every other plant fresh before the onions completely bulbed out. That never seemed to work, and we had onions pressing against each other at harvest, which can lead to spoilage. So I was really careful about spacing today.
When I finished the first double row of onions, I went inside to fetch our carrot and radish seed for the next double row. When I came back outside, I was reminded that we have a puppy. I had to replace several onion plants dug from the bed and pitch the better part of a new roll of nylon twine that was knotted and tangled beyond saving. It could have been worse, I guess.
After repairing the puppy damage, I moved my now, much shorter twine to the next planting stakes as a guide for making my carrot rows. I made shallow dibbles by sliding a planting board down the row, carving out about a half to three quarters of an inch of soil.
If using fresh seed, one can save themselves a lot of thinning later by carefully spacing carrot seeds about an inch apart. Of course, carrot seed is tiny and hard to handle. As most of our seed was a year or two old, I used that as an excuse to just seed the carrots heavy (and growl later when I have to thin). I also sprinkled some radish seed in the row. (You can just barely make out the radish seed in the larger view of the image at right.) The radish germinate quickly, and in theory, break the soil surface for the slower germinating carrots. Also in theory, the radish should be ready to be picked before they interfere with the carrots.
See The Radish Murders and Grass Clipping Mulch for more information about using radishes as a nurse crop for carrots.
After firming the soil over the carrots, I moved on to transplanting a double row of beets and another double row of onions, plus geraniums at the four corners, to finish out planting the bed. Since I had a cartful of rainwater from recent storms, I just added some starter fertilizer to it and used my watering can to water in the fresh seeding and transplants.
One final step in my planting today, brought to mind by the earlier puppy damage, was to spread some animal repellent on the bed to keep said puppy and other passersby away.
Our outdoor gardening continues to remain on hold, due first to wet, and now, cold weather conditions. Although various weather reporting services have differing predictions, the one for an overnight low temperature of 32o for Sunday/Monday definitely caught my attention.
Things are getting a bit crowded on and around our back porch and under the cold frame, with lots of plants ready to go into the ground. I had to uppot our geraniums this week from 3 to 4 inch pots, as they were showing stress, presumably from too small a pot. Our pepper and tomato transplants moved under the cold frame this week, making things a bit tight under the cold frame. I have a tray of impatiens and a couple trays of melon transplants in the basement ready to go outside to harden off, but have no room for them right now.
I thought I might relieve some of the congestion yesterday by transplanting our trailing impatiens to hanging pots. I didn't make much of a dent in the too many plants and trays department, but managed to create three more hanging pots that may have to come inside for a night or two soon! But I'm thrilled with our hanging basket plants so far this year. Our petunias have been in full bloom for a couple of weeks now, rivaling anything one might find at a garden center or discount store garden shop.
I forgot to mention last Tuesday a trick I picked up somewhere for germinating carrots. Laying a board over the carrot row helps hold in moisture for the slow germinating carrot seed while also holding down weed germination. I think I forgot to mention using "walking boards" for this, as I thought I didn't have any of the size I wanted. I really wanted a couple of untreated, eight foot 1x6's to put over the row. When I looked up in the rafters of our garage, low and behold, there were two such boards! I had to trim one of the boards to make them fit in our 15' long raised bed.
Once the radishes I overseeded the carrots with begin to germinate, I'll need to pull the walking boards. By that time, they will have given the carrot seed about a week's head start on any possible weed germination.
The boards will stay out in the garden for use as walking boards. Walking on a board when in the garden, especially in our main raised bed, helps lesson the compaction footprints would cause otherwise. The boards will rot in time, but I'll get several years use from them. If you peruse the monthly blog archives for this site, you'll notice old lumber used as walking boards in many of the photos.
I was also pleased this morning to see that our beet transplants, often an iffy transplant, appear to be recovering from their transplanting shock and taking hold. I was prepared to go back and direct seed any bare patches in the row, but most of the beets seem to be benefitting from the rain and cooler temperatures. The smaller beet transplants appear to be doing much better than the larger ones.
And yes, there are geraniums at the corners of the raised bed shown at right that will have to be covered this weekend to survive the predicted frost/freeze. I have a few HotKaps in the basement that will be perfect for that job.
Peas in Bloom
The variety blooming are Amish Snap peas from the Seed Savers Exchange. Our Champion of England, also from SSE, and Mr. Big from Shumway, both failed to germinate. I replanted that area with some Mr. Big from Burpee (center of tall row on right), which germinated well.
Our next peas to come into bloom should be our old fashioned Sugar Snaps. We take Sugar Snaps in the pod for table use and freezing, but also shell them at times when we have other shell peas to freeze.
As I finished up this posting, I saw that the weather service that had predicted an overnight low of 32o for Sunday night had revised their prediction to 36o. Maybe somebody goofed, and it was just a misprint, but it had me worried.
Good Web Hosting
I noticed this morning that our web host, Hostmonster, is again offering a really good deal for new customers on web hosting this month. Every now and then, they run an offer for hosting at $3.95 per month (considerably less than we paid for our latest renewal!). The offer ends April 30.
The predicted frost for this morning didn't do any damage in our gardens. Of course, I had almost all of our hanging basket plants inside overnight, the cold frame shut over our tender transplants, HotKaps over some geraniums I'd transplanted last week, a scrap of floating row cover over our planter on the cistern (and its petunias and geranium), and even brought our tray of lettuce transplants inside to the kitchen table for the night.
After making the rounds, carrying planters outside and removing frost protection, I checked the weather reporting station a few miles south of us. They recorded a morning low of 34o, low enough to make me glad I'd taken the time to protect our plants. Then I noticed on CNN that areas from Pennsylvania up through New England were getting snow, a good bit of it in places like Newfield, New York (10") and Ridgebury, Pennsylvania (8")!
I started out to transplant lettuce this morning, but when I looked at the area to be planted in our main raised bed, I realized that I had another chore to do first. The soil level in the main raised bed just wasn't where I wanted it. So I made a trip to Terre Haute for a truckload of topsoil mixed with composted horse manure to raise the soil level up to where I wanted it.
By the time I got the soil unloaded, spread, and tilled in, I really didn't want to transplant anything anymore. And I'd like the section to catch a good rain before I begin transplanting into it.
The easy chair awaits!
All month long, something has seemed strange in my office, especially when I looked at the calendar. I didn't figure it out until this afternoon while writing today's posting. When I looked at my Habitat for Humanity calendar to check the date for this posting, I realized that there was a misprint. It had two April 24ths and no April 25!
It's still a great calendar, and Habitat does good works. But I wish instead of sending freebies they'd just put my small contributions into helping folks.
Planting Lettuce, At Last
I ended up not waiting for our freshly tilled main raised bed to get rained on before transplanting lettuce into it. After waiting on freezing weather to pass and then realizing that I needed to add soil to our raised bed before planting or transplanting, I was really getting antsy to get going on gardening. What made the difference was a great day for working outside with the chance of rain later in the day.
I like to grow our lettuce on the ends of our main raised garden bed or in the newer, narrow raised bed so that I can reach in and weed, mulch, pick, and replant lettuce without ever stepping into the bed. Our crop rotations this year prevented planting in the usual spots, so I marked a 42" wide area towards the center of our main raised bed for the lettuce. Since I noticed radishes peeking out from the edges of the planting/walking boards I'd laid over our carrot rows, it was time to pull those boards...and they, of course, worked out nicely for keeping my weight spread out in the aisles between beds and my feet out of the bed.
I began transplanting with a row of four lovely Skyphos transplants down the middle of the section. Then I worked my way out from the center row with a variety of other head, softhead, leaf, and romaine lettuces. We'll harvest the lettuce as it becomes ripe, but won't be replanting a succession, as we have no luck growing lettuce in hot summer weather. But we'll also raise another, often better, fall crop of lettuce after the summer heat is past. We had fresh lettuce well into November last year.
I didn't do anything fancy with planting technique today. Having limed last fall and just spread composted cow manure on the area earlier this week, soil pH and fertility were taken care of. I just dug holes, watered the holes with a highly diluted transplanting fertilizer, and pressed the soil around each root ball. I will mulch the area later, when I have grass clipping mulch available. Until then, I'll hold down weeds with my trusty scuffle hoe and a bit of hand weeding.
I used up the last of our onion transplants for double rows outside the lettuce, and even got in a row of spinach at the far end of the bed. I was tempted to go ahead and begin transplanting peppers and tomatoes today, but our transplants haven't really had enough time outside as yet to harden off properly.
I love planting lots of varieties of lettuce. Once they get a bit of size on them, the colors are incredible. And since lettuce seed is relatively inexpensive and keeps well in the freezer from year to year, I just buy a packet or two each year, but have lots of packets to choose from at seed starting time.
And I ended up getting lucky, as we caught a very light shower in the early afternoon, with a much heavier shower around suppertime. That should get all the transplants off to a good start.
We're into what appears to be our spring rainy season with a good chance for rain almost every day for the next ten days. While that puts a crimp in any plans to till our East Garden, our lawn and our main garden really need the rain.
I did get out and transplant a row of peppers into our main raised bed this week. I just put in six plants, as we've had far more peppers than we could use, freeze, or even give away the last couple of years. I transplanted two Ace F1 (red), two Mecate (yellow), one Red Knight, and one Earliest Red Sweet. While I didn't give our lettuce transplanted earlier in the week any cutworm protection, I did use paper cup cutworm collars for the peppers. Cutworms seem to find young pepper plants particularly tasty.
With the wet weather, I had time to attend to some of our transplants that needed repotting. I have a bunch of herbs still under the plant lights in the basement that got larger containers. I also brought our melon and squash transplants outside, repotting many of the multiple sprouts that were in the already large, 4" square pots I used for most of them.
Even though we're probably past any danger of frost, the melons went under the cold frame propped part way open for a couple of days before I fully opened it up today. The shock of full sun can really fry melon starts, something I've done in the past and don't wish to repeat.
While our garden and transplants are mostly going well, I had one nasty surprise this week. One fourpack of tomato seedlings began showing the telltale spots of bacterial spot disease. I had hot water treated all but one variety of our tomato seed, but apparently either the untreated variety (from a trusted source) or my treated seed still carried the disease.
The infected plants, obviously, were all thrown out. And I do mean thrown out...into the trash can instead of into the compost pile. I had sprayed the tomatoes and peppers with Serenade as a precaution when I brought them outside, so I hope that we're past any disease problems in the remaining seedlings.
Last April, we had over eleven inches of rainfall. It's been much dryer this month and spring, but I think mother nature has been trying to catch up all at once today. We had gulleywashers both last night and this evening, pushing our monthly rainfall close to five inches for the month. Once again, recording stations east and south of us received considerably less precipitation, as the heavy rainfall was pretty spotty.
In between all the rain, I got out and transplanted tomato plants this morning and mowed a bit in the afternoon, finishing just as the rain began.
With the dimensions of our raised beds and of our tomato cages, I can put six caged tomato plants in an east-west row in our main garden. I cut that back to just five plants this year, as I hope the extra space may make for healthier plants. With just Annie and I still at home, four main season tomato plants plus one grape tomato plant will supply all the slicing tomatoes we can use. I will, of course, be transplanting a good many more tomatoes for canning (and saved seed) in our East Garden, once it dries out enough to till again.
I put in one Red Candy, and two each of Better Boy and Moira. I usually include a Bella Rosa plant or two in the main garden, but I pitched our Bela Rosa transplants, as they and one other variety showed signs of bacterial spot disease.
Our caged tomatoes are at the north end of our main raised bed this year, as I was looking for ground that hadn't had tomatoes on it for several years. When I transplant our tomatoes, I dig a deep hole for each, working in a bit of calcitic lime for the calcium tomatoes require and a little 11-23-11 fertilizer. I'm not worried about the lime making the soil too sweet for tomatoes, as I'd added a good bit of peat moss to the row a week or so ago.
I watered each hole with several gallons of dilute fertilizer, letting it soak in before drawing the soil back into the hole. Then I made a small hole, watered again, and planted each tomato seedling a good bit lower in the ground than they had been growing in the flat. The buried stem area will put out roots, and I like having the transplanted rootball a bit deeper in the moist soil.
I dig a small trench around each transplanted tomato for our tomato cages. Because our tomato plants tend to get a bit top heavy with the cages we use, I need to anchor them firmly so the strong winds we frequently experience won't topple the plants over. If that happens, it creates a mess, and often partially uproots the tomato plant, pretty well spoiling the harvest from it for the season.
Note that I go ahead and add our tomato cages now because the soil is loose and easy to work. One could easily put off adding the cages until the plants were a bit bigger.
To finish off the planting, I added geraniums at the corners of the bed and some marigolds, impatiens, and vinca along the edge of it. The tomatoes are purposely on the north end of the bed for crop rotation, but also so they won't shade out plants to the north of them. So, we'll see how the flowers do. I obviously included sun and shade loving plants in the mix.
With the tomatoes in, we have our main garden beds completely planted for now, other than some flowers around the edges that I'll add when I have time. This is probably the earliest we've ever gotten these beds completely planted. Missing from the plantings are any kale or green beans, as they'll go in as succession plantings when the spring lettuce and our garlic come out of the middle of the bed. Our cucumbers will also be a succession planting, going on one of the trellises that is currently filled with pea vines. The other trellis will be used for an heirloom pole bean variety a reader generously shared with us.
Our squash, melons, and sweet corn all will go in our East Garden. I've turned the whole area once this spring, but now have to wait for it to dry out before tilling at least once more before beginning planting. I also have a bunch of herbs to transplant into a new herb garden I plan to build around our shallow well.
I pulled together the images that usually appear at the top of this blog for an animated gif image of our main garden in April.
From Steve, the
at Senior Gardening