I’m so excited for spring, it’s ridiculous. This morning for the first time in months, I see patches of grass finally poking through the snow cover on our front lawn. Our garden started the week buried under 3 feet of snow or more and inches of ice had to be chipped away to free one of the two ways into the garden. But once I was in, I made quick work to free to the other entrance and let the dogs come into the garden for the first time in four months. I then turned my attention to the raised beds and carefully removed the snow from the top of the cold frames, then shoveled as much snow off the raised beds as best I could, only to be thwarted by 2 inches of ice under all the snow.
The temps slowly rose throughout the week, allowing us to see 40°s more often than 20°s and teens now. The last snow fall delivered 8 inches only 8 days ago and a quick look at my notes from last spring show it snowed as late as mid-April 34 inches with an ice crust. Spring in New England, particularly central New Hampshire at 1460ft can take on its on ecosystem which after 3 winter and 2 growing seasons I am just starting to learn. It may snow up here in the next month, but after 130 inches (the amount we have received since October 2018, we can handle a few more stragglers.
Plants can be
greatly affected by the weather, particularly spring’s harsh late frosts and wide
temperature swings from the lingering cold nights to a late day warm up. It’s not unusual to start a morning in the low
40°s and end up in the low 70°s which is why it helps to know which plants
thrive in this weather. There are plenty
of vegetables which can be planted in the early part of spring – even as early
as mid-March depending upon what zone you live in. When I lived in zone 6b in Connecticut,
I was able to usually start my cold crops around St. Patrick’s Day; however up
here in zone 5a-b (our property seems to be in both zones and I’m not exactly
sure where the garden is) I am discovering that the garden is on a new
Peas, carrots and lettuce are always my first seeds that I directly sow into the garden. They are simple and easy to grow – at least the peas and lettuce. Carrots can be tricky for some depending on the soil and whether your using a raised bed or in-ground. I have had fantastic success ever since I coupled them with marigolds. Marigolds are a fantastic companion plant, working on a soil level emitting an enzyme which deters root eating nematodes, as well as above the surface in attracting pollinators to the garden. Marigolds can be planted in late spring so if you are looking to add some flowers for instant color in your garden – look to pansies. Don’t be fouled by the name – pansies can take a frost. Snapdragons are also a great early bloom which doesn’t mind the cold mornings.
Here’s a list of cold-hardy crops which are great starters for your spring garden and the temperatures needed for their seed germination. The cold-hardy plants work best in the spring and the fall. Happy spring gardening!
Spring has finally come to southwestern CT. It’s wet, cold and snowing one minute and sunny and warm the next! We’ve been working in our garden as well as going to clients’ gardens these last couple of weeks – not letting the temperatures deter us too much. The telephone has been ringing with potential customers, internet inquiries have been coming in and our installation calendar is starting to get filled up. The gardening season is officially underway since the other day, we shoveled our first load of compost off the back of the truck. My arms hurt so much that I am actually dictating this to Siri – thank you Siri, I will be sure not too mumble too much. My red-neck work-outs have begun. Just to give you a small hint of how hard we have been working, we managed to tire out our three month old puppy, Marley Sage. Who know I had more energy than a puppy?
April is the time of year, if you haven’t done it already, to make a planning chart of your garden. The planning chart is basically a map of where you plan to put things in the garden. It’s helpful to have a map so that you can couple things together that benefit one another, like tomato and basil; as well as keep away incompatibles such as beans and onions. Seeing it all on paper will also help you to create a planting schedule telling you when you should plant certain crops. This is particularly helpful if you plan on using succession plantings throughout the season. Succession planting is simply following one crop with another crop maximizing your overall yield and elongating your season. I’ve been slowly making a plan in my head about what I want to grow but now is the time to start sitting down and writing out the plan. Once I’ve done ours I will be sure to post it – it’s still a work in progress at this point, which could be committed to paper over the weekend since I have to start planning out my clients’ gardens as well. It’s important to keep in mind crop rotation, which is another good reason to write down a plan you can refer to the next season because life gives you enough to remember.
This month is also the time of year that you should be getting your raised beds prepared for the new season by amending the nutrient depleted soil with a variety of composts and fertilizer to put back the nutrients that your vegetables will need to grow. Vegetables get their nutrients from the soil – think feed the soil – that’s how you feed the plant. Not by spraying chemical fertilizers on it. Organic gardening revolves around the concept of soil life and soil biology. Organic practices such as crop rotation, use of cover crops, and companion planting are employed to enhance soil life and biology. By using a plan, you ensure that you are not at risk of building up soil-borne diseases or mismanage the soil nutrients.
Despite the earlier snows this week, there is exciting news in the garden as the soil temperatures have finally reached into the mid 40s in the raised beds. I couldn’t help but plant some peas on the last day of March in the new 8′ x 12′ Maine Kitchen Garden we put in this fall. April in New England can be unpredicable. Temperatures can still be wintery cold – it was 42º but the dampness from the night’s rain made it feel closer to 35º. The soil temperatures have maintained 40º and above status all week and that tells me its the perfect time to start getting some cold crops into the ground. Cold crops can tolerate colder temperatures and late frost. Germination can happen for lettuce, arugula and peas
in 40º soil temperatures. If you are as excited about spring as I am, you will want to start some peas. They prefer the cool weather anyway since it tends to make them sweeter. I always look to around or after St. Patrick’s day as the time of year to start directly sowing them into the ground. Try planting rows on two side of a trellis in a sunny location that has fertile soil for double the yield in very little place. Peas are a great addition to the garden – they put nitrogen back into the soil and they are vertical growers not taking up a lot of garden space. They are an early season vegetable, but you can seed again in the late summer for an early fall harvest. Fall harvests fall short of the spring harvest when the soil temperatures start off cooler. Peas get along great in the garden with just about everybody but chives, late potatoes, onions, gladiolus and grapes. Peas do particularly well with corn, cucumbers, celery, eggplants, bush/pole beans, early potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and turnips. I always plant a wide variety, this year so far it I put in some Half Pints, Sugar Pod2, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Sugar Snap.I will keep sowing seeds every few weeks to try to get a long harvest before the warm weather sets in.
When you see daffodils and dandelions start to bloom, you should plant your potatoes -soil temperatures are hovering around 45º at that point – a good time to start potatoes. We prefer to grow our potatoes in smart pots. It’s easy to do, takes very little space and fun to harvest by just dumping out the sacks. You can couple potatoes with marigolds in a pot or if you choose to put them in the garden be sure to hill them and couple with bush beans, celery, carrots, corn, cabbage, horseradish,peas, petunias, onions, marigolds and french marigolds. Just keep them away from asparagus, kohlrabi, rutabaga, fennel, turnips, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers and cucumbers.
At 50º, germination starts to happen for spinach, Swiss chard and carrots. A whole bunch of delicious crops you can begin to grow in the the early season that are easy to grow, delicious and beautiful in the garden! Carrots are one of my favorite seeds to sow – be sure to keep the soil moist until you see the first leaves appear. Before sowing be sure you have cultivated the bed deeply and thoroughly to promote good root growth. I found last year I did very well when I coupled my carrots with french marigolds. Marigolds roots emit an enzyme that help fights against root-eating nematodes. Bugs Bunny would have loved my carrots! Carrots also go well with leaf lettuce, onions, peas, leeks, chives and rosemary; be sure to keep it away from dill, parsnip and Queen Ann’s Lace.
Daikon radishes, radishes and beets are others also don’t mind the chilly temperatures spring has to offer. They are all easy to grow and do so quite rapidly in cool weather. Beet seeds can be directly sown once the soil is workable and for successive crops, simply plant in two-week intervals and you will get a continuous harvest. Remember all the parts of the radish are edible – so enjoy! Radishes prefer the company of beets, bush/pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, nasturtiums and members of the squash family. They should not be grown near hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts or turnips however. Beets do well with lettuce, cabbage, onions, kohlrabi, garlic and mint but not pole beans.
Lettuce is another one that quickly thrives in the chilly spring air. There are so many different varieties to choose from – look for ones that are slow to bolt. Lettuce doesn’t do well with cabbage or parsley – so be sure to separate those in the garden. But pair it up with some beets, broccoli, bush/pole beans, carrots, onions, strawberries, sunflowers, radishes, cucumbers and dill and it should do very well. I also planted two types of lettuce the other day, one called Frizzy-Headed Drunken Woman Lettuce, the name alone is why I purchased the seeds. It’s a butter-head variety which forms a single savoyed 8 inch head with mint green leaves tinged in mahogany red. Very slow to bolt. I also planted a red iceberg since I love me an iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese. Mache also known as lam’s lettuce or corn salad is a mild tasting green that’s an easy spring-time grower to consider which can be harvested through early winter or longer in milder climates. Arugula can also be sown in early April. Sow ever 2 weeks and you’ll enjoy a succession of harvests of delicious greens through the fall.
Kale and onions are two more that you can start in April. You can plant onion sets, not seeds which should be started indoors. Shallot seeds and starts can be planted in early spring. Onions work well with beets, carrots, leeks, kohlrabi, brassicas, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, dill, chamomile and summer savory. Just keep it away from your peas and asparagus.
Softneck garlic can be planted in the spring and fall whereas hardneck garlic should be planted in the fall for overwintering. Garlic will work with most herbs in the garden and helps keep deer and aphids away from roses, raspberries, apple and pear trees. In the garden it also does well with celery, cucumbers, peas and lettuce. It’s a great companion plant since it helps in repelling codling moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails and carrot root-fly. I love garlic and we use it a lot when we cook – so having a supply of fresh garlic around is important to us and the flavors can’t be beat when you row your own!
So with the cold, rainy days of April ahead – take solace knowing that the blooms of May are not far away. Happy gardening!
It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less than a week away. In our area of southwestern Connecticut, the late fall has been filled with a multitude of weather events. A late-season hurricane named Sandy followed by her chilly friend, Athena, became the first winter storm of the season. I believe Draco is in the mid-west right now. Yes, folks, the Weather Channel is naming winter storms now, not the National Weather Service who is responsible for naming our hurricanes. They think it will be easier for people to follow – after all who wouldn’t want to follow a big hulking blizzard named Brutus or a savage nor’easter named Kahn or Triton.
More recently the weather has been milder than the way we started the month, albeit rainy. In spite of the tough New England conditions, we still have five containers of a variety of lettuces growing strong and have been providing us with wonderful fresh leaves for our tacos and salads. We’ve covered them at night when I know the temperatures will frost, but one container which has never been covered continues to thrive despite a few overnight frosts. I believe it’s the Tyee spinach which I have in a small container that sits at the bottom of our stairs somewhat protected from the winds. Tyee is a variety of spinach that has rich, dark green thick leaves. We also have growing Parris Island Cos which is a romaine lettuce. It’s crisp, sweet and delicous! The Red Sails is a buttery lettuce with ruffled burgundy tinged leaves. It was growing very nicely but the frost got to a few of the plants when we forgot to go out and cover the crops. The Winter Density is a Buttercos lettuce which combines the characteristics of butterhead and romaine. We have really enjoyed this lettuce in our tacos! It’s very cold tolerant since as I stated a few times we didn’t cover the crops and it shares a container with the Red Sail and despite the Red Sail looking a little frosty the Winter Density continues to thrive nicely. Lastly of the lettuces we have currently growing on the patio is the Buttercrunch. This Bibb-type lettuce forms a rosette, is bolt resistant and does well under stress.
Winter Density and red sail lettuce
Inside the herbs are cozy and warm – loving when the sun does shine. I brought in the rosemary, mint, spearmint, and two oregano plants. I brought in a container with the thought of possibly transplanting a plant when I noticed some seedling growth. We decided to see what was popping up on its own and give it some time to discover who was the volunteer. “Volunteers” are the seedlings which come up on their own from being dropped by the plant itself or bird etc… We put the grow light on it and last week discovered it appears to be a tomato plant! Makes sense since we were growing a tomato in it over the summer.
Hard-sided Cold Frame
The end of this week, Friday December 21st brings us the winter solstice . The winter solstice marks the start in the northern hemisphere for when our days begin to get longer and the nights shorter, as the sun rises farther to the north. Winter doesn’t mean that the growing season has to end though. Homegrown Harvest supplies both soft and hard-sided cold-frames, which are a great way to extend the growing season for many greens like mesclun, spinach, arugula and more.
It’s an exciting time for us at Homegrown Harvest LLC.. Mark and I are just getting the company started up and finally made our first sale this week. Some one lucky is getting a vegetable garden for Christmas! We have been working hard on getting all our marketing materials together for the home shows and farmer’s markets we plan on being at in 2013. We bought a new beautiful red Silverado 2500 that Mark has already dubbed “The Flying Tomato”. “The Flying Tomato” will be put to work helping us haul our growing medium, flats of plantings and other materials to deliver and set up for our clients. She made her first delivery today as a matter of fact. The first of hopefully many.
August 31st, the end of summer, not officially of course. That doesn’t happen until September 22nd 10:48am to be precise, autumn officially starting a minute later. Some kids in our area have already started back to school; my son started his freshman classes at Ithaca College and my daughter starts her Junior year of high school next week. The last days of summer come far too rapidly for most of us. The garden has been producing delicious lemon boys, succulent supper 100s and other gorgeous and scrumptious heirlooms for months now. We have canned various sauces, frozen a few and instantly enjoyed many others. The eggplants keep coming in; they did very well this season in the two containers we grew them in. The cucumbers have been plentiful, inspiring new ways to enjoy them. Mark made a delicious cold cucumber soup for me last week since I had had one earlier in the summer and had raved about it. The kids love the cucumbers and will eat them sliced up anytime I put one down in front of them. The leaves on our vines got dried up and yellow though — thankfully after the family had been over for a family luncheon to send my son off to college — I trimmed back the leaves and dead stuff and discovered we have at least another 10 cucumbers growing healthily on the vine. I am amazed at how plentiful the cucumbers have been, so far this season we already have taken in from the garden close to 30 cukes and as I stated there at least another 10 out there still growing!
The beans continue to come in as well, next year I want to plant more of those since the kids devour them. The also loved the snap peas which I also would like to plant more of those as well. Those were so good they hardly ever made it the 65 steps back into the kitchen from the garden being enjoyed immediately by who ever was around. The cooler temperatures of September will bring new crops which I recently planted from seed — lettuce. About a week ago I planted a few containers with a variety of lettuce seed. Winter Density lettuce and Red Sails lettuce are two varieties of Lactuca sativa which should compliment each other not only in the containers but in the salad bowl as well. Winter Density is a mix between romaine and a butterhead lettuce; whereas Red Sails is a red- bronze tipped leafy green with a buttery flavor. Yum! Too bad I have to wait a little while longer. Gardening vegetables teaches you patience, particularly when starting from seed. But the rewards you get are many and in the grand scheme of things you don’t have to wait too long to enjoy your harvests. We forget in these days of instant gratification and high speed this, that and the other thing that you should slow down now and again and stop and smell the flowers. In this case the beautiful flowers which eventually become tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants etc… Taking care of the garden this summer, we shared the experience with the kids and theri friends. They watched us as we built and planted the garden and became active recipients of many of our homegrown harvests as we headed back to the kitchen. Initially they were casual observers, but as the fruits came in their interests increased. Not surprising since we are talking about a bunch of teenagers. They enjoyed the beans and snap peas – some had their first bites into cherry tomatoes. They munch on banana peppers and of course the cukes! I hope they got a taste of how rewarding having a vegetable garden can be and hopefully will one day remember their time sitting in our yard enjoying the fresh produce and try to do it themselves. As the dog days of summer end, I look forward to the fall harvests and the beautiful autumn colors.
[The following is a blog entry from May 7, 2012 in my other blog, It’s a 4 Dog Life, http://itsa4doglife.blogspot.com/. Since I recently decided to dedicate a blog specifically to our vegetable/herb gardening – I felt it was important to include and needless to rewrite.]
This spring I have done something I have wanted to do for a very long time – start my own vegetable garden. I have fond childhood memories of working with my mother in our garden in Sherman, Connecticut. During my adult life, I have had my fair share of small container gardens for herbs primarily. My boyfriend (a stupid term for the man who I live with but I am not married to) has always had a small garden as well where he would plant tomatoes, basil, peppers and corn.
About a month ago, we started on building the form for the raised bed after we had scoped out the best and easiest place for the garden to go. We did our research on how to build the form and not to use chemically treated wood which could leach contaminants into your garden effecting your produce.
We made multiple trips to the town mulch pile to get what we needed. A mixture of that, cow manure and some top soil filled the bed. I had tilled up three bucket fulls of rocks from the bed before laying the form and the mulch mixture since I planned on planting carrots I wanted to make sure that the pathway was clear of rocks. An impossible task in Connecticut which is why we opted for the raised bed method, plus we can control the soil mixture more that way.
April 17, 2012
April provided us with a few days of warm weather which had us planting a few starter plants but not everything. There were a few days which frost warning had us putting plastic containers on top of the crops over night to protect them. We escaped without any casualties. We started off in the bed with about 8 corn plants, 3 tomato plants, 3 green bean plants, a couple of peppers. I was concerned right off the bat of one of the corn plants since I had been drinking a beer while planting and I spilled the beer on the soil right where one plant went in.
Deer aren’t as much a problem for us with the four dogs around. To keep the four dogs from trampling through the garden bed, we put posts in each corner and wrapped a plastic fencing around it. We stapled the fencing into the posts leaving one side that we could open to get into the garden and use a bungee cord to secure it.
May 5, 2012
At the same time we also used our patio containers to plant cauliflower, red lettuce, Boston lettuce, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce and spinach, broccoli and strawberries. Last week, we were able to pick off a leaf from every plant and used it for our Greek Steak Sandwich Wraps. It was delicious and so rewarding to walk in the backyard and get out lettuce from our very own garden!
After this weekend planting the raised bed is now full.
We have quite a bit of rain in the area and now are needing some sun. Over the weekend we added more tomato plants – a few heirloom, super 100s and Lemon Boys. I also planted some snow peas, and the carrots that I had started form seed a few weeks ago. The “beer corn” plant looks to be doing well and has I think gotten over the drunken phase it may have been in. Who knows maybe I stumbled upon something 🙂 The strawberry plants have buds and flowers and a real strawberry in progress.
Strawberry plant May 7, 2012
I am excited about the prospects for the garden this summer. Sharing this experience with my family is a big part of starting this garden. I look forward to adding our crops to the dinner table as the months tick on.
“Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.” ~Author Unknown