Sunday, March 28, 2010

Early Spring Harvest

The peas are officially in the ground, just-in-time for those forsythia blooms! And I've planted seeds for lettuce, spinach, carrots, parsnips, and beets. There are a few brave little shoots coming up, but they're still tiny. But we still managed to have an early spring harvest of parsnips, salsify, leeks, spinach and mache. How, you might ask? They're actually from last season and they over-wintered in the garden. Root crops like parsnips and salsify are actually biennials. As the weather cools in the fall these plants store their energy in the form of sugar in that big root that we normally eat. These survive in the ground over the winter and when the soil warms up again they begin to sprout new greens and grow, and eventually produce a flower and seeds. If you harvest them as soon as the soil is warm enough to dig you'll find that your parsnips are at their sweetest. Leave them to grow more and those stored sugars wind up fueling the new growth, so nab them when the new leaves just start to show! As for spinach and mache, these greens are very cold-hardy. As long as they have some growth before the true winter comes they survive, and in spring they're raring to go before any new seeds are even germinating.

I wish I could attribute this early harvest to some garden planning genius on my part. In reality I HAD planned on having the parsnips and leeks over the winter, but stupidly forgot that if the ground is FROZEN, you can't dig them out! As for the spinach and mache, I'd hoped to be able to sneak a few leaves during the winter since I'd covered them with fabric for a bit of protection. That really didn't work because for most of the winter the plants were still too small to bother with. And then they got buried under our 2-foot snow fall, and there they stayed! Luckily I don't have to rely on my garden planning for winter survival! But it is nice when you can still reap something of value despite your own poor planning. And guess what? Leaving a few hardy vegetables in the ground over the winter to provide an early spring feast is going to be part of my garden plan from now on!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Plant Peas When Daffodils and Forsythia Bloom

I'm a little bit behind this year. Happily I do have a few green things making appearances on the shelves in the basement. And yesterday I actually planted some spinach, lettuce, carrots and parsnips in some of our beds. It was wonderful to get my hands dirty once again! One thing I still haven't managed to plant yet are peas. Saint Patrick's Day has come and gone, and still the peas are in their seed packets. Well, lucky for me I have an excuse: my forsythia isn't blooming yet! Nor are my daffodils. Those beauties pictured at the top are from last year. What's this got
to do with peas? Well, according to the science of phenology, forsythia and daffodil blooms indicate when the soil is the perfect temperature for peas to germinate. Phenology uses nature's own indicators as a timetable for when to plant instead of just sticking to a calendar. There are a few nice web sites here, here, and here that talk about phenology in more detail. There are even sites where you can participate by logging in your own observations, here for example. If you believe, as I do, that our climate is changing this would be an important project to participate in. And it sounds like it would be fun!

I plan to try and pay a bit more attention to Mother Nature's signals when I'm gardening this year. After all, Mother usually knows best!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Garden Planning Part 2 (or Plan B as the Case May Be!)

I (almost) had my crayons poised over my graph paper, ready to plan away. I had my organic gardening books out open to their sections on crop-rotation and planting timetables. Visions of well-organized garden bed layouts flitted across my brain. My intentions were good, they really were! So, then, you might ask, where ARE all these wonderful, colorful garden plans for the upcoming season, huh?? Where's that brilliant, fool-proof crop rotation scheme that'll yieldbushels of blight-free tomatoes, huh? We're waiting . . .

Well, life kind of got in the way in the form of a job search, sick kitty, and, well, just life! So I guess it's time for Plan B. What's Plan B? Just try to get SOME early plants started under my lights in the basement, and IMPROVISE! It's amazing that last year by this time I already had cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and leeks going strong. I guess it didn't help that up until just a couple of days ago the ground was still hidden under layers of snow. I know, excuses, excuses! But it was hard to believe that spring would ever really get here. Now I'm scrambling to catch up and already thinking of planting peas. Sigh.

Just goes to show you, there are the "best laid plans", and then there's gardening! When it comes to growing your own sometimes the best plan is to just do it!