Sunday, April 4, 2010

Xtreme(ly) Fast Spring Gardening

I went back to my garden in TN for about a week at the end of March.  It was a whirlwind tour of the world of spring planting of cool season crops:  peas, lettuce, brassicas, potatoes, onions, and the like.  One of the interesting things about gardening remotely, from my control room in Houston, is that I have to figure out how to get a month's worth of work done in a week.  Answer:  cut corners.

One "job" that you can't cut corners on, though, is admiring the daffodils.  These miniature ones are my favorites:

I divided some of them (while they were blooming!) and distributed them to neighbors.  They are just so cute, I want to see them everywhere.  It works to divide them while they're blooming if they go back in the ground pretty quick at their new home.

Some things that I planted last fall were growing pretty well.  I had planted greens--seven top turnips, mustard, kale, and lettuce--and root crops like carrots, daikon, and multiplying onions.  The seven top turnips took the prize for winter vigor and hardiness, a prize that usually goes to kale.  For some reason, the kale was puny.  Maybe something nibbled on it and that set it back.  Not sure.  Here it is.  It was already bolting and about to bloom.

I gave it some fertilizer, so maybe when I come back it will be bigger.

The carrots were all dead, frozen.  That happens sometimes.  I ate the daikon over the winter, so it was all gone.  The lettuce got too cold too and died.  But the multiplying onions that my neighbor Joe gave me looked green and vigorous.

On to new plantings.   First, peas:  I set up a trellis and planted sugar snaps and regular English peas.

In my garden, voles are a big problem. They love to eat germinating peas.  So I treat them with something called Ropel (repels rodents--get it?) that tastes horrible and that keeps them from being eaten in the ground.  So I hope they will be up and growing when I get back to my garden in May.

I bought some lettuce transplants and set them out.

As with all the other plantings, I put a lot of compost on the bed, removed (most of) the weeds, and fertilized with alfalfa meal.

My neighbor and I have a constant debate about tillage.  She said she heard that tillage just stirs up the weed seeds and makes them sprout more.   That's probably true, but somehow you have to get rid of the weeds that are already there growing before you plant new stuff.  You could spray them with Roundup like no-till people do, but that's expensive, and I reserve Roundup for the really hard cases like poison ivy.  So my solution is to just sort of surface cultivate the top two or three inches of soil.  I sort of scratch the surface with a fork or hand weeder and pull up a lot of weeds that way.  It's kind of time-consuming but it works.  If there's something big in the way, I dig it up with a spading fork.

One problem this past spring was that it rained a lot while I was at my garden. When soil is wet, it's not a good idea to cultivate at all:  it messes up the soil structure.  You've heard the expression, "too wet to plow."  Well, that's why.

All the rain caused some delays.  I couldn't weed the very messy bed where I wanted to plant collards and other brassicas.  So I bought some landscape fabric and laid it down on the bed and cut holes in it for the plants, and stuck them in!  It worked, apparently.  We'll see in about a month.

I put straw down on top of the landscaping fabric to keep the soil cooler and to keep the fabric from blowing around and abrading the stems of the collard plants.

I also planted some leeks, one of my favorite vegetables:

Carrots, spinach, and more lettuce were seeded into the same bed but they had not come up by the time I had to leave.  This bed will be very weedy when I get there in early May, I know from experience.  There's no way around that.  Usually, though, if I just pull the weeds in early May, I find the food plants in there among the weeds, and they do ok.  I cultivated once with a hoe just to nip the germinating weeds in the bud, as it were.

Absentee gardening is not the best way to garden, probably, but it's less consuming of your entire life than regular, daily gardening, which tends to expand to meet the time available to it, like housework.

Right before I left I did the ultimate short cut:  I just threw some seeds on the ground among the early spring weeds and then scattered some straw over them!  Sometimes this works surprisingly well. Those vigorous seven top turnips were sowed that way at the last minute, late last summer before I left my garden to go back to Houston.

The potato job was almost equally slapdash:  I just dug some holes right in the weedy bed and dropped the taters in!  I covered them up, and voila.  I think I might have put a little compost on top, and a lot of fertilizer.  Potatoes love nitrogen.  They probably dislike weeds too, but tough tatties.

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