This spring has been a chilly one. Not downright cold, but decidedly colder than average. Despite this, the frost is out of the ground, so the test garden at Milaeger’s is now prepared and ready for planting. It was rototilled on March 20, and about ten bags of compost were worked in. I like to get that done when we are having a dry spell, because it is an impossible chore if the ground is muddy. Oftentimes, we have a wet spring, and it’s hard to get the job done on time. If you can get it done early, then you just have to wait for planting time, knowing that when it arrives, you are all set to go. And now is that time.
I know it seems early, and it is too early for many plants, namely, those of tropical origin. But for anyone who is itching to get their hands in the soil, that craving can be satisfied by planting cold tolerant plants. You don’t have to take my word for it. I suggest you get a copy of “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Edward Smith. (Make sure you get the newest edition.) Smith gardens in Vermont, so his cold weather advice is tested in a climate not unlike ours. For most plants, he will tell you to use the average last frost date for your area as a reference point, and plan from there. (That date is April 27 for us.) Smith will tell you, for example, you can sow peas as soon as the soil is workable, but for best results the soil temperature should be 60-75 degrees. The warmer the soil, the faster the germination. This is helpful advice, and it comes from Smith (as well as myself) with years of experience. But you have to couple this advice with common sense. Let’s say your planting date for radishes is April 1st. If it’s twenty degrees that day, you wait until the cold snap has passed before planting. If you want a second opinion on these matters, get a copy of “The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. She gardens in Maine, and her advice is encyclopedic.
Here is what I am planning on planting now. Onion sets (you can also plant garlic, leeks, and onion plants), radish seed, and greens of various types----lettuce, kale, spinach, and others. These greens are young plants, part of our “Greens to Grow” program. The varieties in the program were selected for their cold tolerance. Around this time, if we have a forecast for five days of decent weather (night temperatures above freezing), I go ahead and plant. That gives the plants enough time to get settled in before the next cold spell. And if that next cold spell is severe, cover the young plants with plastic or a tarp. Make sure they are well watered before you cover them, and before the cold snap sets in. If they are wanting moisture, that adds to their stress and vulnerability. If you are growing your greens in a container, you can bring the container indoors when necessary.
There are different approaches to harvesting the greens. They can be harvested as soon as the leaves are big enough to pick, even as small as a couple inches long. At that stage they are called “baby greens.” They are at their most tender then. Some folks like to allow the leaves to get five or six inches long, and then harvest the outer leaves, allowing the new leaves in the center to mature for later harvesting. A third method is to allow the plant to grow to full size, and harvest it as a clump, or head---like the kind you see in grocery stores. After harvest, you can use the area for a second lettuce planting, or another crop entirely. Those bags of mixed greens you see in the grocery stores nowadays are baby greens, harvested young, so there are multiple harvests. I like to harvest them young, so I can start to enjoy them right away, when they are at their sweetest. I spoke with a “greens enthusiast” recently who was undecided about kale. She valued kale’s nutritional value but didn’t like the flavor. I suggested she harvest the leaves when they were less than two inches long, when the flavor is very mild. You can get the nutrition without the overwhelming presence that mature kale leaves often have. Also, you don’t have to use kale in large quantities. Maybe just a small percentage of kale in your salad is enough.
I just checked the ten-day forecast and it doesn’t generate optimism, so I don’t blame you for being skeptical. There are a number of nights that fall below freezing, and many days that don’t get out of the 30’s. I’m going to give it a try, anyway. I’ll let you know how it works out.
Please email me (email@example.com) if you have any questions or comments.
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November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)
October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!
September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!
September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!
September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!
August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!
August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes
July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden
July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato
July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?
July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!
June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...
June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion
June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!
May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!
May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic
May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!
May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe
April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video
April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden
April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?
April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting
March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!
March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!
February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!
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September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!
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July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing
June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns
May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?
April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?
March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now
October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!
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September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog
July 2013 - Spaghetti SquashCold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
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March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
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March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
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February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties
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