By By Carey Restino
It feels like no time at all since we packed up the last vestiges of the high tunnel and put the outside gardens to bed and here I am, dirt under my fingernails again. Sometimes, when I am traveling to warmer places where flowers bloom when we are still submerged in white, I think how nice it would be to live in a place where you can grow things all year round, outside, without plastic bubbles over them and black plastic beneath them to warm the ground. But I’m not sure if I could take it without those months off to recharge. Especially when those months fly by and before you know it, you are once again constructing an artificial sun-filled environment in your dining room.
This week, the temperatures soared unseasonably again, causing us all to scratch our heads and wonder if winter was ever going to materialize. One thing is for sure, as long as it stays warm like this, we are moving closer and closer to an early spring. Up at 1,100
feet, we’ve only got a foot of snow and it’s going pretty fast in this sunshine. Even if we got a couple more dumps between now and May, we aren’t likely to get the typical 4 feet of white stuff this year.
I’m somewhat glad I took the cover off my high tunnel. Even if I put the cover back on today, it would probably be a month before the soil was warm enough to plant. But I know people who are gazing longingly at that steaming soil and 80-degree temperatures in their plastic-covered gardens and wondering, “Why not?” I’m glad I don’t have that debate to wrestle with – but if I did, I’d probably plant. I’d plant the kind of things that might germinate in cool temperatures and be able to withstand a frost or two – like spinach, chard and kale and maybe even some hardy lettuces. I’d plant peas. I might even plant a section of carrots and beets. You could plant another phase of everything in a month and have yourself a little race to see if the warmer soil temperatures likely in April and May cause everything you planted early to come to fruition about the same time as the stuff you planted later. But it would be worth it anyway, just to touch the soil, enjoy the smell of the earth and shake off the winter blahs. Just cover everything with cover cloth (Remay) to give that soil a little extra boost. Elliot Coleman, god of northern gardening, likens plants that germinate in these cool temperatures to being in a gigantic refrigerator – they might not grow much, but they will likely stay fresh for a long time, even with nighttime temperatures into the low 20s.
But me, I’m focusing my eyes on May like usual. This year, I planted my tomatoes a couple weeks later than I did in 2013. I had fruit on my cherry tomatoes before I planted them last year, and that requires a LOT of space. Since I grow about 60 tomato plants from seed, my whole house – and portions of my generous neighbor’s house – were a tomato jungle by May 1 when the whole lot got stuck in the ground, for better of for worse. Letting tomatoes grow that big without putting them in large pots won’t kill them, but it won’t help, either. I didn’t have enough big pots to transplant them all, and the difference between those that were able to develop a healthy root system and those that were constrained was obvious all season. This year, I also decided to limit the amount of transplanting I was going to do with the tomatoes and sowed them straight into 4-by-4-inch pots. It means they will take up more space under the lights, but that’s the price
you pay for happy tomatoes.
Also going in the earth this week were leeks and celery, which both just take a ridiculous amount of time to come to be, a lot of herbs, and my wildly successful Asian eggplants. I love these eggplants. They are about the size of a small banana and they actually grow here. Well! I’m trying another variety this year that is round and about the size of a small tomato. We’ll see. Maybe I was just spoiled by last year’s crazy warmth. Next week, I’ll plant beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and I’m even going to do some kale starts this year, just because I love things that you can eat early.
Toward the end of March, I’ll plant my zucchini, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and corn as well as the first of my lettuce. I am determined this year not to have 30 feet of lettuce all come to perfection at the same time. So I have a strict plan to plant a sampling of my lettuces each week for four weeks and I’ve blocked out enough space in my tunnel to succession plant my lettuces. Even in a small garden, you can do this by estimating how much you are likely to consume in a week and limiting your planting to that, leaving space to plant again next week.
Up until now, I have focused all my attention on things you can eat, but last year, I found myself yearning for some color in my tunnel and really enjoyed the borage and flowering bok choi in salad mixes, so this year, I also planted a ton of nasturtiums, which are both beautiful and edible, but take forever to do their thing.
So all these seeds are doing their magic, in damp Promix, wrapped in plastic wrap to keep the soil moist. I’ve started checking my flats every day now, waiting for that first green sprout to come up and send me scrambling to pull out all my lights and the big seed carts that will take over the dining room for the next two months. But I’m not complaining. Let the season commence!
Comments are closed