What went down in the garden: March

Kale sprouts in early March (top) and late March (bottom) show how quickly spring growth happens.
Kale sprouts in early March (top) and late March (bottom) show how quickly spring growth happens.

A monthly round-up of garden activities seems like a relatively effective way to keep track of the garden’s progress, so here’s what’s been happening in March.

By now, I’ve started three varieties of kale, three types of lettuce, six peppers, three tomatoes, four basil, two chives, chard, calendula, globe amaranth, parsley, cabbage, broccoli, cosmos, two types of cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Whoa, that seems like a lot when I type it all out like that. They’re growing in four flats indoors under a rigged-up fluorescent light set-up, but whenever possible I take them out into the sunshine to toughen them up (and utilize the free energy).

Photo of seed trays from early March and late March.
Seed trays in early March (top) and late March (bottom) are making nice progress.

They’re sizing up nicely, and I’m hoping that the kale, cabbage and broccoli might be ready to plant out as early as next week. Just in time, too, because I (whoops) impulse-bought three more tomato varieties, and I have to find a place to get them going.

Garlic, radishes and strawberries are all looking happy at the end of March.
Garlic, radishes and strawberries are all looking happy at the end of March.

As for what’s already outside, the radishes and peas are coming along nicely, and the garlic I planted in the fall has really started to take off. Scapes will be here before we know it! The strawberries I planted last month look happy, too, and I’ve been pinching off their blossoms to encourage them to grow strong and root deeply. We planted a few strawberries last year, too, so I’m hoping those might bear fruit while the others settle in.

Radish sprouts and sage plant with light coat of frost.
Radish sprouts and sage were kissed by frost, but seem fine.

Of course, at the end of last week, nature felt the need to give me a little reminder that it wasn’t quite through with the cold yet, and brought a nice coat of frost.

And then, a couple of days later on Easter, it went all-out with a dusting of snow. I get it, spring. I won’t get too far ahead of myself just yet. Fortunately, everything outside already is hardy and nothing looks worse for the wear. And frost-free days are coming soon!

Pea plants are several inches high, despite snow.
Despite a dusting of snow, the pea plants are going strong.

There are a handful of seeds in the main bed, too – radishes, beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce, bachelor’s buttons, etc. – but I’m still waiting to see everything but the radishes. No matter how many times I watch seeds sprout, I’m still skeptical that it will happen the next time. So my fingers are crossed that I’ll start to see more growth soon – and that April will bring the first of the bounty!

These container designs are sketchy

The two whiskey half-barrels that I picked up in February are already sprouting with their first round of plantings, so it’s high time to share the plans I dreamed up for them. As I re-read The Bountiful Container, I took the advice about planning for visual appeal and seasonal changes to heart, and created spring and summer versions of each planter.   Two sketches show designs for spring and summer versions of barrel 1.

Barrel One: The spring arrangement for this planter features Delaway Kale (it came with my Seed Savers membership this year). Around it, I’ve planted a row of Bull’s Blood beets, and they are surrounded by the Seed Saver’s Lettuce Mix. The outermost ring is cherry bell radishes.

For summer, the centerpiece of barrel one is a Principe Borghese tomato plant  (a favorite variety, and determinate, so it should do OK in the container). It will be surrounded by bush beans of various colors, and the whole container will be ringed with Globe Basil. Two sketches show designs for spring and summer versions of barrel 2.Barrel Two: To the back of this barrel, I attached about three feet of fencing to provide a trellis. For spring, Green Arrow snap peas will send up tendrils. In front of them, I’ve planted Albino beets, spinach, and a mix of radishes and Paris Market carrots.

For summer, the peas will be replaced by Minnesota Midget melons, which are supposed to have well-behaved 3-foot vines. In front of them, I’ll transplant miniature yellow bell peppers. The carrots from spring will hang out through the season, and the front of the container will feature Tip Top Nasturtium to add to the yellow and orange color scheme.

Time will tell if the real-life barrels bear any resemblance to these sketches – or if my seasonal timing will even work! I’ll keep you posted.

I took a chance on early peas. Worth it?

Shelling peas about an inch tall, planted Feb. 21.
Shelling peas planted Feb. 21.

I am an impatient gardener under normal circumstances. But give me gorgeous, spring-like weather in February, and I’m likely to do things that are…inadvisable.

The prep of my expanded vegetable bed helped with my garden longing this year, since I was too sore to do much else. My hands were still dirty at the end of the day, so I felt like I was doing SOMETHING. Starting seeds indoors helped, too.

But before long, temperatures in the 70s and lovely packets of pea seedlings resulted in the inevitable: I planted seeds on February 21.

February 21.

That’s a good three weeks earlier than you’re supposed to plant peas around here. Was I crazy, I wondered? Probably. Would the peas fail? I told myself they would. But still: The forecast was promising, and I just could not wait a moment longer.

In went the peas, three varieties, on the far edge of my garlic beds beneath the new trellises. And then I waited, and watched, and waited.

And waited.

A little panicky, I started researching what would happen if I started peas too soon (sure, it would have been smart to do that research BEFORE planting, but who has time to be smart when the weather is freakishly warm?). Sure enough, the experts pointed out, seeds are slow to germinate in cold soil, and might not sprout at all.

I bit my nails and waited some more.

Shelling peas grow about an inch above the soil
Shelling peas planted Feb. 21.

Finally, on March 6, right on the edge of their 7- to 14-day germination window, the first pea pushed its way out of the soil. Over the next few days, others followed.

Phew.

Snap and snow peas are already about two inches tall.
Snap and snow peas, planted Feb. 21. Disregard that lost garlic in the middle – I think the squirrels helped move it over the winter. It will be pulled out to eat as green garlic soon.

They’re growing merrily now, and I hope they’ll reach up and take advantage of their new trellises soon. For comparison, I planted more shelling peas in one of my whiskey barrels on March 6. I could see the first of those poking up on March 10 – much faster! Despite being planted two weeks later than the first round of peas, they’re less than a week behind. It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s any notable difference in the two plantings as they grow and produce peas.

Later planted shelling peas just above the surface.
These peas, planted March 6, are just coming up.

The lesson here is probably that it’s not worth it to plant peas early. But in reality, when the forecast looks good, and the need for spring is getting desperate — sometimes, you just can’t wait. And that might not be such a catastrophic thing.

Shelling peas in whiskey barrels just starting to sprout.
Shelling peas planted in whiskey barrel on March 6.

Inspiration for the 2016 Garden

After last year’s major gardening slump, I was in need of some inspiration to get me revved up again. And boy, did I find it. A handful of blogs and books have me excited about gardening again, and have convinced me to think about vegetable planting in a whole new way.

First, two blogs that have been particularly inspiring to me this year:

Logo for Living HomegrownLiving Homegrown: Written by Theresa Loe, who is also an executive producer of PBS’ Growing a Greener World, this blog is packed with great content on gardening and canning, another love of mine. This winter, Living Homegrown introduced me to the term “foodscaping” (see more below), which has me totally re-envisioning my garden. There is also a wonderful weekly Living Homegrown podcast that I recommend checking out.

Favorite posts:
Why You Should Rethink Food Growing
Ten Show-Stopping Edibles
8 Delicious Ways to Use Up Leftover Preserves

Logo for NW Edible LifeNorthwest Edible Life: Erica’s blog is full of no-nonsense advice no matter what level of “homesteading” you embrace. I love her tips on vegetable gardening, and she also has plenty of recipes, food preserving advice, and even how-to posts on topics like making your own soap and home-brewing. Both Theresa and Erica have given me serious chicken envy, too. I’m not quite ready for my own coop, but I love vicariously experiencing theirs.

Favorite posts:
Lawn to Garden in a Single Weekend
How to Make Succession Planting and Year-Round Gardening Really Work
Which Seed-Starting Supplies Are Worth It? And Which Aren’t?

A1F8vI99cmLNext, the books. A post on Living Homegrown (I think) led me to the work of Rosalind Creasy. Creasy is a pioneer in edible landscaping, or what has popularly been termed “foodscaping.” I picked up her book “Edible Landscaping” during the depths of winter when I was most in need of encouragement, and it is full of envious landscapes. The idea behind foodscaping is to grow edible plants as if they were ornamentals, taking factors such as plant shape and size, texture, foliage color, and blooms into consideration. Rather than utilitarian rows, you end up with a cottage-style garden that is both productive and beautiful! Edible Landscaping even includes photos of the experimental foodscapes that Creasy has planted in her own front yard over the years. As I tackle arranging edibles in my expanded backyard veggie beds, I’ll be turning to these inspirational images again and again.

The cover of "The Bountiful Container"I actually purchased a copy of McGee and Stuckey’s Bountiful Container a few years ago. It’s packed with useful information, and when I first bought it, I was a little overwhelmed by everything there was to learn. But when I picked it back up this winter while planning the 2016 garden, I was motivated anew to try some of the authors’ tips and planting arrangements. I’ll be using a lot of the advice here in deciding how to fill my two new whiskey barrel containers.

What resources are serving as your garden inspiration this year?

Changes to the garden in 2016

The view of the garden from the driveway.
The 2016 garden, waiting.

This is my most impatient time of the year.

Sure, there are seeds sprouting inside, and I’m trying to get a jump on some early peas. The garlic I planted in October is poking up through the soil. But I am restless, eager for the sun to come out and the soil to warm so we can really get going in the soil.

To give myself something to do while I wait (not to mention fulfill this year’s goal of expanding the veggie garden), I’ve been busy making some changes.

You can see here where we put in three raised beds and carved out a tiny section of lawn for gardening last year.

This year, we went a step farther, encroaching even more onto the lawn. (Less to mow = happy Kate!) The bed might look awkward, sticking out into the grass, but I keep reminding myself that it’s part of abigger plan. Someday, I hope to install a patio in the back of the yard, and then the veggie garden will butt up against it.

Plastic landscape edging carves out a section of lawn where the expanded vegetable bed will go.
Vegetable bed expansion in progress. Forgive the photo from my phone, taken after a long day of working.

After roping off the new bed with some plastic landscape edging, I heaped the doomed lawn with several inches of soil and several inches of compost. I’m crossing my fingers that will be enough to smother the grass and create nice, fertile soil. It might not be perfect this year, but I think next year’s garden will be in great shape. I’m trying to remember that I’m in it for the long haul, now that we’ll be here for a while.

A small strip of soil against the south fence is edged and mulched with compost.
Tiny strip of land against the south fence. More herbs, flowers and maybe leafy greens will go here this year.

While I was at it, I also edged the strip of land next to our driveway, against the south fence. These herbs flourished last year, which convinced me that it was worth trying to plant more there. Wherever I can snatch up a few extra inches of soil!

A photograph of my garden, with changes labeled.
A closer look at the changes for this year.

This year, I’m also hoping to get more cut flowers in the ground. I added compost to a couple of neglected beds in the back corner of the yard and along the opposite fence and finished them off with some mulch. These beds are too close to questionable neighbor gardening tactics (and neighbors working on cars) to make me comfortable about growing edibles there, but I’m hoping to fill them with flowers and get a grip on the weeds that tend to take over by July.

View of the garden from the west, standing at the back of the yard and looking toward the house.
A view of the garden from my imaginary future patio.

How are you passing the time in the garden early in the season?