Times are weird, just weird. As we adjust to the new normal, many folks are concerned about their food supply and wanting to start a garden. Along with this desire, is trepidation for many about going out to stores.
A client of mine, Deanna loves spring greens yet was daunted by lack of success with her spring garden. She realized she didn’t really know how much space different plants needed. She also wasn’t certain what spring plants grow well with each other. She had grown Bak Choi successfully, but that was about all. She wanted to add more greens and cool weather root crops like radishes, carrots, beets and turnips, yet she was not sure how to integrate them with the greens.
In previous years, the root crops ended up being small at best and the greens ended up rotting. She was tired of buying what she felt like was wasted seed. She had tried a couple times and wasn’t happy with the outcome. When she came to me, this was one of her major concerns to insure productivity in her garden. She was so happy when she learned that some simple adjustments could make a huge impact on her productivity.
Here are a few ways she improved her spring garden.
When you direct seed it is harder to get plant spacing right. Many folks only direct seed because they do not have a setup to start seeds indoors. This was Deanna’s situation. She was direct seeding all her crops. Seeds are small and can be hard to handle, so folks at the seed companies tend to expect you to scatter all the seeds in a packet in a row and then “thin” them so they have room to grow. This is one way to give your plants more space, but a wasteful one.
It is far better to seed with wider spacing. My rule is to seed at about 1/3 the spacing listed on the seed packet as the final plant spacing distance. This allows you to harvest smaller root crops or greens as they begin to crowd and leave some to get larger. You also don’t waste seed this way and can have one seed packet often last for a couple of years. Very handy to keep costs down.
Avoid scattering seed close together and then leaving them that was as they get larger. This is how Deanna had rotting plants. Not only, were so close they could not get any air circulation and rotted, but they did not have the space to grow to full size and produce the yield you would want.
If you fingers struggle with small seeds consider these options:
Buy pelleted lettuce and carrot seed which is much easier. Check Territorial Seed Company for a variety of pelleted lettuce seed.
You can also get an inexpensive hand seeder that will allow you to dispense smaller seeds a bit easier. These can be super simple up to more sophisticated. Territorial has a selection of these also. One advantage is they can be used for all kinds of seeds.
If you have the advantage of being able to start greens seedlings indoors, it is easier to give each plant the space it needs. I still tend to transplant a bit close together and harvest every other or third one as they begin to crowd each other. This extends the harvest and allows the remaining plants to get larger for harvest later and fills in the space so you are not wasting space in your garden.
Another key to spring garden success is timing. Granted this is trickier as the weather gets less predictable and computer models are unable to keep up with climatic changes, yet there are some tricks you can employ.
First is to succession plant. This is where you plant a new batch of the same crop about every two weeks. This gives you a couple advantages and can be done with either indoor or outdoor seed starting.
Outdoors, if weather turns too warm/hot/wet/dry for a crop, you can try again. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it is another way to spread out your harvest. This means you don’t harvest at once. This is especially useful for root crops where you are harvesting the entire plant.
Indoors, succession plant your spring greens and then transition to following those on with summer greens. Some lettuces will take much more heat than others. A couple of my warm weather favorites here are Valmaine and Jericho romaines. These can follow-on after cooler loving lettuces such as most of the butterheads.
Lettuces, cabbage and chard are cool loving crops and you’ll get an earlier harvest if you can start these indoors while it is still too cold to start them outdoors. After you harden them off, they can be transplanted into the ground for your first greens harvest. Spinach though, doesn’t transplant well so start that one directly in your garden.
As always there is trial and error in your specific microclimate and this is another reason for not scattering all your seed at once.
Another way to increase the use of your spring garden space is to interplant root crops with leaf crops. Gratefully this is pretty easy with cool weather crops because most greens and roots combine just fine.
Lettuces are happy with all the cool weather roots. Spinach and chard go well as they are in the same plants family. Same idea with kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabagas and radishes, which are all in the brassica family.
Don’t forget a star of your spring garden – peas! Peas thrive in spring so plant some of your pleasure be it snow peas, snap peas or shelling peas. We love shelling peas best, granted they hardly make it out of the garden as I tend to just pick and eat them, fresh, raw and oh so sweet!! My favorites are Green Arrow and Alderman/Telephone Pole. Check the vine height of pea varieties to be sure they match your pea fence. If you don’t have a pea fence, get one what doesn’t need support like Sugar Ann snap pea. There is a reason why you may have heard “peas and carrots” they go tougher in the garden. Plant your carrots in front of your pea fence.
Pulling this all together
May people have asked me about how to design a spring veggie garden, so lets pull some of these tips together.
Choose your varieties and see when they will mature, if they can take some heat and how big they will be full sized.
Next use the companion planting tips to choose which plants to put in which bed.
Then decide how long you want to harvest each type of plant to create a succession planting schedule. This will tell you when to start your seeds, be it indoors or out. Remember root crops are all direct seeded.
Finally, choose a block of your garden for each set of plants for example, one for brassicas, one for peas and carrots, once of lettuce and radishes, etc. Split up each block by how many rounds of succession planting you want. So if you want three rounds, split it up into three sections. Plant the first section, two weeks later the second section and three weeks later, the third session. Tada! You’ve designed your spring garden.
I’ve had several clients and new students ask about garden soil. It seems many folks that have tried to garden have wanted to quit because their garden didn’t do well. Most times it turns out it was their soil that was at issue.
Soil is the foundation of our garden and can grow our plants for us. I have put together a 5 Day Free email course on soil, so you can transform your understanding of good garden soil, to begin to transform your garden.
Container gardens can be a various sizes and shapes and tucked into or onto most any place, making they great for small space gardening. Even if you have a large yard, growing food on your deck is convenient.
Live in a townhouse where the sun is limited. You can move your container garden around from place to place to follow the sun, getting more or less light depending on what you are growing. You can move them under the eves in a big rain storm, or under the sky if they need watering.
Many people seem to not have much time these days, so having a smaller area to maintain fits with many people’s lifestyles and still allows them to eat some food from their own place.
You can get a huge yield from a well planted container garden. Amazing really how much bounty you can haul in. You can grow pretty much anything you would grow in the ground in a container.
All those crops that grow in fall and winter can grow in containers too, so you can four season garden !
Hardening off your seedlings is an important step to insuring they bound into growth and production when put unto the ground.
Hardening off refers to how we acclimate seedlings; who have been started indoors, to their final outdoor environment, by slowing getting them used to increased amounts of sun, wind and rain. If we do not harden off our seedlings, they will experience what is called “transplant shock” and likely die, or at least not grow well and thrive. Hardening off does require a bit of flexibility and may be the most attention intensive part of starting your plants from seed indoors. The process only takes a couple of week though, and the opportunity for observation is great, so do not be discouraged. You are strengthening the babies you started.
Check the seeds catalogs and packets to find out the cold or heat tolerance of your seedling type and take this into consideration when hardening off.
Ideally, only expose your plants to filtered sunlight for a hour or two the first couple of days. You can also begin on a cloudy day and leave them out for 2 or 3 hours
Gradually expose them to more sun at a rate of 1 to 2 hours per day of time outside.
Be sure to bring your seedlings in at night for at least a week as they are not likely used to cold nights. Bring them in if frost threatens.
Do not leave them out if the weather calls for high wind or heavy rain, they are not strong enough yet to handle these conditions, yet.
By a couple of weeks time, you want your seedlings out all the time and they can then be planted into your containers garden. You can harden them off and keep them in their smaller containers longer depending upon your schedule.