0-2 weeks to last frost(!) - Some tips on early spring planting

As is fairly normal for this time of year, we've had a rollercoaster of weather the past two weeks.  When the temperature dropped into the forties with rain, most of my plants came back inside for an extended break, and I bunkered up as well.

Inside the hoop house, spring plants loved it though.  They didn't get the rain, but the cool, grey days were perfect for spinach, salad greens and peas.  This week I had to start adding support to the indoor peas, while their outdoor counterparts are all of an inch high.

But the pendulum swung back the other way this week, we're at nearly 70 degrees as I write.  I semi-opened up the hoop this week--rolled up the sides and took out a few side panels that were getting in the way of my snap peas.  For the most part, the plants inside now are tolerant to light frosts, and are less happy when the temperature climbs to 100+ degrees.  Also, with the sides up I can install my gutters and take advantage of that rain!

Last week I was talking to a woman who works with local farmers, and she was saying that the window of opportunity for spring planting was frustratingly small this year.  We'd have a couple of nice days, then lots of rain, and they couldn't get their tractors into the fields.  It made me realize that home gardeners have an advantage for sneaking in early crops.  Still, dealing with wet soil can be an issue.  I have a couple of tricks:

1.  Prep beds in the fall.  I turn my compost piles in the fall, and give all available beds a nice layer of compost and a mulch of leaves.  For beds that will have bedding plants, I don't have to do anything in the spring--just move some mulch out of the way, and plant.  This is great for broccoli/cabbage and onions, who are often ready to plant when the weather is wetter.   One note, I am observing some slug issues with the leaf-mulched beds where I did this, they apparently can also be cozy spots for critters to overwinter.

2.  The 2-step turnover.  I know the latest trend is minimal working of soil--a lot of folks go the no-till route, and some say not even to turn compost into the soil at all, just let the worms do the work.  I've never had or used a tiller, but I do like to dig a bit in my garden.  Sometimes I have late fall plantings that don't get fed before winter--I'll have a pile of compost on the side of a bed that needs distributing.  And also, I confess, turning over soil with a shovel is a distinct pleasure for me.  I love the physicality of the process, and the sight of bits of eggshells and mysterious half-composted bits, fat worms and thousand-legged bugs.   I love how the robin follows me around, snatching treats when I turn my attention elsewhere for a minute.  So despite the slight risk of bringing weed seeds to the surface, I still do a bit of shovel work.

So I have a trick for wetter days (Not too wet! If you soil really sticks to the shovel it's best to wait, you don't want to damage the soil structure.) A day or so after a rainy spell, I do a light turnover, and let the bed sit, chunky and uneven.  After a few hours or even the next day, it will be dry enough at the surface to come back with a rake and break up the larger bits and smooth into a lovely surface for planting.

3.  The cheat.  When I want to plant tiny, fine seeds (such as lettuce or carrots), or the ground is just too wet to work, I spread a little potting soil.  In this spot, I had beds prepped for beans, but wanted to add a few rows of lettuce and arugula around the outside.  I pulled back the mulch, and spread some leftover soil mix.  In this case I recycled some empty (i.e. failed) pots from my seed starting extravaganza. 

This works great for folks who use lasagna-style gardening, and have heavily mulched beds.  It just gives the seeds a nice layer of fine soil to sprout in.  It's also not likely to have weed seeds, which gives more delicate plants a nice head start.  (Ahem, in my hoop house I spread some lovely fine sifted compost before planting carrots, and ended up with a cover crop of lambs-quarters, darnit!)

So here we go!  There are currently no days below 44 in the Madison 7-day forecast, and I'm getting pretty optimistic that we are past a danger of a hard frost.  I'm still waiting on planting my heat-loving peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes, and am holding off on cucumbers and melons.  But, I did seed some beans yesterday, and my zucchinis as well.  My fruit trees are getting ready to bloom, the grapes are breaking bud, and all the birds are telling me spring is here!

Related Articles


Post a Comment

I'd love to hear from you. I have moderation on for older posts, but as long as you're not spam I'll publish it shortly, thanks!

Powered by Blogger.