I’m so excited I have to shout it out: OUTSIDE PLANTING HAS BEGUN! Here are the things I did in the garden last Saturday, April 1, 2017–no fooling!
A Little TLC – Tender Lawn Care
First things first–the daffodils had been signaling for several days that it was time to put corn gluten on the lawn. I wish I’d done that before all the rain we had just had, but my schedule would not permit it. Our mostly-organic lawn is looking sadder this year, thanks to a new cable that was buried late last fall and to a couple patches of some grassy looking weed. I covered the whole back yard in just a few minutes with this bag from Ludwig’s Feed Store. While I’m not convinced that corn gluten could really help our lawn, I had to try something to keep weeds from sprouting up in the squiggly trail of dead grass created by that cable. I just couldn’t bring myself to start with an herbicide! Besides, it’s adding some nitrogen to my lawn.
First Outdoor Planting
Now to the fun stuff! It was a beautiful warm day, and I had only the afternoon to spend in my garden. This is what I did.
- First, I sprinkled lettuce seeds in between all the garlic coming up in the herb bed.
2. Then I went inside and planned out this year’s kitchen garden. This was easily done because I keep blank copies of its layout in my garden journal. I just had to look through the last several years’ plans to determine where to rotate this summer’s vegetables.
Because I use succession planting to get the most out of my garden, I chose the future cucumber bed as the place to start my earliest planting. These cool crops should be done or ready to transplant by the time I’m ready to plant the cucumbers there.
3. Next I chose what to plant now. For this first planting, I was not too choosy about the seeds I used. I just wanted to get something in the ground as soon as possible! When I had begun sorting through my stash of seeds (That was on February 25–I know because my husband posted pictures of me.), I set aside all the cool season vegetable seeds. Then a few days before planting, I noted which ones I was out of–kale and chard–and bought them. (Thank you, Menard’s seeds sale!)
These are the ones I started with this year: lettuce, arugula, radishes, kale (2 kinds), beets, and Swiss chard. If I had more than one package of anything, I looked at the dates on the packages and picked the older ones. I figured it would be best to use those first and that I would sow them thickly. This was just my first planting, so it’s O.K. if these plants do not do well due to poor weather or old seeds.
4. Back outside, I pulled the black plastic cover off the future cucumber bed. Then I used a bow rake to level the soil in that bed. This is where our method of putting the garden to bed really pays off! In late fall, my husband uses a digging fork to hand till free manure into the vegetable beds. (He got lamma manure the last two years!) Then he covers each bed with black plastic. All I have to do now in the spring is take the cover off and start planting. It’s a beautiful thing I tell you. (Recently in the Chicago Tribune I read an article that recommends this process we’ve been doing for years. How reaffirming!)
5. When I got close to finishing that bed, I realized–much to my surprise–that I would still have enough time left in my afternoon to plant snow peas, too. I let the beet seeds, chard seeds, and snow pea seeds all soak while I set up the pea fence in one of the future green bean beds. Because my time was limited, I decided to do just one bed for now. I plan to plant another line of snow peas in the other legume bed in a few weeks–another type of succession planting. I’ll compare how the two beds do this year to see if the snow peas’ growing season is lengthened.
After the snow pea supports were up, I finished planting the cool crops bed with the beet and chard seeds I had soaked. This gave the snow pea seeds, which are bigger, more time to soak. Then I planted the snow peas along their support fence. I had soaked too many seeds for the one row, so I planted the rest in a corner of the same bed to grow just for pea shoots. Those will be ready to harvest long before the other vines are producing any snow peas. More succession planting for the win!
6. The last step was to water everything I’d just planted. Our hose was not hooked up yet, so I used a watering can that I filled at our kitchen sink. I was glad that the weather report was predicting rain two days later–perfect timing!
And that’s how this year’s kitchen garden began–outdoors, at least. Of course, I’ve been seed starting, taking cuttings, and overwintering things indoors. To prepare for hardening those plants off, I set up the “shade” greenhouse tent. Its new cover is from another tent I bought last year It’s cheaper to buy a whole new set than to buy just a replacement cover! Unfortunately, the new shelf’s cover was not long enough so I had to wrap a frost cover blanket around the bottom. That should work, right?
After a great afternoon of working in the garden, I went inside to make dinner–using a package of last year’s broccoli from the freezer. How COOL is that!
When to Plant Outdoors
Theoretically, I could have started planting outside earlier. Cool crops are the ones that can be planted “in spring as soon as the ground can be worked.” That’s usually in March for me because the soil under the black plastic in my raised beds is warmer and drier than the rest of the ground.
In practice, however, I also have to wait until my schedule is open on a day with suitable weather. As you may recall, I’d already used a couple days of good weather this year to do other outside tasks, such as pruning and cleaning up. Thus it wasn’t until last Saturday that I had nice weather and a free afternoon for starting those cool season vegetables.
If you are looking for general guidelines on planting dates for your area, plug your last spring frost date into a seed starting/planting calculator. Then look up the vegetables you wish to plant and see what dates are recommended for transplanting (or sowing for direct seeding) outside–that’s the last column on the right. If you’re in the Chicago area, this master gardener chart of planting dates is a very handy reference for indoor seed starting as well as planting outdoors.
Because the weather is different every year, for more specific recommendations you should go by soil temperature (not air temperature) of the area you’ll be planting. If you do not have a soil thermometer and you live in Illinois, you could get an idea of your area’s soil temperatures here. Even if you have a soil thermometer, you should check local soil monitoring data to see how low the soil temperature gets at night. (I’m assuming you’re not going out there to measure it yourself at 3 A.M.) For this first planting, I was not too worried about soil temperatures. That will be more important when I’m getting ready to set out warm season vegetables.
As soon as possible, I should get some onion sets and start planting them. Oh, and speaking of onions, I also need to plant these shallots that I started from seed (3/9/17). They’ve been out in that shade tent the last week. I know I started this type of seeds successfully a couple years ago, but I don’t remember anything coming of them. Perhaps I’d started them too early back then (first week of January) and couldn’t get them into the ground soon enough. I’ve been very successful with growing leeks from grass blade size seedlings like these. In fact, I still have some of last year’s leeks in the freezer. It’s easier, of course, to grow shallots from sets, which is what I did the last two years; but someone gave me these seeds several years ago, and I have to keep trying. We’ll see what happens!
Broccoli is another plant that I usually grow that could go out early. I’m afraid I was late in starting it from seed this year. (3/30/17–a month late! What was I thinking?) As you can see, I’m trying out a new little Burpee self-watering seed starter tray. It looks like I’ll have to buy broccoli seedlings again this year. Maybe I could plant these seedlings outside later in the summer for a fall crop. I just have to decide where. Planting it between the earlier broccoli, which I tried in 2011, did not work. The bigger plants shaded the baby ones too much, and they did not grow well.
In a few weeks, I hope to plant the other row of snow peas plus another succession of these other cool crops. Cool beans! I mean–peas!
Today I noticed that several of those seeds I planted have popped up. So far I see snow peas, kale, and radishes.
Today is also the day I planted those shallots I started from seeds. I decided to try them along the edge of the asparagus bed.
What’s in Bloom at Chez Rea