I started planting my rows of brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, and now the bok choy — once our April night time temperatures were pretty reliably above thirty-five degrees. Now, these cabbage relatives, also sometimes called crucifers, are pretty tolerant of cool temperatures, and even hold their own well against light frosts, especially when planted, as I have done, in a somewhat protected plot of soil (I have them on the south side of my garage).
Additionally, I have covered each seedling with one of my improvised two-liter bottle cloches, which not only gives them cover from the frost, but also insects, such as the dreaded cabbage worm. As they outgrow the cloches, I will put them under floating row covers for the rest of their growing season.
Another enemy of my garden seedlings are cutworms, which gave my poor peas duress last year. As I’ve been readying the soil (I work a double row at a time), moving from east to west, I found no evidence of cutworms in that the section of the garden where my fall leaves had covered the soil. However, the section with little leaf cover seemed to have many cutworms buried in the soil. So I have begun to use additional protective measures in this area of the garden. All winter long I have been saving my empty oatmeal boxes for this very purpose. I cut each box in half, and when I use the smaller, 18-ounce boxes, the two-liter bottle cloches fit nicely over them.
I planted each seedling inside the protective collars offered by the oatmeal boxes, and then, covering them with the bottle-cloches, I anchored the cloches in place by submersing about an inch of the plastic beneath the soil and piling up additional soil around the outside of the bottle. There was room for all twelve of my bok choy seedlings in the double row that I prepared for them. I normally have back up seedlings, in case of some gardening disaster (such as an unexpected hard freeze), but in the case of my bok choy, I have none, which is why I saved them for planting outside last.
We had heavy rains last night, and the forecast is for rain all day today as well. My little bok choy seedlings appear quite content in their new location. And I’m grateful for a rainy day, because it means I can rest up a bit from all of the binge-gardening I’ve been doing this week.
Waiting for last frost date
Last frost date in my region is May 15. That is a date locked into the DNA of all serious gardeners. This is when we can safely sow our seeds and our tender seedlings outside, into the garden beds that we have lovingly prepared for them.
My sun porch is anxiously waiting for that date. Ten more days. My tomatoes are waiting as well. As we get closer to May 15, I’ll be checking weather forecasts to see if I might fudge a little and set them free a few days early. But ten days . . . that’s a little risky.
Tomatoes are the primary seedlings in my sun porch, waiting for planting in the next week to ten days.
Last spring we actually had frost in late May, so this year I’m a little worried about rushing my plants outside too fast. I always start twice as many seedlings as I actually need, so that I have back-ups in place in case the worst happens. But these tomatoes, the ones I started in late February, have gotten large very quickly. I don’t know how long I can hold them back without causing them distress. I expect many of them will find homes in buckets and other large containers as I wait to see whether or not I should be giving them away to family and friends. And I’ve purchased row covers to use in the early weeks outside as another precaution for my tomato crop.
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Thankfully, I have nearly finished putting in my very ambitious brassica garden. I saved my old station wagon, retired last year, to use as a green house this year, and it performed admirably.At one point I had more than a dozen large flats of brassica and lettuce and greens seedlings growing enthusiastically inside this defunct 1993 Mercury station wagon, awaiting transplantation into the garden. Except for the bok choy and my back ups, everything is outside now. Among my brassicas, I have hearty plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage and Brussel sprouts, all under cover, not only protected from the cold, but also those dreaded cabbage worms that I found so discouraging last year. The floating row covers will stay in place for the entire season, right up until this spring planting is ready for harvest.
I can’t believe I once thought a garden starts in May. This year, my garden began in the middle of January, when I bought the seeds and started planting my seedlings, starting first with the herbs, which need the most time to get established. Then came the tomatoes, then the lettuces and greens, and finally, in March, the brassicas. Last, I began planting the marigolds and nasturtium, the flowers that will help protect my garden from pesky insect infestations. And, in early April, the cold-tolerant greens began moving out to the garden and I planted my peas. In late April, the brassica seedlings were added.
Peas are the first seeds that I have planted into my garden soil this season. I got only a small taste of these sweet morsels last summer, leaving me with a huge appetite for more this year.
Last year, my very first year as a vegetable gardener, my spring peas took an awful hit when cutworms came along and in one night wiped out a sizable portion of the crop. Well, you expect to learn a few things the first time you do something new, and I vowed while they got my peas then, they would never get them again. Hah! I have been saving up egg shells for the solid past year and now I am arming my peas with crushed eggshells, which (I’ve read) will cut up those little cutworms who try to break through their barrier. Let those cutworms try. We are ready.
I’m planting my peas a little later this year as well. I’m hoping the cutworms — if there are any hanging out in our neighborhood — will take the rampage elsewhere by the time my little peas sprout and grow.
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This is a household of women, and I look for ways to use lightweight material for heavy-duty tasks. My trellises are constructed with 12-foot lengths of vinyl fencing tied to three 4-foot pine stakes. These are easy for a one-woman army, without any assistance, to lift and hammer each into the ground. I tried nailing the fencing last year for a fall planting of peas, but with my arthritic hands, that took more time and effort — and caused more pain — than I was prepared to give this year. So, sisal ties became my cheap and easy alternative.
I soak my pea seeds overnight before planting to get the sprouting process underway, and then I sprinkle my seeds with soil inoculant before planting the seeds. After double spading a 2-foot wide by 12-foot long stretch of ground, raking and then, using a hoe, plowing a 4-inch wide trench the full length of the row, I hammer the trellises into place first before planting my seeds about 2 inches apart on each side of the trellis. The egg shells are sprinkled into the ground with the pea seeds, and then I, again using my hoe, push soil over the seeds. Another sprinkling of egg shell pieces cover the entire top.
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Finally, I support the each end of my trellises by tying them to my fence and a nearby tree to pull the vinyl fencing taut. These ties will stay in place throughout the entire pea growing season. I learned from last year, also, that it’s better if I put in my trellis before planting the seeds, as I’m pretty clumsy and tend to kill off a plant or two if I attempt to do this later on. (Oh, the things you learn from your garden.)
I’m planting a large crop — two double rows of sugar snap peas and two double rows of shelling peas. We love peas in this family, and I want to grow enough to keep us going through the next twelve months. I’ve selected my back garden plot for my peas this year, which gets full morning sun but has high shade in the afternoon hours. This is where I grew my lettuce bed last year, and I expect that I’ll rotate these two crops yearly. For both lettuce and peas, I can get in a spring and a fall harvest, given that both crops are relatively tolerant of cool spring and fall temperatures, as long as we don’t have a hard freeze. If I can finish planting these four double rows of peas quickly, I’ll also add another row of snow peas. In my family, those likely will be eaten as fast as they grow, and we’ll have little available for freezing.
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