What’s so great about gardening is that it teaches you to eat seasonally, which leads you to eat fruits and vegetables at their peak freshness and flavor. Gardening itself centers around understanding the seasonal climate in your area in order to coax as much productivity as you can from your space. This year, I started amassing a collection of seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in the fall, which inspired me to create a planting calendar. I created it in Excel, looked up frost dates for my area, researched whether my plants should be started indoors or in the ground, and starting jotting down notes for each plant I wanted to grow. Also, I did some research on companion planting to maximize our space.
My handy hubby built me some planter beds in the fall, so I could try my hand at growing tulips and ranunculus. (We also put one on the gate between us and our front neighbor and one on our chicken coop; if you can’t spread out, you can go up!) They heralded the start of spring beautifully but swiftly–I think because the sun got so glaringly hot here. Nevertheless, I planted some Teddy Bear sunflowers, which are starting as the tulip greens fade. The ranunculus were replaced by Sequoia strawberry starters along with more sunflowers interspersed. We also purchased a good number of SmartPots, which are fabric pots that promise better root development for more productive crops. We got a few 15- and 20-gallon ones for tomatoes, squash, okra, and pepper plants and a couple 30-gallon ones for our Black Satin blackberry plant and a goji plant that hasn’t been transplanted, yet. To get the best deals, I found some on Craigslist and Ebay. They are somewhat of an investment, but are washable and should last at least 5 years.
Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to show what’s going on in my garden right now so my friends in colder climes can see what lays ahead for them if they start right about now.
We were picking some wonderfully sweet and fragrant Seascape everbearing strawberries last month,
but they seem to be regenerating for the next harvest now (?). I am also having some problems with some of their leaves turning brown, and a few plants look like they’ve died completely. Anyway, the strawberries don’t last long, so we eat them right off the vine or include them in a salad like this one.
My first carrots, which were direct seeded in January, were slow to sprout, but we just checked a few and found they were ready! These are Parisienne carrots which are cute and round; they grow well in heavy soils whereas longer types are more prone to forking. You can tell they are ready when you brush away the dirt and can see that the tops are about an inch and a half in diameter.
They had a very carrot-y, almost spicy flavor. We tried them raw and lightly steamed. I would have made Garden Betty’s carrot top salsa, but didn’t want to deal with all the aphids on my tops, so Scout, our Nigerian dwarf goat, ended up relishing them.
The male flowers usually arrive first. You can just pick the blossoms to eat (same link as the salad one earlier) until you spy female flowers like this.
That’s when you get a Q-tip to pick up some pollen from the male stamen and rub it all over the female pistil–sounds kind of dirty, but we’re talking about plants here, people!
Pretty soon, the swollen ovary of the female flower develops into a huge zucchini (or yellow squash or pumpkin)! If the flower is not pollinated properly, the little fruit will start to shrivel and fall off.
According to my garden calendar, that plant was started indoors at the beginning of February, transplanted into a 20-gallon SmartPot at the start of March, and gave us our first zucchini by mid-April. My Patison Golden Marbre Scallop squash, Burmese okra, and Brown Beauty pepper were started about the same time, and my chocolate pear tomato was started 2 weeks earlier. I just pollinated the first yellow squash today, the pear tomatoes have set fruit, the okra has just 2 leaves and its first pod (?), and the Brown Beauty pepper hasn’t flowered, yet. The heirloom tomatoes–Black Krim, Green Zebra, and Stupice–we got as starters in April have all started to flower as well. The Stupice is an early tomato, so it also has a couple of set fruits already.
We’re also continuing to pick sugar snap peas as I sowed seeds in succession about 2 weeks apart. Some have already yellowed and withered and been pulled out, and the ones planted later are still producing flowers and pods.
I also direct sowed cucumber seeds in mid-March (both in the ground and in the pots with my blackberry, chocolate pear tomato, yellow squash, and okra), and I am starting to see flowers on a couple of them. To make the most use of space, I also sowed lettuce seeds with a couple of tomato plants, cilantro with another, and chives with the pepper plant. I companion-planted some quick-growing radishes around the pattypan squash and okra plants as well. In fact, we already harvested a few and added the colorful jewels along with their greens to a chicken tortilla soup for a refreshing bite. The herbs are doing well in the cinder blocks and my prized Jude the Obscure rose (which smells of lychee, earl grey tea, and elderberry) and culinary Munstead lavender are blooming gorgeously.
In summery (misspelling intended),
- Carrots sowed in January are getting harvested about now. You can continue to sow every 2 weeks until March or even later (?). I also started some red celery seeds and have kept them by a sunny window. White Alpine strawberries were started, too, and transplanted into hanging planters mid-March.
- Get tomato seeds started about 8 weeks before last frost date. If you missed this, just get starters and transplant them after chance of frost has passed.
- Summer squash can be started indoors about 6 weeks before last frost date or sowed directly after last frost and the soil has warmed up. Okra, eggplant, and peppers like even warmer weather so they are similar or can follow 2-3 weeks later.
- Plant sugar snap peas, salad greens, and strawberry starters in early spring.
- Plant cucumbers along with heat-loving flowers like sunflowers and zinnia once the weather warms to attract some pollinators.
- Remember to hand pollinate your squash and tickle the other flowers if there aren’t many pollinators like bees and butterflies in the area.
- Continue to fertilize lightly every couple of weeks and water as needed.
Go get your gardening on and happy planting!
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