In the Garden

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, March 28, 1997

When I first started gardening, local folks told me to plant peas by St. Patrick's Day, but we just got ours in this week. It was too cold and wet here, earlier. It's good to know that peas can be sown as late as the end of April. Peas planted later may do just as well or even better than ones planted earlier, especially in a cold spring like this one.

There are many vegetables besides peas that can be sown outside as soon as the ground isn't frozen or too wet. Just when this is depends on the micro-climate of your garden and the weather. Turning over soggy soil destroys its structure by collapsing the pore spaces which allow air to get to the billions of organisms which make the soil fertile. Early drying in the spring is one of the advantages of the raised beds we use for most of our growing. If your soil isn't ready yet, it will be soon.

Before planting, we turn under an inch or so of compost, and perhaps some finely ground rocks in the form of limestone, rock phosphate or granite dust. These are important sources of calcium, phosphorus and potassium, respectively. There are other things that can be added, but the compost is most important.

Doctors Abigail Maynard and David Hill of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found in a 12-year long study that a garden fertilized with just one inch of leaf compost each year produced the same yield as a garden chemically fertilized with 10-10-10 and limestone every year. And, the composted soil had a better pH for growing vegetables, greater water-holding capacity and was easier for roots to penetrate.

You'll be amazed at how much you can grow in a well-prepared, four-by-eight-foot bed, especially if it's planted with healthful greens. Many different varieties of mustard, turnip, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and lettuce, of course, can be sown now. We're particularly fond of the big, red-leafed mustards, red Russian kale, ruby red chard and arugula. These plants thrive in the cool damp spring days. Mustard, kale and chard provide a long period of eating because their outer leaves can be harvested without destroying the whole plant, and they don't go to seed in the heat the way spinach and lettuce do.

Early beets, carrots, and radishes can be planted now, and parsnips need to be planted soon if we expect to harvest them this fall. Onion sets, shallots and even potatoes can be planted soon, as can wheat, oats and barley.

This is also the time to sow cilantro and dill. They both grow very well in the spring, but go quickly to seed, or suffer from dryness if they're started much later. Once you grow them, cilantro and dill will likely self-seed, so they'll come up on their own in your garden almost every year. They can also be planted in the fall, like some spinach varieties.

Inside, now's the time to start broccoli, cabbages, tomatoes, peppers, parsley and more lettuce. If you are going to grow onions, leeks, eggplants, Brussels sprouts or celery from seed, start them inside right away.

Traditionally, this is the time when cold frames are very useful. A single layer of glass or clear plastic boosts the growth of spring greens by raising the temperature, and can protect tender seedlings from late frosts.

Now's also a great time to transplant, and divide and set out many shrubs and perennials. Their vigorous growth in the spring, and lack of leaves, means that they'll grow new roots quickly. This year, we're moving blackberry and gooseberry plants to places where they have more room and sunlight.

Once we get seeds in the ground, or set out plants, we become connected to the Earth by the excitement of new life and growth, and by the promise of abundant flavor and nutrition created out of sunlight, air, water and a few minerals. It's wonderful to have so direct a result from our labors.

The Earth is springing to life. With just a few seeds and a little work, we can participate in the joyful rebirth of the season.

Sow some seeds soon!

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.