Monday, February 8, 2010

Spring Garden Guide

Spring is not far away and it’s time to begin planning your spring garden. This January and February have been cooler than last year (A year ago, it was 65 degrees on Feb 8th), so I’m holding off planting for a bit, plus my garden is too wet to work.

A Few Tips
1. Don’t till your garden while the soil is sticky wet, wait until it dries a bit. If the soil sticks together, you will have hard, dirt clods for a good while. If it’s too wet, which mine is right now, just wait a few days, let the wind and the sun dry it out a bit. Toquerville has had 4.5 inches of rain the past three weeks. That’s a lot of water, let the soil dry out.
2. It’s still not too late to till in leaves or other compost material, but get it in the ground. A few weeks of sun and additional tilling, and it will be broken down nicely. Here’s a rule of thumb: it takes as long to compost a material as it did to grow it. So if you have two year old sticks in the garden, it will take two years to break it all down. Leaves? They are out and grown to size in a matter of weeks, so a few weeks of leaves in the ground, and they’re done. If you tilling in now, plant your early garden in another spot, and plant your later crops where you’re now mulching in compost material.
3. Plant what you eat. It doesn’t make sense to grow things because they’re easy (like radishes), if you don’t like radishes, then try to push them off onto your neighbors.
4. Grow only the quantity of a crop you and your family can eat, or give to family and neighbors. Remember your neighbors are also gardening (probably), so go easy on the quantity. It’s better to grow a wide variety of crops, in small amounts you can eat, than to grow a lot of zucchini (for example) that you can’t give away. A full row of zucchini will feed the entire town, but several rows of melons will go fast.
5. Nearly all crops do best, produce the best fruit, best flavor, best size, etc, when they grow fast. So if you plant early and the temperature stays cold, they won’t grow much, but will sit in the ground, waiting for birds to eat them down.
6. Planting onions from seed can be tricky to obtain a good germination. When I plant seed, I cover with white plastic until they germinate, it works well. But I prefer planting the small dry sets, every set grows, they get growing faster, and still reach a nice size. Plant sets with the bottom down. Sets are fail proof.
7. Fruit trees should be pruned by now.

Crops To Plant Now
The following crops can be planted now, and for the next couple of months. If the garden can be worked, isn’t too wet, and it warms up a bit, these crops will grow in cool weather:

1. Peas – can go in the ground anytime now
2. Broccoli – wait a couple of weeks, plant sets deep to avoid wind damage
3. Carrots – wait until it warms a bit, they’ll germinate better (a week or two)
4. Beets – wait until it warms a bit (a week or two)
5. Onions – can go in the ground anytime now
6. Spinach – can go in the ground anytime (I’m harvesting spinach I planted in late August)
7. Lettuce – wait until it warms a bit, and protect it from birds

Keep in mind the birds are hungry right now, and until things green up, they will be looking at your garden as food for them.

Plant In April-May (just wait until temperatures are in the 65-75 range)
1. Tomato
2. Potato
3. Corn
4. Melons
5. Squash

Varieties of Preference
I believe in planting the right varieties, varieties with the best flavor, that do well in this climate, and that provide good production. Here are my preferences:

1. Corn = Miracle Corn (great flavor, 70 day maturity, doesn't blow over
2. Tomato = Celebrity, Better Boy, Floramerica (hard to find), great slicing tomato. Rowpac, Columbia and Salad Master all claim to be resistant to the Curly Top virus.
3. Cantaloupe = Ambrosia, by far the best flavored cantaloupe on the market. This variety has a poor shelf life, so you will never find it in the grocery store, so you must grow your own.
4. Beets = Ruby Queen, or Detroit Dark. Both varieties do well.
5. Onions = Sweet Spanish. I grow onions to last through the winter, Sweet Spanish is a good flavored onion, and will last through the winter. Sweeter varieties like Walla Walla, and Texas, do not store well, but have nice flavor.
6. Watermelon = I had good success with the Crimson Sweet, but haven't really tried other varieties. Melons were flavorful, good size, and disease resistant.
7. Squash = I grew zucchini, crookneck, spaghetti, and Toquer Squash with good success
8. Crenshaw melons and Casaba melons do well here, get them in early (April-May) and enjoy them all summer