Cold rain soaks the spring garden, watering emerging hyacinths, blooming daffodils, and making sprouting peas thrive, but turning the soil into an unworkable mess. One of the first lessons we learn as gardeners is never turn over the garden too early. The mantra is repeated often, “if the soil sticks to the shovel, it’s too wet.” Make the mistake of digging in the waterlogged soil results in clumps or dirt which eventually dry to the consistency of bricks and persist the rest of the season.
But all is not lost, our favorite gardening friend, compost, saves the day. By dumping a few bags of good compost in the vegetable garden, an instant and wonderful planting area is created. It’s the perfect place for planting the earliest crops which include onions, lettuce, other leafy greens, spinach, peas, radishes, arugula, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, and much more. These plants don’t care about frost, in fact they not only survive cold weather, they thrive in the early spring chill.
The first crop of peas was planted on St. Patrick’s Day, but there’s still time to plant another crop or two. Soak the seeds in water overnight to speed germination. They will swell to three times their original size and can gently pushed into the newly applied compost. I’ve fallen in love with ‘Shiraz Purple Snow’ pea from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. It’s beautiful, tasty, and continues to produce well into the start of summer. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ is another favorite and the seeds should be easy to find at the local nursery.
Sow a variety of early seeds thickly and thin them as they sprout. These thinnings are one of the first harvests of the season. They are tender, sweet and highly nutritious. One of the favorite harvests of these microgreens are radishes. While young, the entire plant, top to bottom is edible. Each time the bed is thinned, more room is created to the plants to reach fruition. As they grow, there’s always a few radish plants that won’t head up. One good garden trick is to let them be. The plants produce a flower prized by pollinators and then an edible seed pod, which tastes remarkably like the radish itself. Pick them young, when tender and leave a few on the plant. As they mature, they could drop their seed and self-sow in the fall for another crop.
One of the easiest cool weather flowers are violas and pansies. Like the vegetables chronicled here, these flowers thrive in the spring. They are especially suited for containers and will bring much needed instant color to the landscape.
Since they enjoy the same weather as lettuce, pairing them with a variety like ‘Red Sails,’ ‘Freckles’ or ‘Flashy Troutback’ makes for an interesting combination. As the lettuce is harvested, room is left for the pansies to flourish. These flowers will usually go to about July 4th, when it gets too hot for them. They might be able to be kept alive with water and fertilizer, but in my garden, they are sent to the compost pile.
At that point annuals are about half price at the nurseries and the containers can be filled with new and interesting plants. When frost hits in the fall, pansies will be available again and the pots can be replanted. Depending on the winter, the pansies will bloom at least until late December and sometime winter over on their own.
Early spring is a great time to get planting, indoors and out. I’ve got lots of great gardening tips for you below, now get out there and spend some time in the garden.
This is also a great time to start seeds indoors. Anything from leafy greens to tender crops like tomatoes and peppers. This column from January explains how to plant them inside.
DAFFODILS NOT FLOWERING?
If the daffodils in your landscape are barely blooming or have stopped flowering all together, this video shows how to lift and separate the bulbs and replant them. Daffodils have a tendency to get crowded over time, dividing them and replanting will get them to flower again.
This is also a time to see where spring bulbs are blooming and more importantly, where they are not. Take some pictures or draw a map as a way to remember what needs planting this fall. Even though the gardening season is just beginning, planning ahead goes a long way to having a great garden.
DAFFODIL BLOOMS GALORE IN WASHINGTON COUNTY
Speaking of daffodils, this is my yearly plea for gardeners to visit Joe Hamm’s Daffodil Collection in Washington County. It’s the greatest collection of blooming daffodils I’ve ever seen, beds filled with flowers cover acres of ground. It’s free to visit and if Joe and his team are there, you might walk away with a beautiful bouquet of flowers too.
Joseph Hamm’s Daffodil Hortus is located at 99 Maple Road in Hopewell Township, Washington County off of Route 331 (Brush Run Road). Call 724-345-3762 for more information.
DOUG’S FREE GARDENING CLASSES
Every Thursday at 5 p.m. I teach an online organic gardening class for Farm to Table Buy Local. These classes cover everything from soil preparation, planting tips, growing for pollinators and much more. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun to interact with everyone who takes the classes. You can register here, and eventually the classes will also be available later to viewing.