Get an early start on spring

February 23, 2020

A planter of soil, a pack of mesclun seed mix, and a sunny location or grow lights can get you a fresh salad in about 4 weeks.  Then, the cropped plants can produce again in another couple of weeks.  This can become the kick off to fresh greens from the garden in April. 

Seedlings prepared for transplanting into the coldframes

We currently have lettuce, oriental greens and kale well on their way to being transplanted into our cold frame greenhouses.  I seeded them at the beginning of February and kept them under grow lights in our basement. We should be able to start harvesting them by mid to late March just as the overwintering greens need time to rest after cropping.

Several weeks ago, Heissler Greenhouses seeded out half flat trays with a salad mix.  The operation uses organic methods and has kept the trays at a minimum of just above freezing.  This ensures that the plants are somewhat hardened. The mix includes mostly lettuce with some kale, and a few other greens.  The leaves can be harvested for salads and will regrow for successive cuts.  We are now making these trays available through Natural Themes for customers who would like to try growing their own fresh greens.  If you are interested, check out Now Available on our website: www.navheifarms.com

A tray of diverse greens can give you a significant head start on spring.  When cropping, the leaves are best cut high enough to ensure the growth shoots remain undamaged.  An application of liquid organic fertilizer between cuts is important as there is considerable competition for nutrients in that small volume of soil.  Watering should be done with caution as overwatering will cause root and stem rot.

If the tray is kept in a relatively cool, well-lit location it will ensure the plants are hardened and more resistant to cold.  It would then be possible to plant them out into the garden in late March or early April as soon as the soil can be worked.  After cropping, you could carefully separate them into groups of 2 or 3 plants and plant them directly into the garden about 4 inches apart.  This will enable them to grow thicker stems and allow for continued growth well into spring. 

Wire rods are used to keep the blanket from touching the plants

As they will not have had a chance to go through a frost, once you plant them out into the garden or patio planter, it would be advisable to cover them lightly when the temperature dips below freezing.  Any old light blanket will do.  If you have wire rods to keep the blanket from directly touching the plants, that would be helpful.  After a few nights of frost, they will have hardened significantly so that by mid-April they’re good to go through mild frosts.

Once you separate the plants and give them space, they will become more robust and grow thicker stems.  Then, when you cut for salads, you can cut the whole leafy part at the stem and encourage the plant to start multiple shoots. After planting the seedlings, before the first plants start to bolt, it’s time to start a new seeding to ensure a continuous harvest.

Though many people wait until May to start their gardens, it really is possible to start much earlier.  I have started my spring garden as early as mid-March.  It can happen as soon as the frost is out of the ground.  Imagine making a salad with lettuce, spinach, kale, green onions, radishes and herbs all freshly harvested from your garden by mid-May.

I will post when we are able to work our own garden here in the Quinte area and detail what we’re seeding or planting out week by week.  

Seeding and planting your own vegetables and fruits is a simple way of starting on the path to a more sustainable life style.  The garden is a great place to connect with Nature.  It’s the perfect place to practice the art of living in harmony. 

The backyard is a microcosm of the universe with all the natural forces at play.  When one immerses themselves in it, one becomes intensely aware of one’s place in the natural order.  You appreciate the sun’s rays that warm us and provide the energy necessary to create breezes, drive the water cycle and enable life to thrive.  You work with soil containing sand and clay that were once part of mountains slowly worn down over millions of years by water, ice, and wind.  You breathe in the air that has cycled around the planet moving in and out of lifeforms for eons.  You experience the rain or snow that has cycled since Earth’s beginnings and know that the water molecules falling on your little yard were once in oceans, lakes, rivers, dinosaurs and all the other lifeforms that have inhabited this planet. We’re all fundamentally connected to each other from the past through the present and into the future. Gardening naturally nurtures the feeling of oneness with all that is, was and will be.

There is something therapeutic about gardening. When I feel down, it lifts me up.  When I need purpose, it gives it to me.  When I feel arrogant, it humbles me.  When nothing seems to make sense, the natural world brings things into perspective.

No matter what the outcome, there is no such thing as failure when we really connect and gently work with the forces at play.  For those of us who claim they don’t have “a green thumb”, rest assured that organic gardening has its challenges for even the most experienced.  The first year is often a success because the “pests” haven’t found their host plants yet.  The second year is more of a challenge when suddenly your garden is under attack and this continues until a natural balance develops in your yard. The greatest challenge for any gardener is to simply allow natural processes to take place with minimal interference.

It can all start with a few seeds in a tray of soil.

Published by Natural Themes Farms

A small scale farm located in Frankford, Ontario specializing in working with nature to grow and sell: * North American trees, shrubs, wildflowers, vines and ferns. * fruits and vegetables, grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

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