Getting started in the garden

March 22, 2020

This year’s arrival of spring presents a unique experience for all of us. Circumstances have strongly encouraged or mandated us to retreat into our own spaces as winter draws to an end and the world deals with a pandemic.  Perhaps there is a silver lining.  Once we set panic aside and make ourselves comfortable at home, it can be an entry point to a whole new way of living.  We can start by embracing spring and spending a lot of time outside.  It’s also an opportunity to make our yards more productive. Social distancing allows for talking to neighbours over hedges and fences while we garden and so help strengthen community bonds as we reach out to each other during this crisis.  There will be inconvenience and suffering but also potential long-term benefits for humanity and the environment.

With the arrival of spring, there is a flurry of activity in the natural world.  The twelve-hour day signals to much of life that it is time for a new beginning. Ice and snow no longer have a firm grip on the landscape, streams have swollen and the ground is giving up the frost that penetrated the upper layer over the last five months.  The rising sun is accompanied by the morning chorus of birds singing their tunes from tree tops and fence posts. Flocks of geese honk overhead on their way through to nesting sites up north. Pussy willows are in full bloom, and the first new plant shoots are appearing after a long dormancy. Being in the midst of all this, makes it hard not to feel some excitement about the arrival of a new growing season and embracing a new beginning.

A biological response to daylength is present in most life.  This ensures best chance for survival.  Any new life appearing in our yards is likely able to withstand the freezing temperatures we still expect for several more weeks.  Concern for new shoots is usually unwarranted especially if they emerge on native plants. 

In the garden, we find garlic shoots emerging through the straw. Perennial herbs are greening up.

Here on the farm, our gardens are on a slope.  That means we have good drainage at this time of year.   A good snow cover over the winter ensured that there was very little frost in the ground after the melt.

On every farm and in most yards one can find microclimates where early gardens can thrive. Small areas in full sun protected from north and west winds will warm up more readily and hold heat longer. A rock wall will absorb heat and release it slowly at night.

Once the frost is out of the ground and it’s no longer waterlogged, it’s time to do our first seeding.  Waiting for later in April and May might mean we’ll be dealing with an early drought.  A few years ago, we had very little rain at the beginning of the growing season.  This resulted in poor germination and a disappointing start for the garden. An earlier start, if possible, may allow plants to get established before weather becomes challenging.

Climate change requires us to not only do our part to reduce our carbon footprint to help mitigate damage to the environment but also adapt to whatever conditions present themselves.  It’s best not to look at the calendar and gardening books as much as staying in tune with what is really happening.  Much of what we learn is by trial and error.  We won’t know our real potential unless we push the envelope.

Here’s what we’re planning on seeding into the outdoor garden over the next week: baby carrots, beets, root parsley, onions, radishes together with parsnips, snow peas.

We opt for growing salad greens in our cold frame greenhouses throughout the year.  However, kales, oriental greens, spinach, chard and lettuce can easily be seeded outside as well. 

Much of the seed will stay dormant until the conditions for germination are just right, but all of these plants can withstand a fair amount of frost. 

Most garden soils are best enriched with compost or manure that can be purchased from hardware stores or garden centres.  We use organic dehydrated and pelletized chicken manure which has a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. 

For those who have lettuce and other hardy greens that were started inside, this would be a good time to start hardening them by putting them outside for at least the day time.  This will make them tougher and less susceptible to frost damage. Once hardened, they can be planted directly into the garden.  The major drawback with planting them out early is not the frost as much as the fact that this lush greenery is irresistible to rabbits and other browsing mammals.

If a hoop house is available over worked garden soil, a person could easily start a small garden by the beginning of March.  An unheated greenhouse at this time of year can feature carrots, peas, lettuce, collards, oriental greens, broccoli, kale, radishes, spinach, swiss chard, mustards, onions, garlic, and leeks along with a host of herbs. I have seeded carrots out in our cold frame greenhouse beds as early as February and had them ready to pull by the beginning of May.

Social distancing and self-isolation are good reminders that we should explore all the possible ways to put food on the table that our yards are able to produce for us.  Every day the sun rises and provides the energy so miraculously captured by our garden plants and turned into food that sustains us.  Their presence in our yards helps connect us to the universe.

The society humans have created has built-in vulnerabilities.  It is hard to change deeply ingrained social, workplace and economic culture until circumstances demand a paradigm shift. Suddenly, there appear to be collapses at various societal levels, but it need not be dismal.  It can empower us to move forward in creating a new world in which we connect with mother earth, care for each other and our fellow creatures. 

This spring offers us a new beginning. 

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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