What To Plant Right Now!

It may be too early to set out your peppers and tomatoes, but are there any seeds to plant now? If you have the right conditions, many cool season crops can be planted very soon! Get your garden ready and plant these vegetables right now!

Some veggie seeds can be planted well before your local date of last frost. In seed packet directions it’s not uncommon to see the expression ‘as soon as the ground can be worked’. This means that the frost must be out of the ground and the garden has warmed up. Moisture level is another factor. If the soil is too wet, seeds will surely rot in the dirt.

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Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Working your soil too early can also destroy the delicate soil structure. Digging or tilling will compact the garden, making it less able to dry out. Try the old squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. The garden soil should be fluffy and light, not forming a ball in your palm. The type of garden you have may also determine when you are able to plant. Traditional gardens may take more time to fully dry out, while raised beds tend to dry out more quickly. If a garden is in a low area, soil may take longer to get to the proper moisture level.

What to Plant Now

If you want to plant early, think of cool season crops. Root crops such as carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips can be planted.

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Radish harvest.

Many salad greens seeds can be pushed into the soil with great growing success.

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Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

Beets and chard thrive in cooler temps and it’s a great time to think about getting members of the onion family in the ground as well.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

Different varieties of mustard greens excel with the absence of pests in early spring.

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Peas climbing on wire.

Planting peas is one of the first things we do. My neighbor is an avid gardener and we are always watching for him to plant his peas. The age old goal is to have fresh peas by the 4th of  July and usually we make it. I soak my pea seeds the night before planting. This gives them a little head start when they get into the ground. If the forecast is calling for a week of rain, hold off on direct seeding. Wait until it’s a bit drier and your seeds will thank you.

Under Cover Crops

If you are concerned about night time temps, a secured floating row cover could be placed over newly emerging seeds. Some growers plant and then place a milk jug over the plant to act as a mini greenhouse.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

The brassica family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Seed packets will tell you to plant seed directly in the garden maybe 3-4 weeks before date of last frost. I don’t know anyone who directs seeds around here. Let me know if you do. Your best bet is to start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost or purchase healthy seedlings at your local greenhouse. Then, 2-4 weeks before last frost, set out seedlings into the garden. Watch the weather and night temperatures. You could also erect a temporary greenhouse to get a jump on the season. If you can successfully grow brassicas, you will love the flavors!

Choose the Right Varieties

When choosing garden seed for cool season crops, read seed packets carefully. Choose varieties that do well in cooler temps. Some lettuce types love cold weather, where summer varieties keep going through the heat of summer. Certain carrot varieties can withstand cool or very cold weather. I explain figuring out seed lingo in Decoding The Seed Packet, a post designed to help gardeners understand seed packet information.

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Pea seeds soon will go in the ground!

Better to Wait

Warm season veggies should be set out after all danger of frost. It’s just so much better to wait for things like tomato and pepper seedlings. I usually direct seed cucumbers, beans and squash in late May here in zone 5b Maine. Early planting of these vegetables may lead to killing the plants and making you a very discouraged gardener! So, be patient and you will enjoy a more successful garden.

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Early season seeds!

If you plant soon, you will be thinning those first beet greens out of the garden before you know it. Within the next few weeks I will be sowing some of these cool season seeds in my gardens. I plan on getting my heat tolerant salad greens and radishes in the ground soon too. i usually put the seeds that I want to plant first into a small basket. Every time I have a few minutes, I go out and plant one or two things. Check out your garden. Planting time may be sooner than you think !

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Garden harvest.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”-William Shakespeare. I saw this quote the other day and it made me think of many that I know who want to be in the garden but cannot because of poor health or circumstances. That is a harsh reality but I do hope that this post has made you feel like getting out in your garden. Spring chores can seem overwhelming. Just pick away at them a little at a time and you will get there! Thank you!

If any if you are going to be in the Rockland, Maine area this Saturday at 1pm, I will be teaching a mason be class at ArtLoft Rockland. We will be learning how to attract our native bees to our gardens and making bee houses from natural and recycled materials. Go to ArtLoft Rockland to register!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Protect Yourself in the Garden

With this gorgeous warm weather we’ve been having, everyone is heading outside with wild abandon to get gardening! But I’m warning you that you need to protect yourself. In the midst of all of the flowers and butterflies, there are dangers my friend and lots of them!

Now, I know that you are sick of cold weather and just want to get outside. That’s how I feel too. By taking a few precautions, we can all have a safer, much more enjoyable garden season this summer!

Here Comes the Sun

When I was younger, gardening seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on my tan. As time went on though, I started to see that the sun wasn’t necessarily my friend. I began to seek the shade. I started wearing a straw hat every day. Some logger friends of mine had always worn old dress shirts to keep cool and cover the skin. I started doing the same. These days you can even purchase clothing with an spf factor built right in.

A straw hat is invaluable!

If you plan on working all day in the sun, try to work in shady areas in the most intense part of the day. Typically between 10 and 2 using the day. Keep hydrated and take breaks as needed. Don’t forget to apply sunblock throughout the day.

Bugs, Oh My!

In Maine, there is this brief span of time before the black flies come out. A time when you can easily forget about them. Just as they start to die down, then come the dreaded mosquitoes! These can be worse in wooded areas. Thankfully there are some pretty decent natural bugs sprays out there. I’ve found that a bug net is effective if you can tolerate wearing one. Of course these ravenous, blood-hungry insects will bite right through your shirt so sometimes working outside is a bad idea. Freshly washed hair smells really nice to them too. If you plan on being outside, put off the hair washing  for later.

Ticks are a huge concern around here. Try tucking your pants into your socks. Do regular tick checks. Nymph ticks can be the size of a grain of sand. Quite a few essential oils are good for keeping ticks at bay like Rose Geranium, lavender and Texas cedar. Another trick is using diluted white vinegar sprayed on your pants. Getting sick from ticks is serious business. The consequences of Lyme disease can ruin your life, so take as many precautions as you can.

Leaves of Three

If you’ve ever come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, hogweed or any other similar plant, you know how miserable a reaction can be. A number of years ago I came in contact with one of these and proceeded to accidentally smear the plants oil all over my body. I was out of work for days and even needed a Prednisone shot! Just become familiar with the plants that are a problem in your area. If you come in contact with anything suspicious, wash your clothes in hot water. Clean your hands, tools, pets, anything that has potentially come in contact with the plants.

Gardening Gear

Comfortable, practical gardening clothes are one of the best ways of protecting yourself in the garden. Canvas work pants or jeans are ideal, although I’ve been know to do some early morning lettuce picking in my pajamas!

Many of you love the feeling of dirt on your hands. A good pair of gloves can go a long way to protecting your hands against cracks, splinters, cuts and blisters. As you can see, I keep a glove around for every job. Soft leather is my personal fave and a nice rubber coated glove is great for keeping your hands dry. Line them with a thin pair of knit gloves, and your hands will stay warm on colder days.

A great selection of gardening gloves.

Footwear is extremely important for protecting your feet and your back. I’ve noticed that if I’m not wearing the proper shoes for the level of gardening that I’m doing, I pay for it later with sore feet and fatigue. Light garden chores generally require no special shoes. Some jobs may only require sneakers, while edging is so much easier when wearing work boots. A good pair of boots will last for years to come for most home gardeners. A pair of rubber boots can make it possible to garden in wet weather. It’s no fun having wet feet!

Boots are always a good idea.

My Aching Back!

One of the first things that bothers me in the garden is my back. Most of the time it’s because I’m working in the wrong position or leaning over when I should be sitting. This is where being mindful of your posture is very important.

The right equipment can save on your back.

Items like a kneeling pad can prevent aching knees and are comfortable to sit on too. I try not to work on my knees very much anyway. A garden seat is an excellent way to do gardening tasks need a lower level. The seat is great for harvesting lettuce and makes gardening during pregnancy possible. True story!

One of my favorite indispensable garden tools is ‘the claw’. Pictured above is my garden cultivator. I use it for so many things. When edging,  I break up the sod with it instead of using my shoulder. It makes it so much easier especially with bigger chunks. You can use it to distribute mulch or compost. It can also be used to break up masses of weeds.

Remember, take care of your tools and they will help you in the garden. Keep them clean and sharp. Keep them nearby and ready to go. For tips on keeping your tools in tip top shape, go to How To Take Care Of Hand Tools.

I have been through many things in my years of gardening. I’ve been attacked multiple times by fire ants. Attacked and bitten three times by a customers psycho cat. Still have the scars to prove it. Come in contact with  horrible plants that cause raised, painful, oozing blisters. These are just a few examples of why it’s important to be careful out there. Just take a few precautions before you start and your gardening experience will be so much more enjoyable!

The rhubarb has emerged!

Along with last weeks frog emergence, we now have frog eggs floating in our vernal pool. The rhubarb is just starting to put on leaves. It grows so fast! Daffodils are up about 5″. Flowers soon!

Baby garlic!

Found these cute little baby garlics in last years garlic bed. At first I didn’t know what they were. We quickly moved them to the new garlic bed to let them grow there for the summer.

Salad greens in full swing!

Lettuce picking is in full swing around here. Wintered over salad greens are the best! We have been raking leaves and trying to get rid of all of these acorns. What a job! Are there any gardening topics that you would like me to write about? Leave me a message in a comment, I would love to hear from you! Get out there and be careful. But most of all, enjoy it. Thanks for coming along this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Gardening With Herbs

Want to add spice to your garden this year? Planting herbs in your garden and landscape contributes more edibles to each seasons harvest. Perennial, annual or biennial, gardening with herbs brings tasty rewards!

Whether you want culinary herbs for cooking or herbs for making tea, gardening with herbs can be a real joy. Herbs have so many uses. Flavor soups or spice up other meals. Add them to homemade soaps, room freshening pouches or you can use along with flowers in floral design. Many herbs have medical qualities too!

Dill is gorgeous in floral arrangements!

Perennial Herbs

When you purchase a perennial herb plant, you are likely going to have it for many years to come. Herbs such a oregano, chives and mint, once planted will probably take up permanent residence in your garden. Planted in the wrong places these can quickly become invasive. If you want to control them more effectively, cut flowers after bloom so the plants don’t go to seed.

Peppermint is a hardy perennial herb.

Planting herbs such as mint in a pot, then planting the pot, can contain it from turning into a sprawling mess. Oregano easily creeps its way through the garden bed if left unattended. Creeping thyme is wonderful for establishing between pathway stones and rock work.

Thyme blooming providing food for bees!

Sage, lavender and culinary thyme can become great structural plants in the herb garden or elsewhere. These all have a woody stemmed base and should not be cut down. They are usually drought tolerant and hardy once established. Use perennial herbs in a dedicated herb garden or intersperse them throughout your herbaceous borders.

Lavender has many places in the garden.

Annual Herbs

More tender herb plants may include basil, parsley, cilantro and dill. With the exception of parsley, these herbs are not likely to survive a frost and generally need replanting yearly. When properly used, these potent herbs can produce all summer long in most northern climates. Rosemary, although not an annual, is a woody evergreen that is hardy in zone 8. If you live outside of this area, rosemary must be brought inside for the winter. I usually manage to kill every rosemary that crosses my threshold. I keep trying though!

Basil is so prolific!

Parsley is actually a biennial herb. Parsley can be wintered over in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse when given an extra layer of protection. Floating row cover is very helpful in making sure parsley survives the winter. Wintered parsley often goes to seed, so use it through the winter months. Do you prefer flat leaf or curly parsley?

Hardy parsley plants!

Plant herbs in your perennial herb garden or grow along with vegetables. Garden herbs are well suited to container growing and can be grown in window boxes or pots. By placing containers of herbs on the deck, the need for a garden is eliminated. Mix with annual flowers for a stunning summer look.

Basil is great in containers! Photo by L. Labree

For The Bees

Humans aren’t the only ones who love garden herbs. Bees and other pollinators benefit from flowering herbs. Some favorites are basil, borage oregano, hyssop and lavender. By adding a variety of herbs to your existing garden, pollinators have more plants to choose from.

Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.

Seeing all of these lush green pictures is making me want everything to grow right this minute! I really need to be patient. There’s plenty to do before it’s time to be harvesting herbs. Plant a few herbs this garden season. Freeze or dry them for winter use. So many of the herbs and spices we use can be produced at home. Here is a simple herb garden plan for all of you! This plan uses perennial herbs and leaves spaces for annual herbs and beneficial flowers.

A small garden plan mixing annuals with established herbs. Painting by Hilary Mank.

Gardening with herbs makes you more self-sufficient. Once you get started, growing herbs makes cooking with herbs very economical. These herbs mentioned here are the very basics. The world of herbs is truly vast. If you have personal favorites, by all means grow them!

The frogs are croaking here in Maine this week. The ice is leaving our lakes and the gardens have awakened. I thank you so much for reading Everlongardener this week. There is more to come this spring including mason bees and ways to protect yourself in the garden. Sign up to subscribe in the sidebar for all things gardening!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Poor Man’s Fertilizer

There is a reason weather forecasters jokingly refer to April as another winter month. Sometimes the end of March brings warm spring weather. Other times, spring comes in it’s own sweet time. All the time that I was growing up, the expression ‘poor man’s fertilizer’ would make it’s way into springtime conversation.

It turns out that this silly expression is not an old Yankee farmers tale or some New England legend. There’s real science at work here. I know what you are thinking. The ‘Salad Green Queen’ doesn’t usually get very scientific but I will explain. I’ll also ask for forgiveness in advance for mentioning the word snow here and for posting pictures with this stuff.

Snow that will slowly trickle into the garden.

With all of the shoveling, snow blowing, plowing and generally terrible traveling conditions that snow brings, it’s hard to think of the benefits that it brings. One major plus of having a snowy winter is the insulation it provides for garden plants. Perennials, no matter how hardy, enjoy a thick cover of snow to protect their roots from the freeze and thaw of an open winter. I was amazed to read in the Garden Rant article Poor Man’s Fertilizer, that approximately 10″ of snow can be compared to an insulation value of R18! Wow!

Snow on the perennial garden.

Now for the fertilizer part. As snowflakes form many in the sky, they gather nitrates from the atmosphere. When the snow slowly melts, the nitrogen is distributed through the soil. Of course some will be lost to run-off but hey, it’s free fertilizer. The nitrogen cycle is quite fascinating. Certain plants help fix the nitrogen into the soil but is soon taken up by plants and air. Therefore, there is a constant need for this cycle to go on.

Winter wonderland.

The same process happens with rain and lightning. With snow melting at a slow rate it may be more effective at delivering nitrogen than a big thunderstorm.

Moody storm skies.

Snow fall in April may have a special advantage in that the ground is not frozen. This allows the snows nitrogen supply to leach out and actually seep into the garden soil. Poor man’s fertilizer indeed!

Milkweed seed looking for a home.

With all of those affectionate words about the aforementioned white stuff out of the way, I must say that I’m ready for spring weather. Ready to get out in the garden and start working. Ready to stop wearing so many layers. Ready to feel the warm sun on my back and see green things again. Anybody with me?

Soon, we will be seeing more of this!

We have been harvesting some decent amounts of salad greens from the greenhouse and the covered bed for a few weeks now. They taste so good this time of year. There’s nothing like spring greens straight from the garden. If you missed how we grow through the winter, check out How To Harvest Salad All Winter for more information.

Greenhouses are full of blooms!

Soon, we will be picking out pansies to fill pots or to plant by our front doors. Yellow, purple, white, red. Little ones, big ones, I’ll take them all!

A friendly owl!

I spotted this owl in my travels last week. Can you believe that it let me get about 10′ away from it! It was one of those dark days so the color didn’t come out very well but it’s the best owl picture I’ve ever been able to take. He was sitting in a tree with a few crows. I have no idea what they were doing all together like that.

Spring means baby lambs.

Spring also means new lambs on my neighbors farm. My son requests daily visits to check on the latest baby. Mama sheep was making it very hard for me to get a decent picture of her new baby. There will probably be a few more before it’s over. We are really falling in love with these friendly sheep.

Flowers blooming closer to the water!

Although these spring bulbs are not mine, soon flowers will be blooming in my yard. I find that anywhere close to the ocean is much farther along. Always more to look forward to. By next week we will be having warmer temperatures here in Maine. Before we know it our gardens will be bursting with life and there will be plenty of work to do. Thanks for giving in and reading about the dreaded poor man’s fertilizer this week with me. I promise that I won’t dwell on snow any longer! More gardening posts are coming so don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar for more springtime garden motivation!

Hilary|Everlongardener