Early Workshops Herald Spring! (article from the Spring 2015 newsletter

Shereen Rosenthal

The winter was horrendous! Oppressively cold, snowy and way too icy! I longed to get back into my garden. Would spring ever come? With the first FBGA workshop I attended, Planning Your Garden, I became hopeful that perhaps the winter would melt into spring after all. But it snowed the day of the workshop, and I sat in the Ryan Center watching the snow pile up and blow around the parking lot.

Adriann Musson encouraged us to make a list of vegetables we eat and divide them into cold weather and warm weather vegetables (refer to the Planting Guide often given out at the workshops and note that the dates for the last frost have changed and are now one month earlier than indicated). If you have grown from seed indoors, try to harden off your plants by putting them outside a month before you plant them in the ground.

When you are planting seeds in the ground, try to stagger them so that your crop is not ready all at once, leading to overabundance and waste – don’t plant every seed in the packet! Think of the air temperature and soil temperature before you plant; most seeds don’t like it below 55 degrees. Lettuce seeds can be planted at slightly cooler temperatures, but not below 50 degrees. Take into account days to maturity and germination times if you are planting from seed. Adriann noted that the heirloom varieties tend to produce fewer tomatoes. Keep a journal of when and what you planted, how the specific varieties fared.

Think about spacing, Adriann said. Lettuce for example should be 6-8 inches apart. Tomatoes can be planted around lettuce when they go in after mid-May, and will shade the lettuce and prolong their growing season before they bolt. Squash and basil go in during the month of June. They like warmer temperatures. Plant earlier or later to avoid bugs that can plague green beans, potatoes or tomatoes. Fertilize three times a year: when you prepare the soil for planting, when the first flowers emerge and during the heavy production period.

Ask people about how they garden, but remember that they all have different opinions and ways of doing things. Pick a mentor, and try to follow that one person.

Tom Ingram did his workshop Sizzling Summer Crops in late March. Tom is a 20 year member of FBGA. Potatoes and tomatoes are his areas of greatest expertise.

Plant potatoes early in the season but not before they get their eyes; if planted before they have eyes they won’t be as productive. The potatoes you plant should be egg sized, if bigger, cut them in half. Each plant will yield about 5-10 potatoes. Tom finds Red Norland are a good variety of potato.

Sweet potatoes grow differently. They are planted in the warmer weather during June. You plant the slips that are on the sweet potato in a trench with plants 9-12 inches apart. Don’t allow the sweet potatoes to be exposed to sun. You must hill them, and keep filling in the trench as the potatoes grow.

Tomatoes need warm weather so don’t plant them until mid-May. If you plant tomato plants with the stem on the horizontal, they will grow more roots. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need lots of water. Blossom end rot is due to uneven watering and/or a calcium deficiency. Don’t wet the leaves, only water at the bottom of the plant; wetting the leaves at night can cause mildew. You can use fabric mulch and hay to conserve moisture. Better Boy is a good, crack resistant variety of tomato. Grape tomatoes are vigorous and can grow 8-10 feet tall.

Eggplants, corn, beans and squash are more summer crops that were discussed. Eggplant is prone to flea beetles. If you plant beans, remember pole beans can grow up a trellis, allowing you to pick them for a longer time. Silver Queen is a good variety of corn that Tom uses. Squash should be planted in June. Only the female flowers produce fruit (see photos in Spring 2014 issue, p.3), which means you can eat the male flowers; fry them up or make fritters with them. Delicious!

Peppers and onions are two more summer crops. The Cubanelle pepper variety grows better in our gardens than Bell peppers. If you leave peppers on the plant, they turn from green to red, and the red areso sweet – but watch out because they can rot once they turn red. Onions like the long days of summer and the foliage starts to die in July. Remember to water onions until you harvest (unlike garlic, which you stop watering when the scapes come). Onions like bone meal.

Adriann and Tom provided workshop attendees with a wealth of information – much, much more than an article such as this can – so “Attend the workshops!” And good luck this summer with your planting!