16 March 2016

It's Not Too Late for a Spring Garden

Our normal gardening schedule was completely thrown off when we had to move out of the house and take up residence in the garden, due to black mold that was caused by water damage in the kitchen. With all the tasks that come with a major construction project,  Much to my dismay,  I did not have the time or the brain cells to plan and plant a garden. So we did not have our fall garden or an early winter garden, late winter garden or an early spring garden to speak of... just the stalwart chard and kale plants that have been growing continuously for the last 3 years, (I will write a post about them another time). But if I have anything to do with it, I will have a spring garden!

We have some seedlings growing under lights, for the rest I swallowed deep and bought seedlings for plants I knew there would not be time to grow from seed, (we normally grow almost all of our plants from seed under lights in our walk-in closet). Since we depend on the green leafy veggies like kale and chard for juicing, they have first dibs on the seed starting shelves. Tomorrow I will take the kale seedlings out from under lights, re-pot them and set them out on the deck to grow another week or two before we plant them out in the garden. Then I will be able to squeeze in a few flats of lettuce and oriental greens before I have to turn the growing shelves over to the tomatoes and peppers that must be started soon if I want them to be transplant size by late April/ early May.

Normally by this time of year my cabbages are the size of my head and I am gearing up to ferment sauerkraut, (we ferment rather than pickle sauerkraut), and dehydrate cabbage for use later. But this year I am just now getting my seedlings set out. I am not really worried though, it is not too late for a spring garden, I just had to select varieties that mature early, so that they will be ready to harvest and the beds will be empty when it is time to plant out the warm weather crops in May.

Most years I plant Dutch Flat cabbages for sauerkraut and Jersey Wakefield and January King for fresh eating and dehydrating. The Dutch Flat cabbage, makes on average a 12 pound head, takes 90-105 days to mature and likes to spread out so they need a 36" spacing between plants. This year since I need a short season variety, I am planting Stonehead, a medium 3-4 lb. dense cabbage, that matures in 50 days. They can be planted about 20" apart so I can just have one bed of cabbages, and if they are a little late finishing off, I will still have room in other beds to get my warm weather crops in the ground. I will miss my dutch flat cabbages though, you can make a lot of kraut with a 12 pound cabbage!

It was perfect gardening weather yesterday. It was slightly overcast, there was a nice breeze and it was about 75 degrees. I got several flats of seeds planted and got my cabbage plants in the ground.
When planting out cabbages, I use a technique that I learned in 1978 from John Seymour's book , The Self-Sufficient Gardener , (see my review of this book here). I make up a bucket of thin mud and add a handful or two of pulverized garden lime, (not the pelletized kind that you lime the lawn with), and stir it up well. Then when I have the hole dug and the my home made organic fertilizer at the bottom of the hole, I dip the root ball of the cabbage plant in the lime/mud slurry. put the plant in the hole. It is important that cabbage roots are in good contact with the soil so I press down firmly around the base of the plants until there is a depression all around the stem of the cabbage.

I use the mud /lime slurry for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that cabbages appreciate a little extra lime since they grow best with soil ph between 6.5 and 7.5. The second and probably most important reason is that the higher ph will deter club root, a disease that not only damages your cabbages, but also will infect the soil and will continue to be a problem for years to come. We use this technique every year as well as rotating our crops so that disease and pests don't have a chance to build up in the soil.

Once the cabbages are in the ground, I water them deeply and then scatter an organic slug bait round the plants. I use Gardens Alive, Escar-Go! It is very effective and will not harm pets or beneficials. I spotted a cabbage looper moth while I was planting the cabbages so it is time to break out the butterfly net and once the cabbages have a chance to settle in I will spray them with BT (bacillus thuringiensis, known by label as Dipel, I can usually find it at Lowe's but if not just follow the link). It is an organic biological pesticide, that will take care of any caterpillars that may pop up on the cabbages and kale. Bt is really great! It won't harm pets or flying beneficials, (although it will kill butterfly caterpillars if you spray it on plants that they feed on like dill, and parsley, but I don't spray anything but the cabbages and blue kale, so my butterfly caterpillars are safe, but look out cabbage looper moth caterpillars!). About 50 days from now we will have lots of cabbages to make into tasty, healthy, naturally fermented sauerkraut... Yum!

Skittles our little rescue kitty is "helping" me with my garden chores.

Tomorrow I will be transplanting seedlings, starting more seeds and planting some herbs that I bought today. It has been lovely weather so I am looking forward to being outside! Have a great day!

**Oh and just an note... any words that are this blue color in a post are links to either more information, where to buy something or another post that I have written on the subject. So be sure to go back and follow the links when you are finished reading the post!

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