Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monthly Garden Activities

January: Drag home 5 neighbor's Christmas trees and cut them up as mulch for blueberries. If there is a thaw, dig the ground, plant more lettuce and pak choi, and cover with floating cover, a plastic sheet that admits light and water. Plant leaf lettuce in the greenhouse window. Order the year's seeds from catalogs.

February: Prune blueberry bushes, grape and kiwi vines, and fruit trees. Apply dormant oil spray as I go. Start brocolli, Sweet 100 and sun gold tomatoes, Nufar basil, parsley, celery, and Malabar spinach indoors.

March: Sow Sugar Ann peas early in the month and a half pound of sugar snap peas later. This is the year's most tedious job, but it feels great in the warming sun. Do it over many days, one "squat-worth" at a time. Knees can take just so much of this at once!
Indoors start pepper, eggplant, impatiens, and Burpee supersteak tomatoes. Sow lettuce and pak choi, Hakurei turnips and arugula seeds outdoors. Late in the month plant out parsley and celery seedlings.

April: Outdoors sow root crops (carrots, parsnips, and maybe salsify) under floating cover. Transplant brocolli and remaining lettuce outdoors. Then put out the first tomatoes under walls-of-water. Sow nasturtium seeds. The reputed frost free date here is May 15, but it's been years since we've had a late April or May frost. In 2005, 2006, and 2007 we had no frost in April or May. In 2008 the last frost was on April 10.
Sow more radish and lettuce seeds outdoors, and repeat sowing lettuce every three weeks until September. Sow leek seeds.
Indoors start various types of tomatoes and flowers. Buy eggplant, and pepper plugs and coddle them in larger pots than a nursery can provide. Throughout this month and until mid-May transplant plants to larger pots as soon as they are as tall as the pot they are in. Start zuchinni and cucumbers seeds inside.
Make the first planting of (early) corn and bush beans. Bush beans can be planted later, but racoons will eat any corn I plant later than April.

May: Traditional frost-free date is May 15, but we can push that for planting out tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, zuchinni, Malabar spinach and flowers. Mulch with grass clippings as soon as they are available, and continue this process until frost. Plant pole beans to climb where some of the pea vines will die in July.

June: Thin carrots to a half inch spacing and mulch with grass clippings as you go, partially to mark where you have been. This is the year's second most tedious job.
Late in the month start more zuchinni inside to plant out in July as a second crop. The squash borer usually kills the first crop, but it comes only once a year, so the second crop can be quite prolific in the fall.

July: Start collard, kale, and Burpee's two-season Chinese cabbage seeds either indoors or out. If indoors, plant the window starts out later in the month after clearing peas and first corn crops. Start lettuce seeds inside instead of outdoors so they are easy to keep moist.
Thin carrots to one inch spacing and eat the "finger carrots." (In 2001 there were two gallons of these delicious carrots!)
When the pea vines die, remove them and nurture Malabar spinach, State Farm zinnias, pole beans, and climbing tomatoes (Sweet 100 and sun gold) to replace them.

August: Start fall pak choi, perhaps where first crop of zuchinni collapsed. Thin carrots to two inch spacing, and eat the thinnings.

September: Sow lettuce seeds outside for the last time this year. Plant pak choi and lettuce in a cold frame for early spring harvest; recently I've been waiting until January for this.
Set up the cold frame into which I put the Burpee's two-season Chinese cabbage. This provides fresh greens for stir-fries twice a week throughout the winter.

October: Cover tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant with burlap if frost is predicted, usually about the time of the full moon. Remove when weather warms. Plant bulbs outside and in the root cellar (to force bulbs for
winter.) In recent years I have bought new bulbs only for forcing and have plenty of outdoor bulbs from previous years. Harvest basil and Malabar spinach if there is a hint of frost; they won't survive even the lightest frost.

November: Harvest last tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant just before the first frost, usually under a full moon. After cleaning away the debris, sow winter where these were. (Don't clear the Malabar spinach vines, and in the spring I have volunteer plants.)
Collect about 100 bags of leaves to compost. Put some over the root crops to keep them from freezing during the winter. Keep most of them for mulching raspberries and for alternating with live matter (primarily kitchen and yard waste) in next year's compost heaps.

December: Harvest the last pak choi, leeks, and collards before the temperature drops below 20 degrees and put them in the refrigerator to eat during the next few weeks. Do NOT pull out the collards and pak choi plants, however, because they only play dead during the winter and will revive in March or April. They do better under floating cover. In 2008-9 a celery plant survived under floating cover.

As needed: Weed and mulch with grass clippings (continually), wood chips as available, and chopped leaves when a neighbor kindly provides them. Keeping a heavy mulch minimizes (1) weeding and (2) watering and (3) adds organic matter to the soil. Heavily mulched organic soil does not need to be dug unless you want to; superficial raking will prepare it adequately for seeding. In my early years I double dug when convenient between crops. John Jeavons says not to dig a "mature" garden soil at all so it can keep its structure -- but mulch heavily.
Dig in compost or distribute it around plants as a mulch. I use the three-pile method of composting: one pile I am adding to, one I'm taking from, and one that is "cooking." Compost heaps decrease to about one fifth their size in a year, and are then ready in this climate if you alternate "green" (nitrogen-rich: mostly kitchen and lawn waste) and "brown" (carbon-rich, mostly dried leaves) matter at roughly four inch layers. My husband brings home about 100 bags of leaves each fall, about a ton. For over 20 years a ton of leaves have disappeared annually into our suburban
back yard!

Never water the lawn. Water the garden only (1) with a watering can after sowing seeds until they are viable or (2) in mid-summer if tomato plants look thirsty in the evening. (This never happens sometimes.) Then water deeply, for at least an hour of steady spray, or much longer if the source rotates. Encourage your plants' roots to grow deep; don't favor surface roots by light watering. I watered twice in 2001, and had a lush harvest. About half of my gardening years I haven't watered the garden at all, including 2008, which yielded one of the most abundant harvests. I have never watered more than three times in any one year.

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