Carolyn Singer: Turning attention to the edible garden
Special to The Union
A few days of heat (yes, a March heat wave) sent many people to local nurseries recently in search of young starts for frost-tender edibles. Visions of ripe tomatoes danced in their heads.
Yes, the earth is warming. And yes, it never really cooled as much as it usually does in winter. And yes, this may even be the year for tomatoes to ripen in June.
However, the soil is not yet warm enough for the more tender crops to thrive.
And what is this I see in the long-range forecast? Lows in the upper 30s at the end of April? It could be believed. It is even possible, based on the patterns for the past years.
Do not be disappointed when you look for those warm-season vegetable plants in your local nursery, and they are not being offered yet.
Nurseries have your best interests in mind when the tender starts begin to show later in April and reach a peak in supplies by mid-May, with healthy plants still available in early June for you “late” gardeners.
The local Master Gardeners (U.C. Extension) have an excellent reference to help you, “The Western Nevada County Gardening Guide.”
Maps address the wide range of local microclimate distinctions, assisting gardeners in determining the “safe” planting date for many crops. Based on averages for the latest spring frost, it is a good guide.
The guide is available at the extension office, 255 S. Auburn St. in Grass Valley.
At this time of the year, I focus on seeds. Many cool-season vegetables will germinate quickly now that the sun is in its April angle.
Increased light and warmth in April germinates seeds and stimulates young seedlings of greens to grow quickly.
I’m starting seeds of arugula, lettuce, and raab this week. Cilantro and dill will also be seeded. All of these edibles are sown in small amounts, with the plan to seed again in three to four weeks.
Chard seeds are also sown now, but the “succession crop” of chard will not be until late summer for the fall and winter harvest.
A few greens will be sown directly into the garden, with a row cover or light shade cloth protecting the area from the cultivators who live in my edible garden.
If you don’t have quail, it’s probably difficult to imagine what damage their dozens of tiny feet will do to a spring sowing. In a short period of time, almost as soon as I close the garden gate, the quail rearrange the soil surface, gobble up sprouting seeds (they really are good for us!) and even begin minor excavations as they dig deeper.
In a couple of weeks I will seed summer squash, cucumbers and beans. Seeds left over from previous years are still viable.
When in doubt, I place a few seeds between damp paper towels in my kitchen to observe germination rate. If they do sprout, I can quickly place them into the ground or a container of my special planting mix.
Gardeners with raised beds may be challenged in formulating the perfect blend of amendments to grow edibles. Ideally, your mix should include a portion of native clay soil, a soil that holds moisture and is rich in minerals.
Adding compost, your own, or a blend from a local soil broker, changes the native soil into a medium that will both retain moisture and allow air to roots.
The addition of natural phosphorus (colloidal phosphate and soft rock phosphate) ensures vigorous root growth, flowering, and fruiting.
I often call it the root and fruit nutrient.
Oyster shell lime is usually needed to balance the pH of the planting medium, increasing nutrient availability for plants.
If you planted a cover crop in your raised bed last fall, this was the perfect method for revitalizing the soil following the previous season of growing edibles.
Cover crops may also be grown during the summer in any portion of the garden that is not being used.
Keeping the soil healthy, observing the magic of seeds, and sharing the garden with quail are some of the greatest joys as I connect with my garden in any season.
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. Carolyn will be teaching Raised beds and other container gardening from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. April 11 at Peaceful Valley (272-4769 X 106). She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information and class details, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.
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