By Ira Wallace
Mother Earth News
February has had so many lovely warm days, mixed with some fleeting snow. We’re taking advantage of the dry, sunny stretches to plant strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. We’re also treating our berries to a heavy spring application of mulch to control weeds and conserve moisture. This is also the time of year to check our irrigation equipment – just unfurl your hoses to check for damage. Be prepared – a dry spring may be right around the corner. We’re busy spreading compost and tilling our garden beds to be ready when outdoor planting begins in earnest next month.
In the greenhouse, we’re continuing to sow lettuce, scallions, and broccoli. We’re sowing lettuce successions about once a week now. As the light increases and temperatures warm, the plants grow a lot faster, and we have to sow more often if we want to always have fresh, sweet lettuce for the table. We find that sowing lettuce about once a week works well for us most of the year, we just harvest some of it a bit young, and some of it fully mature. (We do sow more often in the fall, when we want lots of lettuce to be about the same age for over-wintering under row-cover.)
With the mild winter we’re adventurously starting some extra early tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. If the ground warms up early this year, we’ll be set to take advantage. If the spring is cold, we’ll just have extra potting up to do.
Out in the garden, we’re sowing our spring spinach and early root crops (radishes, turnips, beets, and carrots). We cover these early sowings with Reemay for extra warmth. This also helps the seeds germinate quickly and stay ahead of the weeds. Beet seeds can be sown in cool soils, but they can be slow to germinate. Help speed them along by soaking the seeds for 1-2 hours before you sow them. And beet seeds like lots of pressure, so tamp down the soil really well after sowing (some people will even walk over their beet sowings).
We’re also getting our cool-season legume crops underway. We have to be timely with these sowings, because spring heats up so quickly. The last day to sow favas on our farm is 3/14. The tasty pods stop forming once temperatures warm up, so you may need to get yours in the ground even earlier. We know the ground is warm enough to sow our peas when the Forsythia blooms, but we make doubly sure by pre-sprouting the pea seeds.
Pre-sprouted peas can give your plants a whole week’s head start, and the seeds are less likely to dry out or rot. To pre-sprout your pea seeds, simply soak them overnight, then drain them and place them in a large bowl, covered with a damp cloth, in a cool place. Every twelve hours you should rinse them with fresh water and drain. Just keep the seeds moist and very soon you should see tiny roots emerging. The trick is to not let the sprouts get too far along: the roots should be less than one centimeter long. Otherwise it’s too easy to damage the fragile young plants.
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