Hello, Luke here! I'll be dropping in on the blog every other week from now on to talk about gardening, bread baking, vegetable fermentation, and other fun stuff. We thought you all would enjoy hearing from me now and then. You can also follow me on Instagram @lukefreeperson
I love the spring garden - a fresh start full of hope and opportunity. As a gardener I always feel so rejuvenated after the downtime of winter. I hit the ground running.
Here I’d like to discuss how we get our spring garden going at Freckled Hen Farm. Hopefully you’ll find some tips you can use while you’re planting your garden this year.
- Bed Prep -
I always forget how much time is involved in prepping my garden beds for planting. I usually spend as much time getting the ground ready as I do actually planting seeds or setting transplants. But this is a crucial step that can't be skipped.
I either mulch my garden beds or plant them to cover crops in the late fall before winter comes. Mulched beds are by far the easiest to prep. All I have to do is rake the straw mulch aside and the soil is usually weed-free and ready to go. Sometimes I have to do some shallow cultivation to take care of spring weed seedlings.
Taking care of cover crops in the garden is a little more complicated. Recently I’ve been using our hand sickle to cut the cover crops as close to the ground as I can, raking the cut tops aside, then using a stirrup hoe to turn up the roots. I’ll usually let the soil rest a few days before using a rake to remove large root debris before planting. Cover crops can also be tilled in, but you have to wait a good three weeks before planting to allow the cover crop residue to break down in the soil.
Once the soil is prepped I’ll spread out compost and organic fertilizers, shallowly working them into the soil with a rake. Then I’ll lay out my drip tape lines, which I use for irrigation and also as planting guides. Now we’re finally ready to put plants in the ground!
- Direct Seeding-
Spring crops that can be directly sown include peas, lettuce, greens, kale, Swiss chard, beets, turnips, radishes, and carrots. Some of these crops I choose to grow out in the greenhouse first to give myself a head start. When it comes to planting seeds in the garden I am all about efficiency. I use a garden trowel to make a shallow furrow to drop seeds in, taking note of the proper depth for the seed I am planting. Once the furrow is made, I just drop the seeds in at the proper spacing then drag the trowel back over the furrow to bury the seed. This really speeds up the process.
Some seed should be banded or broadcast instead of being sown in a straight row, including crops like salad mixes and arugula. In this case I have found the spring tine cultivator to be a great tool to shallowly scratch in the seed and barely bury them with soil. The trick with broadcasting seed is to make sure too much seed doesn’t come out at once and end up in clumps when the crop comes up. You can see I didn’t do a perfect job with the arugula below!
- Transplanting -
I try to use transplants instead of directly sowing my garden crops as much as I can. Transplants give you a head start and mean that your crop will be ready several weeks earlier than if you had directly sown it. Fortunately I have access to a greenhouse so I am able to grow all the transplants I could ever need.
An important step that can easily be overlooked when growing transplants is to give them some time to acclimate to field conditions before planting them out. This is called “hardening off.” The plants need to slowly adjust to the cold nights and bright sun of the open field before they are stuck in the ground.
I also have a time-saving trick when it comes to planting transplants. I will “stage” my plants by taking them out of their containers and placing them at the right spacing before I start to plant them. This allows me focus on the spacing at the front end so that when I am planting I don’t have to mind the ruler. Also it saves so much time to not have to reach for the six-pack of plants in-between planting each one. And again, I use my drip tape line as a guide to keep my plant rows straight.
When I’m setting my plants I make sure to not leave any roots or potting media exposed and I press firmly around the base of the plant to ensure good root contact with the soil. I’ve found that this forged garden trowel from DeWit is the perfect size for planting vegetable transplants. I try to save this job for the evening when the sun is starting to set low in the sky so that the plants are not subject to the hot mid-day sun on their first day in the field. I’ll be sure to water in all my transplants thoroughly once I’m finished to make sure they have all the water they need in their new home.
If you’re not sure what you should be planting in your garden right now our planting calendars in our shop have all that info. And we have made planting calendars for most all regions of the US, so we likely have one just for you.
If you’re also in the Midsouth like Natalie and me, here is what we have planted in the garden so far: lettuce mix, greens mix, radishes, turnips, carrots, arugula, snap peas, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, and kale.
I’ll be back on the blog in a few weeks to talk about sourdough bread baking and then about growing farm-fresh salads. So stay tuned!