Thursday, April 1, 2010

the first round in the ground

The rain has finally given way to warm days and nights. Apparently we have been privy to living through the wettest March in history 3.5" in 2 days alone. Several times we had a cold snap that caused temperatures to dip down to 29 degrees and I had to find newspaper and row covers to protect the baby lettuce and chard from potential frost. It seems to have worked, the baby plants that didn't get eaten by birds or drowned, look quite healthy ; ) and now that drier days are here, the plants are flourishing.

Lettuce, chard, spinach, peas and cabbage are all great first crops of spring. These plants enjoy cool weather and sun that doesn't beat straight down for hours on end each day. They are also great for people like me who want to cram every bit of productivity into their space. Since all of those crops mature quickly and don't mind cool weather they can be using the space before flowers and veggies can go in, and I will harvest them and thin them as I begin to put the warm weather loving plants in and keep them in around the new baby plants to keep the beds from seeming empty until the plants fill out. Near the end of the season when the warm weather plants are starting to die off, I can plant seeds between the warm weather plants and the process work in reverse.
Besides the obvious benefit of being edible (and quite tasty at that!) I believe greens were created for people like me who can't wait to get out and play in dirt as soon as it doesn't have frost in it. It is also a very simple crop to grow. Lettuce and chard were the first things my mom gave me to grow from seeds. You may not get a great crop from poor soil, but so long as you don't drown them or drought them, you will get an edible result. Over the past 5 years or so, my spring crops have become more and more productive. Last year I think we had salad at least 3 nights a week for dinner without me having to buy lettuce from the middle of April until June! Since one of my beds only gets partial sun, I continued to get a lighter harvest of lettuce and chard through the rest of the summer, and if I had thrown some more seeds in and concocted a row cover/ cold frame, we probably would have been eating it until December like my parents were.

It gave me great pleasure when two of the new gardeners who joined Amy and I for our armchair gardening this year asked me about planting lettuce. I had given Risa some seeds when we had garden night, and when I set my seedlings out, I sent her an email with detailed instructions on how to get her own started. She doesn't have a set up to start them inside which gave me maybe a 2 week head start but otherwise doesn't do much. Maybe when I get sophisticated and get hoops to make mini greenhouses I can get a jump start right in the beds rather than having to transplant the fragile little seedlings.... anyway.... The same day I sent that message out, Lis sent me a message, asking how hard it was to grow lettuce. I copied and pasted my instructions and told her to go to the garden center and pick out a pack or two of seeds that looked tasty. What a great and rewarding way to start gardening!

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