Get Your Gardens Ready

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I have a headache.

My nose is stuffy and my mouth is dry. I'm trying not to bend over much--hurts my head.

The basic problem is not a problem, it's a pollen. My honeybees are flying home covered with the yellow and orange stuff. Gobs and gobs of it to feed the babies. And the babies are hungry, they are trying to grow fast to be in time for spring.  Honeybees have a 'do or die' attitude toward spring, and so do I. Last week, I was trying to plow mud to get some land ready to plant.

The time is upon us, and based on our mild winter lots of local gardeners are betting on an early spring.  Some folks prefer to wait and purchase started vegetable plants, and if you're one of them, you can take it easy for a while. It's still too early to plant most of your cool weather crops outside and there isn't much available at the store right now anyway.

On the other hand, if you’re thrifty or love to experiment or just love to garden and can't wait until the chance of frost has passed, then you can join me and the honeybees and start doing something right now. You can get your seeds out and think about your garden; think about how much space you have; think about which crops are most important to you. Then you can get started.

First, let me mention potatoes. You don't plant potato seeds; you plant seed potatoes. You can get them from a catalog or garden store or you can get them from the grocery store. If you go with the grocery store option, you’ll have to be a little thoughtful. Buy organic - the other ones are sprayed with something to keep them from sprouting in your kitchen and that will also stop them from sprouting in your garden. Don't buy russet type baking potatoes, they don't do well here. Buy organic white, red or gold potatoes and set them out in a window until they begin to sprout a bit. Then cut them in half with some sprouts on each half.  After they sit for a day or two the cut will have dried and it is safe to plant them... around St Patrick's day.

You could also plant peas around the same time, directly in the ground outside. The seeds are big and easy to work with, and it's fun.

But if you want to start some tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for planting in April, you should go ahead and make your move now indoors. Buy seed-starter planting mix or pellets - it's been sterilized so you won't have any molds or bacteria or fungi that might damage your puppies. Then carefully put one seed in each (presoaked) pellet or small peat pot. If you are doing them in trays be sure to give them space, at least a half inch between each. Then water them softly--very very softly. Nurseries use a sprayer with a mist setting--the water is atomized, barely visible, you can't even feel it when you put your fingers in the fog. It doesn't pour onto the soil; it condenses on it like morning dew. If you squirt your seedlings with a hose, the seeds are going to be blasted to the moon and back, and pouring water from your Nalgene is about the same.

They have to stay wet and warm until the seeds sprout. Covering with plastic is a good bet. Putting them on the top of the fridge for heat is a nice idea, but be sure to check them every day. Once the dicot leaves come up, take the lid off but keep the soil moist as much as possible. Once the secondary leaves are out cut them back, and let them dry out a little between waterings. Perpetual dampness is not your friend any longer. Once they get the third set of leaves it's about time to repot the best and biggest, strongest, most vigorous, fantastic ones into larger pots. Give them more space, more light, and less water. Yellow leaves are bad and can only lead to one thing - certain death by root rot.

When the weather has warmed sufficiently--in early April--your plants will be superstars when you plant them. One thing to watch for at this point is that they need to acclimate a bit to outdoor living. Let them stay outside in light shade for a couple days before moving to full sun in the garden. Then it's plant and go - ramp up the water again for a little bit until they are established and you should be good!

You'll need a wheelbarrow to bring in the harvest. I swear. And remember your neighbors in need. 

-Fred Conrad, Community Gardens Manager