Harbingers of spring abound – motorcycles, bicycles and walkers are all over our roads, throngs of people flocked to the Home Show in Carleton Place on the weekend, the odd bloom of crocus and snowdrop are poking their ephemeral beauty through the detritus left behind after an endless winter and lots of enthusiastic gardeners are attending gardening workshops.
Much of the snow is now gone with the exception of shady locations protected from the sun. It is a leisurely strip-tease as the snow recedes and reveals gardens that have been hidden for many, many months. Snow is a valuable protection to all perennial plants and for many soils its accumulation and gradual thawing help improve the physical texture of the soil.
But, hold on! Lawns and gardens are still far too wet to walk on, let alone start to till. The exception may be a very well-drained location with a favourable micro-climate. Within our yards the spot where the snow melts first may well be a favourable micro-climate. Micro-climates are often the best location for sensitive heat loving plants – a perfect spot for tomatoes or peppers for example. The most likely locations may be on the south or west side of a building, a hedge or perhaps a grove of trees.
I am very mindful that spring is not far off and that we can probably expect a very short spring this year as we leap from winter to summer so I aim to do as much cleanup as I can as gardens become exposed. But I limit that to areas that I can reach from walkways or pathways. The gardens are still far too wet to walk on – the soil structure can be very adversely affected when it is compacted at this stage. Don’t try to work the soil too early. In order to determine if soil is workable, take a handful and squeeze – if it stays together in a ball it is still too wet, if it crumbles it is ready. Also if it clings to your boots and shovel in great clumps or if your footprints remain visible after you walk across the lawn or garden wait a few more days.
However the forecast for the next week is more promising. In order to be ready to start planting I bought a couple of packages of onion sets. These are one-year old onions that have been grown under controlled conditions. They will grow into sizable onions for harvest towards the end of August. While it is possible to grow onions from seed they would have to have been planted indoors in February. In the case of my main onion crop for storage onions I usually opt for the ease of sets – these are the simplest and most dependable method. As soon as one of the raised beds is dry enough the onion sets will be planted. For their early growth onions prefer cool weather conditions and plenty of moisture.
Many neophyte gardeners are concerned about planting any of their veggies while we are still getting freezing temperatures at night – they are concerned that new sprouts will freeze and die. This is where a bit of knowledge about the climatic preferences of plants is critical. As I mentioned last week planting on the May 24 weekend is appropriate for heat-loving and frost-sensitive plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers. However it is just wrong for plants that like cooler conditions. Spinach and lettuce hate the heat and will be bitter and twisted if planted in late May! They are able to withstand very cold temperatures – spinach is even able to survive through the winter!
Peas are one vegetable that germinate and grow in very cold soil. I have even been able to plant them in a sheltered micro-climate as early as March 18 – obviously not happening this year! So what happens if the weather turns really nasty? One year I had peas that were about 10 cm high when we had a late snowfall of 20 cm. Once the snow was melted the peas were still growing with no problem.
Calling all Volunteers for Community Gardens
A major project to rejuvenate the community garden next to St. Gregory School on Townline Road in Carleton Place is being spearheaded by the Lanark County Food Bank (aka the Hunger Stop) in collaboration with existing gardeners at the site and in consultation with local Master Gardeners. It is being funded by a grant from Sysco Food and is supported by several local businesses. Circle the dates Saturday April 29 and Sunday April 30, the last weekend in April. Construction will be in full swing starting at 9 in the morning and going until dark (or until we drop). Bring your wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes!
Also circle the date Saturday May 6 – this is the day for a work party to get the Neighbourhood Tomato gardens in Almonte ready for the growing season – both the Augusta Park Community Garden as well as the vegetable plots behind the Almonte Library. No need to register – just show up in your gardening attire and tools anytime after nine in the morning!