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NATURE’S TURN: Spring planting, summery weather

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By Monday, May 11 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
Mackenzie Waggaman
Mountain town late May vegetable garden: onions, in foreground; long season lettuce mix at the edges of fixed trellis. Pea plants, right, starting to climb trellis.

May 11 through 24, 2015

Mt. Washington — With the sudden onset of unseasonably hot weather, the vegetable gardener is in a tailspin. We’ve gotten caught without a stretch of early spring conditions, having moved abruptly from winter deep freeze to summery heat, along with drought. I’ve decided to push on with the cool season plantings and to compensate with evening watering and a daytime covering of shade cloth, every day. Special consideration has to be given to the gardener, too, straining to adapt to strong sunlight and heat. A change in schedule is most beneficial. Cool temperatures can be enjoyed, more or less, from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. A wide-brimmed hat and attention to fluid intake are essential.

Framed raised bed with pea plants trellised on saplings with their branches on. Straw mulch on left. Bed preparation in progress on right: compost and  mixed mineral and organic matter soil conditioner ready to be dug in. Photo by Judy Isacoff

Framed raised bed with pea plants trellised on saplings with their branches on. Straw mulch on left. Bed preparation in progress on right: compost and mixed mineral and organic matter soil conditioner ready to be dug in. Photo by Judy Isacoff

Hiding seeds under a covering of dark brown earth is the gesture of the season. Edible pod and shell peas are dropped into little holes made with a dibble or placed in a 1-inch deep furrow 2 inches apart. Plant a second row of staggered seed 8 inches from the first on either side of a trellis if the variety needs support. Soil – the wonderful, friable, life-giving fabric – is pulled over the seed and pressed down. Spinach seeds are placed in rows 12 inches apart: 3 – 6 inches between seeds in a shallow furrow covered with 1/4 inch of earth. Sow radish at 2 inch intervals, 4 inches between rows.

The flat, flake-like seeds of parsnip are sown at 3 to 4 inch spacing in deeply dug ground. The recommendation on a parsnip seed packet I once bought was to soak the seeds for several hours before planting. Wet ones are tedious to plant, but I happened to receive this tip after a sowing that didn’t germinate after the requisite three weeks of waiting. All early spring seeds are gently watered when rain is not predicted, to keep them cool and speed germination. Ordinarily, my habit is to leave plants to seek their own water by growing deep roots.

I find it good practice for hand and eye to space seeds at the distance needed for the plants to grow to maturity, no thinning necessary. When we buy seeds they have been tested for extremely high germination rates. Seeds kept from year to year, whether bought or saved from our gardens, are viable for many seasons if kept dry and cool in a closed container. Estimated periods of and conditions necessary for viability vary with the source. See a sample list, below.

Potato plants, earth hilled around stems once in early June. Dill seeds broadcast on open ground. Rotted hay and leaf mulch along edges. Photo by Judy Isacoff

Potato plants, earth hilled around stems once in early June. Dill seeds broadcast on open ground. Rotted hay and leaf mulch along edges. Photo by Judy Isacoff

Perennial flowers and herbs as well as fall planted garlic grow vigorously without watering if beds are deeply dug and rich in moisture-holding organic matter. A prolonged stretch without rain will necessitate adding garlic to the list of crops to be watered. Rain and cool days are in the Berkshire forecast for the near future.

If there is a cool, wet stretch of weather ahead, even though the soil is warm, try another sowing of slow-to-bolt spinach and lettuce as well as radish. You might cool seeds in the refrigerator and plant in partly shaded areas. After these and all the onion family (Nature’s Turn, April 27 – May 10) as well as potatoes and parsnips are in, we might sow carrots and the cabbage family – including kale and collards.

Favorite summer foods like squash, beans, corn and tomatoes, to name a few, cannot tolerate frost. The time to begin to plant them has traditionally been the Memorial Day holiday weekend, May 25th this year.

Addendum:

Seed viability list courtesy of Organic Gardening Magazine.

The life expectancy for most vegetable seeds ranges from only 1 year to up to 6 years. Variations based on many factors, including storage conditions.

Beans: 3 years
Beets: 4 years
Broccoli: 3 years
Cabbages: 4 years
Carrots: 3 years
Cauliflower: 4 years
Corn: 2 years
Cucumbers: 5 years
Eggplant: 4 years
Lettuces: 6 years
Onions: 1 year
Peas: 3 years
Peppers: 2 years
Radishes: 5 years
Spinach: 3 years
Squash: 4 years
Sunflowers: 5 years
Tomatoes: 4 years

Judy Isacoff © 2015

 


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