Opening Day is almost here and we look forward to seeing you at the greenhouses this Friday! Are your hands itching to get into the dirt? Here in the Champlain Valley, your garden is likely to be ready to plant very soon (more on that later).
We love the early garden with its vibrant spring greens, feathery fennel fronds, and jolly pansies. Here are some of our favorite varieties that we recommend you take home with you on Friday and a few tips to get you started.
Is My Garden Ready to Plant?
Here’s how to tell if your garden is ready to plant. Go out to your garden beds, make a fistful of dirt, squeeze it into a clump and drop it from about knee level. If it crumbles or shatters into tiny pieces, your soil is dry. If it stays in a clump or a couple of chunks, the soil is still too wet. (For obvious reasons, sandy soils dry more quickly than clay soils.) If you identify your ground as still wet, it’s not ready to rototill, and it’s best to not even walk in the garden yet to avoid compaction.
If your soil is ready, you can move on to the next steps. You’re ready to make your garden beds. Depending on the size of your garden, you can do this by hand, but if you have to rototill you can also do so at this point. If you will be seeding right into the soil, mix in compost a week in advance to allow it to mellow.
Starting from Seed
Your beds are now ready to seed with plants that like to germinate in cool temperatures, like mache, fava beans, peas, arugula, radishes, and carrots.
Some of our favorite varieties:
- Mache: We like “Vit.”
- Arugula: Though we stock several types, “Astro” is our all-around favorite.
- Peas: Sugarsnaps!
- Radishes: Hands-down, “French Breakfast” is the winner. We love to eat these pretty two-toned radishes plain, with just butter and salt. “Cherriette” is a good go-to if you’re in the mood for a spicier radish to go in tacos, Mexican food, or salsa. We like to make a fruit salsa that blends mango, radish, green onion, jalapeno and lime juice. Finely chopped daikon radish is great in salsa too.
When it’s warm enough to transplant, probably next week or the week after, here are some beautiful plants to kick off the kitchen garden.
How to know when it’s time to transplant? You should wait to transplant until a) soil is dry and b) nighttime temps in extended forecast are no lower than upper 20s Fahrenheit. Check the forecast for a series of days when nights are in the upper 30s, and put the plants out that first night so they can have a few nights of higher temperatures before a potential drop. Garden beds should be prepped with compost, and your plants should be hardened off.
All Red Wagon plants are sold hardened off and ready to put in the ground. But to strengthen your plants' root systems, it's good to let them dry out for a few days before planting. Even letting them get a bit wilty is OK! You want to stress them a little bit, helping them better acclimate to their new surroundings. It’s like teaching your kids to do laundry and not doing everything for them! At transplant time, they need a good soaking, though.
Our favorite varieties to transplant now:
- Kale, bok choy, and mustard greens. Our favorite mustard green is called Tokyo Bekana. It is a pale spring green, almost yellow, and very tender. It’s delicious braised lightly in chicken broth with herbs. Use any herb you have kicking around, like savory, marjoram, or rosemary, and don’t chop it -- just throw in a couple of branches to make an infusion. The greens are so tender they don’t take long to cook; just a minute or two will do. We love this with salmon or other fish.
- You could try some of the hardier lettuce varieties, although they are a little more tender, temperature wise. Some of the more cold tolerant ones are green oak leaf and red buttercrunch.
- Fennel transplants are cold hardy and a beautiful addition to your garden bed because they can tuck into little corners and tight spaces.
- Scallions, too, are a nice thing to sneak in a garden bed: they’re tall and bright green, and especially pretty among pansies and greens.
- Parsley is another attractive spring green. Curly parsley is a little hardier than flat parsley, so we use it like an ornamental. Try planting pansies or violas, curly parsley, and sweet alyssum together in beds or along walkways. It’s a combination that looks great all season long, through summer and into the fall. The alyssum and pansies go dormant in July/August, but the parsley takes over and hides those plants’ “ugly duckling” phase. When it gets cool again, the pansies and alyssum kick back in, giving you a gorgeous display through December. (Don’t forget that pansies are edible flowers – use the petals or small whole blossoms in spring salads.)
- Calendula is another cold hardy herb with edible blossoms. It looks very sweet in the spring garden.
See you on Friday!