The Local Food Report: March chores

I am itching to get into the garden. Sally and I went out the other day—that first glorious day over 60—to weed the greenhouse. I brought out her playmat and she worked on grabbing monkeys and parrots while I pulled clumps of grass. It was so nice, and so overdue. It made me realize that when it comes to garden chores, it's time to get started. So I talked with a bunch of farmers, did a lot of reading, and made a plan. Here's our list of March garden chores:

1. Prepare the soil:

In the greenhouse, this means weeding first. And both inside and out, it means picking out any stones that have turned up over the winter (we don't have that problem, but up Cape, Tim Friary does, so I'm guessing some of you might too), turning the soil over, and dressing it with at least an inch or 2 of compost (Veronica Worthington recommends as much as 5 or 6 inches).

2. Make a plan:

Decide what you're going to grow, where. If you haven't ordered your seeds yet, now's the time. (Check out our 2010 and 2011 guides to seed ordering or listen to the shows here and here.) Think about what grows well together—read up on companion planting.

3. Plant early and slow-to-mature plants:

Now is the time to plant things that can stand a little cold—think peas, radishes, lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, anything in the Brassica family (kale, cabbage, broccoli), carrots, and seedlings that take a long time. For the cold weather crops, you can direct seed this time of year in a cold frame or greenhouse or wait a couple more weeks and plant them in your regular garden outside. For the slow-to-mature types—things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, celery, winter squash, or really anything in the 80-100+ days category—you want to get your seeds started now in flats in a sunny window inside. 

4. Take care of established plants:

Do you have roses? Hydrangeas? Lilacs? Plums, apples, pears, peaches, or mulberries? Raspberries or blueberries? Grapes? Maybe a potted Meyer lemon hanging out inside? Once these plants get established, they need regular care. For instance, fruit trees and things like blueberries and raspberries and grapes need annual pruning. (There's actually a pretty good guide over here.) It's also a good idea to check your plants for disease this time of year—I went out to take a look at our peach trees the other day, and it looks like they have something brown and sticky and gooey strung across a few of the twigs. (If you have any idea what this might be, please let me know! I am having no luck researching.) 

5. Finally, enhance your soil:

Once you've planned out where you're going to plant things this spring, enhance your soil selectively. For instance, in my reading I discovered that kale is a heavy feeder and likes a good dose of nitrogen—1/3 ounce per square foot of ground every three weeks—during the summer. A lot of other plants don't need quite so much.

Here's a scan of the plan I drew up for our big garden. You'll notice for some rows there are multiple planting dates—those are where I'm planning to do succession plantings of things like greens and radishes and carrots. You'll also notice there aren't many tomatoes. What you can't see on this drawing is our hoophouse, which is 8' by 20', and which will be filled this summer with heirloom tomatoes and green peppers. We've been growing greens in our hoophouse for a few years now, and tomatoes in the big garden, and it's time to switch things up both for the soil, and for the sake of experiment. We'll see how those heat loving plants do with an extra layer of plastic! I have my fingers crossed for early peppers and tomatoes.

Happy planning everyone!

P.S. If you click on this drawing, it gets bigger. Just so you know...


ALo said...

Any advice on fig trees that are potted inside? We got some transplants from a friend a couple years ago and they still just look like skinny sticks with a handful of leaves at the top.u

Elspeth said...

Hi ALo,

Hmm. We are in a bit of the same boat. We have a small twig that came from a friend that is now a bigger twig, but certainly far from a fig producing tree. A few people have told me to plant it, that it will do best in a protected spot outside with plenty of sun and to heap mulch high up the trunk for winter. I can't vouch for this as we haven't tried it yet, but I'm thinking of going that route this fall.

All the best,

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