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Remember the bok choy seeds that I started back in March? Here’s what they looked like yesterday, right before I planted them in my garden bed.
I started planting my rows of brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, and now the bok choy — once our April night time temperatures were pretty reliably above thirty-five degrees. Now, these cabbage relatives, also sometimes called crucifers, are pretty tolerant of cool temperatures, and even hold their own well against light frosts, especially when planted, as I have done, in a somewhat protected plot of soil (I have them on the south side of my garage).
Additionally, I have covered each seedling with one of my improvised two-liter bottle cloches, which not only gives them cover from the frost, but also insects, such as the dreaded cabbage worm. As they outgrow the cloches, I will put them under floating row covers for the rest of their growing season.
Another enemy of my garden seedlings are cutworms, which gave my poor peas duress last year. As I’ve been readying the soil (I work a double row at a time), moving from east to west, I found no evidence of cutworms in that the section of the garden where my fall leaves had covered the soil. However, the section with little leaf cover seemed to have many cutworms buried in the soil. So I have begun to use additional protective measures in this area of the garden. All winter long I have been saving my empty oatmeal boxes for this very purpose. I cut each box in half, and when I use the smaller, 18-ounce boxes, the two-liter bottle cloches fit nicely over them.
I planted each seedling inside the protective collars offered by the oatmeal boxes, and then, covering them with the bottle-cloches, I anchored the cloches in place by submersing about an inch of the plastic beneath the soil and piling up additional soil around the outside of the bottle. There was room for all twelve of my bok choy seedlings in the double row that I prepared for them. I normally have back up seedlings, in case of some gardening disaster (such as an unexpected hard freeze), but in the case of my bok choy, I have none, which is why I saved them for planting outside last.
We had heavy rains last night, and the forecast is for rain all day today as well. My little bok choy seedlings appear quite content in their new location. And I’m grateful for a rainy day, because it means I can rest up a bit from all of the binge-gardening I’ve been doing this week.
Before I started my garden last year — my first year as a vegetable gardener — I didn’t realize there were an abundance of veggies that could be moved out to the garden early in the season, once the soil can be worked. Instead, I thought I had to wait until after the last frost date here in northern Indiana — May 15 — before my garden could start to take shape. As a result, my garden got a late start. This year, I moved in the opposite direction and have tried to push the envelope, so to speak, to see how early I could get away with planting my salad greens. I began putting out Swiss chard and spinach seedlings in early April, which have taken advantage of the frequent spring rains. (Of course, I had plenty of back-up seedlings in case my experiment failed.) I expect to begin eating from these earliest plantings within a couple of weeks.
I also planted lettuce seedlings two weeks ago. These were not quite as successful. It looks like I lost about half of my plants, although I’ve been left with plenty for a first planting, and of course I’ll be adding more soon. I’ve decided that my lettuces should be the first seedlings I start each winter, so that they will be plenty big with good root growth to survive the April temperatures. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to begin planting lettuce seedlings in late January.
While we’re on the subject of starting seedlings, I’ve decided that I really like using peat pellets for lettuce seedlings, as well as seedlings of other delicate salad greens. They are exactly the right size for these particular vegetable seedlings, and the pellets are much easier and faster to plant once the greens are put out into the garden. I have about twice as many seed failures using pellets instead of traditional potting soil and peat pots, but the unsuccessful pellets can be replanted a second time when the seeds don’t sprout, so they aren’t wasted.
I discovered last year that lettuce and other salad greens do very well in high shade. I have mine in the section of the garden that is shaded mid-day by several old maple trees. They don’t need as much root space as other vegetables — about four inches is plenty — so the roots of the tall trees nearby don’t interfere their productivity. And the soil beneath the trees is rich and loaded with decades of organic material that has fallen from the trees. Yet there is plenty of light in the morning to keep these plants happy and growing. Additionally, this particular section of my garden lies along the south side of my garage and benefits from the protection this structure offers during frosty nights.
The only difficulty of growing near the trees is that I suspect they are a source of aphids. As I did last year, I cover my lettuce seedlings and the young seedlings of other salad greens with cloches made from two-liter bottles that I have been saving since last summer. This protects them from the cold, rabbits (I haven’t yet made needed repairs to last year’s fence), and insects. I’m also going to try covering the paths between the rows with plastic (last year I used dried leaves and pine needles) to see if this inhibits insects from spreading to my greens once the temperatures have warmed and I’m forced to remove the cloches. Additionally, I plant my greens in double rows, and I surround them with plantings of known aphid repellants — right now, those are onions and garlic, as these members of the allium family also are tolerant of cool temperatures. Later I will add cilantro, basil and anise.
Now that my greens and my peas are in, and I still have one week remaining in April, my goal next week is to move my sturdy and thriving brassica seedlings outside. This year I should have half my garden planted before we ever get to mid-May.
I’m guessing grumpy moles who don’t like bumping their heads when they are out on the prowl. What’s your guess? These are lettuce seedlings, planted under the protection of my improvised cloches (made from two-liter soda bottles). I simply can’t think of any other way these seedlings might be jumping our of their garden beds.