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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.

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The irony of writing a blog about gardening is that when there is the most activity going on in the actual garden, the blog suffers from lack of attention. The past three weeks have been hectic and back-breaking, as I made the push to get as much of my garden planted as early as possible once the last frost day (May 15) had passed.

I started a few days before the actual last frost date, on May 12, as there was no forecast of frost for the days ahead. First, I planted the eight 2-inch tall filet bean bush-style plants (Haricot Verts, Plantation Products) that I had started the month before in a flat on my sun porch. The flat was a little experiment to see if I could get an earlier harvest for a row of beans, which are a family favorite. I was not able to get any other beans planted until May 23, so I have to conclude that the experiment seems to have paid off. I now have one row of foot-tall bean plants while the others are only today sprouting out of the soil and into the world.

After putting in that first row of filet beans, I next planted two rows of broccoli plants (Barbados Hybrid, Ferry-Morse Seed Co.) that I had started in flats about the same time as the beans. Later in the week I had to be away for four days. In my absence, marked by an unusual late frost the first night (May 18th) followed by four days of hot sunshine and no rain, all but one of those infant broccoli plants shriveled up and died. Did the frost kill them? Or was it the lack of rain? Maybe cutworms were the culprits. Who knows? But thankfully, I had another flat of broccoli that I had planned to put in upon my return on the 22nd, and those filled the gaps left behind by their dead siblings. (One thing that I have learned up front about gardening is that it pays to have lots of back-up plants ready and waiting should something else prove to fail.)

Also planted that first week were four hills of patty pan squash, three rows of zucchini (Burpee’s Fordhook Zucchini, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), three rows of yellow squash (Early Prolific Straightneck, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), and two rows of carrots (Petite ‘n Sweet, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). It doesn’t sound like much for six days of planting, but keep in mind that we rototilled the garden plot way back in March, and in the time since weeds have taken over the tilled soil. Additionally, given my experience with the peas, I was on a careful lookout for cutworms as I turned over the soil once again to ready it for planting. You might be interested to know that I averaged about one cutworm per spade full of soil. (I threw the round larvae out onto the driveway for the birds to eat. I made an abundance of feathered friends during the course of the week, to be sure.)

Additionally, I have radishes everywhere. I planted an entire package, putting in a few seeds into every row between the various squashes. One thing I remember watching my grandmother garden when I was a child is that she always alternated ever seed with a radish seed. The radishes sprout first — here in three or four days — and are ready to eat after three to four weeks. (Which is right now, in case you are curious.) So, while I am waiting for the rest of the seeds to sprout and then grow, I can pull out the ready-to-harvest radishes to make room for them. This summer, I will eat many radishes in memory of my Grandma Benson.

Old and regrettably damaged photo of Grandma Benson holding baby me

Old and regrettably damaged photo of Grandma Benson holding baby me

Here I have to point out another fact that I have learned this year as a novice gardener. Digging in the garden is a real pain in the butt. Literally. With exercise like this, who needs a gym? I may not have the perfect figure, but this summer I have glutes to die for. Women half my age should be so lucky.

When I resumed planting in my garden on May 23rd, returning after a five-day absence, I planted four hills of cucumbers (two of Early Pride Hybrid and two of Lemon, both from W. Atlee Burpee & Co.) 30 pole bean seeds (Kentucky Wonder, W. Atlee & Co.), and another 15 filet beans. Then, in a new plot along the sunny side of our house, I turned over the sod and put in sunflowers and four o’clocks (all now sprouting) against the house and in front of these 39 Roma tomatoes plants that I started from seed and grew on my sun porch. In front of the tomatoes are six hills of pumpkins just sprouting today (Jack-O’-Lantern, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). For those who care to know, that’s 30 pumpkin seeds, a full 4-gram package.

And, if that isn’t enough, I put another 18 tomatoes in the back garden plot with the lettuce and baby spinach. Additionally, I have planted the excess 50-plus tomato plants (the back-ups) in every container I could find, and what I don’t use I’ll soon give away to family, friends and just about anyone else who will take them. And, yes, all of these are Roma tomatoes, every single one of them. We aren’t big for fresh tomatoes in this family, but we do like tomato sauce, and hopefully I’ll be putting away plenty of tomato sauce for the winter. Okay, admittedly I went a little overboard on the tomatoes, but like I said earlier, the one gardening rule I have learned to count on is to have plenty of back-ups.

I still have a 10 by 15 foot plot left to turn over on the far east side of my large garden plot. This section of my garden only gets direct sun after about 1:30 p.m., so I haven’t entirely decided what I should plant here. I have a 12-foot row of peas doing very nicely along one end, so this may be where I put in my fall crop of peas. I have plenty of baby spinach and lettuce seeds left also, and given that the soil in this section is a little rooty due to large trees a little bit away on the east and south, this site might be best dedicated to more greens. I’ll gladly take suggestions from anyone who can offer some.

They aren't pretty, but they get the job done.

They aren't pretty, but they get the job done.


Several of my readers have commented on my cloches, made on-the-cheap from various bottles that largely have come from my household. By and large, these are one- and two-liter soda bottles. We had an entire winter’s supply of plastic bottles in our garage, awaiting recycling, when the idea came to me that I might be able to use them in my garden.

(Actually, if truth be told, we really don’t drink that much soda from bottles. I, however, love seltzer water, which I buy in two-liter bottles, and average about one bottle a day, whereas my daughters are fans of Walmart’s flavored seltzer, which comes in one-liter bottles. Between the two of them, they probably average eight to ten bottles a week. Yes, that’s a lot of plastic, but our water here is very bad quality, and even purifying it doesn’t seem to remove the bad flavor.)

Initially, I cut the bottles roughly about one-third down from the top of the cap. Two-liter bottles are 12-inches tall, and using a utility knife I cut the bottles at the point where the label ends, somewhere between 7-1/2 and 8 inches from the bottom. I cut the 10-inch tall one-liter bottles in about the same place, two-thirds up from the bottom, along the edge of the label. Then I’d remove the labels and use the bottoms. Later, when I ran out of bottoms, I realized that the tops also could be used with the shorter seedlings.

When I place the bottles over my seedlings, if the surrounding ground is soft, I can push the bottles down into the soil an inch or two, which secures them from toppling or getting blown about in the wind. We have had some windy days, but I have only had a couple of bottles desert their posts. With the fence around the garden — which is really not fencing at all, but deer netting secured to stakes — none have blown away to liter my neighbors’ yards. When I covered the spinach seedlings, which had sprouted in place in their garden setting, I soon learned to loosen the soil surrounding them with my hand spade before attempting to secure the bottles over them. Otherwise, the flimsy plastic of the bottles curls under and the cloches don’t stay in place.

One of the reasons I really like the cloches is that I can pile up the mulch fairly thickly around the plants and close to each individual plant without smothering the seedlings underneath. As the mulch settles into place and weathers down after steady rains, it forms a nice ring around the plants without actually touching the stems. My regular readers may recall that I have been fighting unusually high pH levels in my soil — it measured above 7.5 when we first turned over the soil in March — and after an initial application of aluminum sulfate that brought the pH down to just under 7.0, I have been attempting to maintain and perhaps lower that a bit more with pine needle mulch, graciously provided by my next-door neighbors. The cloches help prevent the needles from actually touching the seedlings, thus avoiding any possible burning from their high acid content.

The cloches also have very nicely protected the plants from rabbits, mice, raccoons, squirrels, ground hogs and all of the other Rodentia that prey from above the soil. Additionally, they had been very effective against the much-despised cutworms that strike from above — that is, of course, until the cloches were removed. They didn’t seem to protect them from underneath though, and the cutworm species that attacks the roots were able to achieve their mayhem unhindered, even with the cloches in place. I’m hoping that I will not have the problem with cutworms in subsequent years as cultivation alone seems to work against them as time goes on.

The two-liter bottles, by virtue of their larger circumference, fit over larger peat pots. I have sprouted my seedlings in 2.5-inch and 1.75-inch biodegradable cells, and the one-liter bottle cloches do not fit around the larger cells. So I have used them on the seedlings in the smaller cells (the lettuce and spinach, for example) and saved the two-liter bottle cloches for the seedlings in the larger cells. My lettuce plants have gotten so large now though that I am transferring the larger cloches to them as they become available. I expect I’ll soon be harvesting some of the lettuce, perhaps within the week.

However, I find I actually prefer the smaller one-liter cloches whenever I can use them. I have found that the flimsy plastic on the larger bottles curls under with age, which makes it harder to push them down into the soil. Loosening up the soil around the small plants first before pushing in the bottles over them helps prevent the curling, but in time the plastic eventually curls anyway. I extend the life of these larger cloches by trimming off an inch of the plastic when it starts to curl, but they will end up in the recycling bin before the season’s end, I’m afraid. The smaller bottles, on the other hand, will likely survive several seasons.

As I’ve needed larger and larger bottles, I started cutting off the bottoms of the bottles instead of the tops. I only take off between an inch and two inches when cutting from the bottle, which gives me a couple of inches more in height. This also is actually a better design functionally for cloches. The plastic at the bottom of soda bottles is a tiny bit thicker, which makes for a sturdier cloche. And the tapered top of the bottle allows debris to slide off easily, optimizing the sun that reaches the plants inside. Additionally, I have the option of removing the bottle cap and watering the seedling inside the bottle without removing the cloche, when I think that not enough moisture is reaching the roots directly under the cloche. This isn’t a frequent problem, though. Being able to mulch up close to the seedling allows the soil to retain moisture much more effectively between rainfalls. And, of course, I water with a soaker hose, so as long as the roots are getting what they need, it doesn’t matter whether or not the surface soil is damp.

I’ve been so happy with my improvised cloches that I’ve started using just about every plastic and glass container that would otherwise head straight to the recycling bin. This is what I’ve learned: I don’t like the gallon-sized milk and water bottles. The plastic in our gallon bottles is milky in color and translucent rather than transparent. I don’t think the seedlings inside get enough light or enough water to best sustain them. I love juice bottles the best, especially the large round Juicy Juice bottles. They are made with a thicker plastic, but are big enough in circumference to fit around larger peat pots. And when the bottoms are cut off, I have the same tapered top and the same option of using them with or without the lids.

Any clear glass or plastic container can be put to use in this way. The only limit is the size of the opening. Smaller jars can be used on tiny first sprouting plants and replaced with larger ones as the plants grow. In time, of course, the plants will outgrow them all, but by that time they will have a more solid footing in this world and be less vulnerable to attack. A loss of one leaf on a large plant is not the potentially fatal blow that it means to a seedling. Roots are larger, stems are sturdier, and leaves are more plentiful on older and larger plants.

Today is the third of three straight days of rain. As a gardener, I find I’m suddenly grateful for rainy days. The rain has not been constant, but the air is moist and cool and the ground solidly rain-saturated. The moisture nourishes my little seedlings outside and gives me time to rest and regroup again here inside where I’m warm and dry. And, because I’ve been mulching with pine needles as I’ve planted the seedlings into the garden bed, I’m confident they’ll have plenty to drink for much of the coming week. Weather forecasts for Friday and Saturday are in the high 70s. Grow, garden, grow!

By putting out the last of my peas and the lettuce, I have opened up several flats and space on my sunporch that I can now use for the next batch of seedlings. Three weeks ago I bought several packages of peat pot cells that had been reduced for clearance (30 percent off), and as I’ve moved out the cold-hardy seedlings into our garden plots, I began filling new pots with potting soil and placing them in the empty flats. In the past couple of days, I have planted two varieties of broccoli, muskmelon and a low-growing red nasturtium called Empress of India, adding them to my sunporch filled to the brim with flats of Roma tomatoes, marigolds, leeks and cilantro. A couple of weeks ago, I was beginning to get impatient with the four rows of spinach that I had planted directly into the garden, and I finished off the seed packet by planting what was left in an empty 50-cell flat. As it turned out, the flat seedlings sprouted about a week before their sisters outside. I intend to plant these babies just after I get in my last flat of lettuce mix. I also have begun sowing flats from a large packet of perennial flower mix, and I have infant alyssum, lupine, shasta daily, calendula, coreopsis, dianthus, poppy and Rudbeckia sprouting up all over the place.

I don’t know how much the purchase and use of peat pots, flats and soil mix will speed up and perhaps increase my harvest in the end. But these cheerful little seedlings have been great encouragement for this novice gardener, steady reassurance that perhaps there will be lavish bounty of peas and greens as early as June. In the meantime, while I’m waiting out the rain, I am once again at work filling my flats. Today I sowed the last of them: rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano, basil, and a climbing nasturtium mix (Fordhook Favorites Mix, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.).

Apart from the cold hardy crops that I will finish transplanting later this week, plants from the other flats of seeds and seedlings on my sun porch will wait for transplanting (unless they are bursting out of their pots and can’t wait) until after I have put in the seeds that will be sown directly into the garden after the last spring frost date, which is May 15 in our area. Having these seeds started and growing will make me feel less pressured to get everything out into the garden right away, once mid-May arrives. I’ll be able to spread out the planting over a week or so, which will be much less stressful for these old bones. And, once I’m finished with planting, it will be time to start thinking of taking in some of the lettuce for a great big salad.

I’ve shared many photos of my garden space and sun porch. Let me share a little of the scenery that surrounds us. This photo was taken four days ago at sunrise.

The view from my lettuce patch at sunrise.

The view from my lettuce patch at sunrise.

The very first flat that I sowed a month ago was from a lettuce mix packet — Summerlong Gourmet Mix (W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), which is said to be (and I’m quoting from the back of the seed packet) a “delicious blend of green and red lettuces” that includes: 20 percent Four Seasons and Lollo Rossa and 15 percent each Buttercrunch, Craquerelle du Midi, Black Seeded Simpson and Salad Bowl. Within a matter of days, I had seedlings eagerly sprouting out from the starting soil mix.

As I said, it was my first flat, and the seeds were rather small, so I sowed several in each of the flat’s fifty cells, assuming not all would grow. But, low and behold, virtually every one of those seeds must have sprouted successfully. A couple of weeks ago, I took out all but the sturdiest seedling in each cell, but I didn’t have the heart to sacrifice the less hardy seedlings, so I fastidiously transplanted each and every one of them into two more flats. And, wouldn’t you know, they all took! These little guys have quite a will to live. (I have learned my lesson, and all subsequent flats have been sown with only one seed per cell. Planting a flat once is enough work for me. Transplanting is more work than I care to take on.)

Now that I have all of the peas safely tucked into their rows circling the periphery of the main garden plot, it’s time to send these lettuce seedlings out into the world. They spent their first weeks on my little unheated sun porch, and a week ago I put them outside on my porch steps to get used to the outdoor climate. Earlier this week they encountered two days of cold rain, which they bravely endured. But now, with their soil and roots are well rain-saturated, it seems like an ideal time to set them loose.

Two days ago I put in two of the three flats of the lettuce mix. Compared with the muscular peas and their steadfast roots, my little lettuce sprouts are dainty — almost fragile. Their roots, unlike those of the insistent peas, although quite long, are threadlike and feeble — nearly gossamer.

Remember all of those one- and two-liter bottles that, cutting off the tops, I used as plastic cloches for my pea seedlings? Well, I saved the tops, and those are serving as shorter cloches for the lettuce seedlings, which are all less than an inch tall.

The two flats have given me more than three 12-foot rows of five varieties of lettuce.  I am using the tops of one- and two-liter bottles as make-shift cloches to protect the seedlings.  The rows are mulched with a pine needle and oak leaf mixture.

The two flats have given me more than three 12-foot rows of five varieties of lettuce. I am using the tops of one- and two-liter bottles as make-shift cloches to protect the seedlings. The rows are mulched with a pine needle and oak leaf mixture.

You all may think this subject a little premature, given that the last frost date is still a full month away in my Zone 5 climate. But I can’t resist sharing, as becoming a full-fledged vegetable gardener in my 54th year of life has been one of the richest learning adventures I’ve ever faced. Honestly, it ranks up there with college. Why? Because the fate of living, growing organisms in their own little ecosystem rests in my hands.

Rain was forecasted yesterday morning, but I had 32 cells of peas on my sun porch still needing a place in my garden. And before the rain made it’s appearance, I was outside just after 8 a.m., bundled up in my fleece Tigger pullover and my Mickey Mouse hoodie, my hands protected in work gloves from the chilly air’s bite, furiously punching the dirt with my hand trowel, placing the peas in the holes I’d formed and covering their peat pots with a little hand-held hoe someone gave me years ago. Sleet began falling, preceding what would become a cold rain, and I had to laugh at myself. It was official. I had become a gardening lunatic. What was my motivation for my crazy compulsion? Apart from the fact that the peas in these cells had reached a growth of five inches and their tenacious roots were exploding in all directions through the peat pots, my drive was fueled by the need for the plastic flat and the space it took on my enclosed sun porch. I wanted it so that I get my muskmelon and broccoli started.

Minutes later, warming up inside with a hot cup of chai as I watched the sleet turn into rain and darken the garden soil outside, I reflected on the many gardening truths that have overtaken my mind most of these days. And it occurred to me that I’d better get them down now, while they are fresh in my mind and not supplanted by the thrill of burgeoning vegetable growth later.

(1) Everything you need to know to grow a vegetable garden you can find on the Internet. You do not need a teacher. You do not need a gardening class. You do not need books. All you need is access to a computer and the ability to search for information. I google my garden questions all of the time: how do you prepare a garden bed, how do you test soil, how do you lower soil pH, how do you start peas, when do you start peas, what can you grow in containers, and so forth. I could go on ad nauseum.

(2) Soil is your garden’s foundation. Just as you can not build a house without first giving it a substructure, so too you must pay attention to the soil where your vegetables will take root and grow. The structure of the soil — based on its physical and chemical properties — must be considered and perhaps altered, because it will affect its water-holding capacity, as well as its ability to drain and encourage root development. The soil’s composition — the percentages of inorganic sand, silt and clay to humus (decaying dead organic material) and living microorganisms — also all work together to support, sustain and nurture the vegetables, from seed to seedling to harvest-bearing adult plant. Additionally, there is the basic chemistry of the soil’s pH, which will affect the solubility of certain nutrients in the soil and control their availability to the vegetables growing there. Soil, in my opinion, is a lot of chemistry and physics.

(3) From day to day, nature sets the gardener’s agenda. You can not harness the weather. The temperature, the sun’s path in the sky, rain, wind, sleet, snow and frost are all outside our control. Creation’s rhythms are our guiding light. If it’s to be sunny one day, that may be the day chosen for soil preparation. If rain is expected tomorrow, then today we may plant or transplant, hoping to glean the propagating advantage moisture will bring.

(4) There certainly is a lift of spirit that comes when witnessing the merry sprouting of seedlings while snow still covers the ground outside. I invested a fair amount of money into empty flats this year, and I very much believe the peat pots and potting mix have been extremely beneficial in speeding up the germination process, although I reserve judgment still on the plastic flats themselves. I have had nearly zero seed failure by making use of these products, and I’m hoping that in the end my investment will bring a more prolific harvest as well.

(5) Sun porches are ingenious inventions for gardeners. We are in our first months living in this home, which was once a farmhouse but now sits among other newer homes on a somewhat heavily traveled road near a shopping district. And I am delighted that my old fashioned, unheated sun porch seems to have been designed with gardening in mind. The shelves that line the windows are just the right width for my flats, and I have been able increase my seedling capacity by stacking crates around the periphery of the porch and topping them with more flats. Those farmers knew what they were doing when they built this place.

(6) And lastly, if there is any chance there may be roots in your garden, when you sit on the ground to plant your seedlings and lean over the soil to see better what you dig, keep your mouth shut. Roots are very springy, and inevitably they will throw a portion of dirt right into your face the moment you forget. And, should your mouth be found agape, it isn’t a particularly pleasant gardening experience.

Here's one corner of my prolific sun porch. So far I have sprouts of a lettuce mix, spinach, a perennial flower mix, marigolds, roma tomatoes, and cilantro.  I also have started spearmint, chives, lavender, muskmelon, broccoli and oregano seeds.  Thankfully, the peas are finally all outside.

Here's one corner of my prolific sun porch. So far I have sprouts of a lettuce mix, spinach, a perennial flower mix, marigolds, roma tomatoes, chives, cilantro, spearmint, lavender, muskmelon, broccoli and oregano. Thankfully, the peas are finally all outside.

Just a few of our pea flats, snug and cozy on our sunporch

Just a few of our pea flats, snug and cozy on our sunporch

We like peas. We eat peas all year round. I put peas in macaroni and cheese. I add peas to ramen noodles. I like baby peas on salads. We eat snow peas raw as snacks. And, while my children aren’t as crazy about sugar snap peas, I can open up and prepare a 16-oz frozen bag of them and eat them all by myself. In short, this family is pea-nuts.

So, in planning our garden, it made sense to buy a package each of snow and sugar snap peas (Dwarf Gray Sugar and Mammoth Melting Sugar, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). I couldn’t decide between two varieties of shelling peas (Dark Seeded Early Perfection and Burpeeana Early, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), so I bought both.

Yes, four packages of peas just for us. Well, I suppose we’ll share, but still — that’s a lot of peas. Because I was concerned about getting the pH of our garden soil down to around 6.5, I ended up planting the peas in flats to buy us a little time. I had intended to move them before they ever sprouted above the surface of the potting mix, but with more than a week of dreary and rainy weather and a couple of writing projects thrown in, I didn’t get a chance to put them into the garden until late last week.

As of today, I have about 100 pea plants in the ground. That amounts to about a double row 25 feet long. I have lots more to go. The rest of my peas are sitting outside next to my front door waiting for me to get them tucked into their garden bed. And they are very impatient. Some seedlings are now reaching three inches, and their strong roots have pushed out of the peat pots in desperate search for more dirt.

When I planted the first seedlings the other day, I was amazed at the tenderness I felt placing each one into its place six inches from its sibling on each side. Is there any more beautiful shade of green than that of a pea seedling? This particularly happy shade reminds me of clover. Or shamrocks. And the round shape of the early leaves also brings to mind those same comparisons. But the tiny little tendrils, soon to entwine and hold onto the fence/trellis I have planned to circle the garden’s periphery, stir memories of infants’ reflexive, trusting grasp around a parent’s outstretched finger.

Yesterday it snowed. An April snow is not so unusual here in northern Indiana. I’ve been told not to worry — that the peas are cold-hardy. But I worried anyway. And I had my son go out to the garage to find a tarp to cover the seedlings sitting outside on our porch.

But I was less worried about the pea seedlings I had already planted. While putting them into the ground, I had become worried that rabbits would nibble on my little plants before I got the protective fence in place. That’s when I remembered we had a large number of one- and two-liter plastic bottles in our garage waiting for recycling. It occurred to me that I could cut off the tops and use the bottoms as individual green house covers for the pea seedlings. So that’s what I did, enlisting family and friends for as many as we could round up. In the end, I also used the cut-off tops to cover the smaller seedlings, as well as some glass canning jars I had found in the basement. I pushed the plastic securely into the soil (although I am a bit worried about what chaos a heavy wind might create), and then laid down between the bottles a two-inch blanket of pine needle mulch. So, when the snow fell, I was confident that my little seedlings were well-protected and would survive.

And, once the peas are in place and their trellis fence has been installed around them, I can use the very same plastic bottles to protect the lettuce and spinach seedlings, which are next in line to be planted into the garden.

The snow yesterday was very wet and has already melted, leaving behind a very cold and damp garden. I didn’t venture out to plant yesterday, but I’m hoping we’ll have warmer and dryer weather soon so that I can get in the rest of my peas. Wish me luck.

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