Still sheltering in place and with no real idea of how long this will last, many gardeners are looking ahead to what they can grow, how they can care for what they have, and where they might find new places to grow edible plants. This gardener is no exception.
In past years, spring was always a lighthearted look at what I might like to try my hand at in the coming summer months. This year, planning has taken on new meaning. I’m not a Prepper or a Doomsayer, but we’re not through this pandemic yet and some groceries might become harder to come by. I am finding myself wondering where I might add new edibles, which harvests can be canned or dried, and which Regulars are not worth the real estate. For me, tomatoes, beans, salad greens, cabbages, potatoes, squashes, melons, teas and herbs, and my fruit and nut trees will be getting the most attention and space. And protecting my crops has become more important, as well.
Even though I knew it was too early/cold/wet to start beans last week, I did it anyway. Most of the seeds have rotted in the ground or been tossed around by foraging birds. The few that germinated have been gnawed to nubs by sowbugs, with only a couple of exceptions. This week, I will be starting bean seeds again, but in small containers that I can protect and keep warmer. As they grow and temperatures rise, I will place them where I want them.
In the meantime, I should probably make sowbug and earwig traps. The traps are super easy to make. You just take rolled up wet newspaper, held together with rubber bands, and place them in areas where sowbugs and earwigs have been a problem. Those pests will use the newspaper rolls as shelter. In the morning, just throw them in the trash. It won’t get them all, but it puts a dent in the pest population.
The compost was finally ready, so I spread it in most of my raised beds and around my fruit and nut trees. I know the compost improves conditions for the sowbugs that seem to be causing so many problems already, so I followed the compost with a light sprinkling of slug bait.
For the third time, I am going to try growing corn. The first year I did it, not a single seed survived the birds and squirrels. The second time I tried, I actually got a few measly, scrawny looking ears. Unfortunately, it was a traditional Indian blue corn variety that was probably great for grinding into cornmeal, but it was practically inedible. This year, I am planting two sweet corn varieties in the same raised bed and I have fenced the bed in, to protect against the normal marauders. If everything goes as planned, I should have a decent harvest for this year’s 4th of July picnic. [Fingers crossed]
The rhubarb is coming in, as well, but you can see damage from sowbugs and slugs already. These reliable perennials have been coming in for 7 or 8 years now.
My giant container of purple sweet potatoes has also begun showing signs of life. I love the deep purple color of the new growth, pushing its way through its winter bed of straw. By mid summer, this planter will be a lush, draping plant with attractive green leaves. All you have to do is burrow your hand into the soil and fish around for a couple of purple sweet potatoes for supper. I think I have been growing this vine for 5 or 6 years now.
Like legumes, sweet potatoes can fix atmospheric nitrogen, but they still need to be fed other nutrients, so it is time for me to top dress my sweet potato container with some of that aged compost. I might need to add a little bit of acidifier. I’ll have to check the pH first. It needs adjusting every once in a while, even in containers, because our water supply is very alkaline and sweet potatoes prefer acidic soil.
At a time when I have no desire to go to a store (or anywhere else), I am so glad to have a garden at home! Our salads are abundant and diverse, with red leaf lettuce, radicchio, baby beet greens, butter leaf lettuce, kale, arugula, chicory, spinach, and curly endive free for the picking. They are all coming up nicely in raised beds and containers. Having let the endive and lettuces go to seed in previous years, I am also finding these plants growing on their own, wherever it happens to suit them. I should probably plant more this week.
Speaking of planting more, I spent yesterday afternoon filling flats with potting soil and seeds, enjoying the sunshine and the promise of future harvests. I ended up planting peas, sugarloaf chicory, more beets, arugula, Swiss chard, and some sunflowers. I also transplanted several cabbages and some early cucumbers. I think I'll start some tomatoes and eggplants this weekend. And those beans.
I gave the Barbary doves a reason to ignore me and my dogs by tying a nesting basket in the corner of the pergola where they have been hanging out. They still fly away when I walk by, but I keep seeing their lovely gray heads peeking out over the rim of the basket. I love the way they sound!
All this new growth and bird courtship reminds me that everything will continue. Life goes on. Hopefully, we will get through this quarantine with a greater respect for getting by with less stuff, staying home more with family and friends, and recognizing that we are all in this together. Globally.
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.