This blog kicks off a series of monthly updates of what is happening in my zone 6a garden which is just a mile down the road from Lehman’s store in Kidron, Ohio. The vision is to share garden tasks and include photos of what veggies and flowers are in season to inspire your garden adventures, however large or small your space.
Starting off in March, typically a gray month here in Ohio, I realize that the photos are a bit drab and not the colorful bounty of summer but thus are the humble beginnings of the garden season. First, what are we harvesting in March? Yes, harvesting! Since I make use of various cold frames and have an unheated high tunnel we are able to gather fresh salad greens like spinach, kale, arugula, chard and mache all winter for our family. These crops were planted in August and September and had protection to make it through the winter. With increasing day light and warmth, these greens are starting to put on their spring surge and our family will be eating abundant salad greens while we are preparing the ground for the early spring crops. If this makes you salivate for fresh greens, mark you calendar now to plant cold hardy greens in August and September and plan to have some garden space available. Books like The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Nikki Jabour offer more details and inspiration on winter gardening.
Though the garden is still too wet and cold to be working in the soil, we are doing many behind the scenes tasks so that we can jump right in when the conditions are right. Winter is when I make my garden plans, mapping out crop rotations and creating succession planting schedules. This is crucial for my one acre garden spread but also can be useful in making the most efficient use of a small space for maximum yield. Having my planting plan keeps me on task when garden life gets busy.
The ground is too cold for germination outdoors but we can give several crops a head start indoors so they are ready to go in the ground as transplants when the weather warms up. Starting plants indoors is not rocket science but there are a few rules to follow. Make sure you invest in high quality seeds and a good seed starting soil but many of the other tools can be repurposed. Deli trays, especially with clear plastic domes, make great seed starters and my favorite seedling tool is a baby spoon. Fill your tray with seed starting soil, dampen it and sprinkle on seeds. Cover lightly with soil or vermiculite, gently water and place on the clear dome if your container has one. For optimum germination, place tray in a warm place. Tomatoes and peppers like 70-75 degrees while cool season crops like broccoli, cabbage and lettuce are content at 60-70 degrees. As soon as you see sprouts emerging, remove the cover and put them in a sunny window or under a fluorescent light. Sufficient light is crucial so they don’t become “leggy.” Water only when the ground starts to look slightly dry and include a fertilizer like fish emulsion weekly to help the seedlings grow strong stems and healthy leaves. These tips are very important so your seedlings don’t perish due to over watering or become weak due to lack of nutrition.
For many seedlings, once they are 1-2 inches tall, I transplant them to 4 packs to continue developing roots before putting them in the ground. To prepare them to go outdoors it is critical to harden them off. Put them in a protected outdoor spot several hours for a number of days so they can acclimatize to outdoor temps before putting them in the ground. Once planted, having a cover to protect them on cold and windy days is helpful.
Currently growing in my window are numerous cold hardy crops such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale and parsley seedlings plus a couple early tomato plants. I also put several sweet potatoes into jars of water with the anticipation of numerous slips to be ready for planting late May.
Flower wise, blooms are quite lean this time of year, and the only blossoms I have currently are a couple pussy willow branches on our kitchen table and a few random houseplants. Outdoors, the daffodil and tulip greens are pushing through the ground with the promise of spring color. Meanwhile, we are preparing for garden color later in the season by starting cool season flowers indoors like snap dragons, Sweet William and Bells of Ireland. One thing to note with flower seeds is that some require light to germinate so you don’t want to cover them with soil, just sprinkle vermiculite lightly to keep them moist.
What are you doing now to prepare for your 2019 garden?
Want to learn more about Karen’s gardening plan? Join her for a gardening class at Lehman’s store this Saturday, March 30 at 2 pm. Register here.
Karen Geiser is a regular demonstrator and homesteading class teacher at Lehman’s. Her daughter, Elizabeth, also works at Lehman’s. Photos by Elizabeth Geiser ©2019.