Early spring planting is a gamble, but it's a great way to get a jump on the season if the weather cooperates

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By: Jim Carpenter

The idea hit me while I was listening to a talk radio show the other day while driving into Goshen to run some errands.

I listen to WOWO out of Fort Wayne a lot of the time when I am driving, and in this instance they had a gardening guy on. All I really remember him saying was that he had just worked up a small area of his garden and had planted seeds of some cool season vegetables; I think he mentioned spinach, lettuce and leeks among others. He was convinced that these seeds (and soon plants) would be able to handle any more cold weather we might get.

Well, that pretty well convinced me. As soon as I got home I worked up an area in one of my raised beds. One of the many reasons I have so many raised beds around the house is because they tend to warm up quicker in the spring than the ground around them. I spaded up about a 10-foot section of one of my beds and realized the soil was about perfect for planting; it was loose and easy to work.

I went back in the house to do some seed packet studying. Indeed, most of the cool season packets I looked at suggested planting as soon as the soil can be worked. Thinking back to what I knew about early season vegetables and what might be a little too early, I thought, “why not?”. Not many of the plants will be out of the ground for a week or two. At the worst it will take temperatures of near 20 F to kill them when they become seedlings in a few weeks. And even at that point they will be easy to protect for a short time.

I should mention something about the raised beds I constructed a few years back. Whatever I was going to make had to be low maintenance and actually raise the level of the soil to a workable height. After some research, I decided to go with cement blocks. I handled about 450 cement blocks in constructing my six raised beds, and have moved more than 35 tons of top soil one way or another. I learned from my first bed that placing blocks 4-by-4 puts too much pressure on the walls. After that first experience I settled for placing blocks 3-by-3. The length is around 14 feet.

After the ground was spaded nicely I raked over everything to make it nice and level. I used my trowel to make 11 inch-deep rows across the 4-foot bed. I suppose the rows were only about 12 inches apart. I tried to arrange it so the bigger plants would have more room in their row as they became mature later in the year.

I did notice some pill bugs in the soil as I worked. These are the little roly poly sow bugs which I understand are actually crustaceans and not insects. At any rate, they are good recyclers and consume only waste matter in the garden, so I didn’t mind seeing them in the soil.

I ended up planting Swiss chard; Bartender Radish; Georgia collards; fava beans; Zheng radish (Korean); mizuna salad greens; pak choi; oriental greens (large leaf Tong lettuce); white carrots (collected in 2013 from a second-year carrot gone to seed); and two rows of Danvers carrots. Don’t ask me what some of those seeds are. When you have access to free seeds it is time to try some new things I guess.

The day after I got all those seeds in the ground we had a good soaking rain. I took that as a sign my early planted crops might do well. That is really why I planted so early. The soil was dry and rain was in the forecast. Time will tell if I was a little premature in getting those seeds in the ground or not.

Thinking about it reminds me of how having a garden is a lot like how our lives go: it seems to take a lot of hard work to produce anything worthwhile. Occasionally, it seems that our efforts produce little, but if you can keep a good attitude and keep plugging away, the journey may be quite rewarding and the harvest might be abundant. I say, grow for it!

Sprouts:

  • With the advent of warmer weather, it is time to remove protective mulch from flowerbeds and gardens.
  • With recent rains and warmer temperatures perennials are ready to respond.
  • On that note, I just now removed the straw that I had covering my garlic and found every clove had sprouted during the winter!
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