Springtime Gardens


Second bloom sweet peas on my deskEvery year in late April my spring garden starts producing. After weeks of chilly nights, heavy rain and gusty coastal winds, most of my fragile seedlings and plant starts have grown into sturdier adolescents. Some of the earlier plantings are even starting to bear as young greens and pea shoots (sautéed with green garlic) are showing up on the home menu and sweet pea blossoms on my desk at work. Springtime gardens are both a wonder and a worry — capable of great things and susceptible to many dangers.

Casa Parker- vegetable and fruit gardenThe April rains in my part of the world were intense this year. El Niño springs are always unpredictable and this one is no exception as growing areas in and outside the U.S. get hit with varying degrees of heavy weather. Roger (AKA Rock Daddy), our office weather tracker who reports every Monday, said we will see the last of the major spring storms for California this week but I’m not so sure — neither are the producers who grow on the coast and central valley who nervously track the spring weather systems. For our state’s tree fruit producers the fear of early bloom damage is behind us, only to be replaced by a myriad of wet weather related problems like mildew or wind damage. For row crop producers who are putting successive plantings in every week, the fear of heavy rain and wind damage on young plants will remain with them throughout the spring.

Curly leaf Bloomsdale variety spinach- a few days from harvestAnother question as the days get longer and warmer is what to grow where. Large scale growers on both coasts will start the spring growing on land in the southernmost parts of the U.S. and transition production to land further north as the weather warms. Others will simply transition from winter to summer hardy plant types. I use the second transition method at my home (since I don’t have a garden in Southern California!) and try to plan my plantings accordingly. My cherry tomatoes will eventually go where my shelling peas are now since they tend to finish in the early summer. Summer squash and eggplant will go in my greens bed. Even my cut flower garden will transition from snapdragons and poppies to sunflowers and dahlias.

Shelling peas with a bamboo apricot branch support in between potatoesSupporting the growth of the plants is also something to consider at this point in the spring. The raspberries along my fence line got a more sophisticated wire support trellis similar to the ones used on commercial farms, but I use my peas and beans to help me control the little patch of bamboo in my yard. If you have fruit trees to prune in the winter, the straight branches are also useful in the spring and summer to help prop up all kinds of plants. My friend Amy in Southern California even found an inventive use for old umbrellas — the inside frame can have a second life as a plant support.

Young Raspberry canes and the first strawberry of the spring

Pumpkin seedlings from the Halloween mystery bag of seedsMy biggest worry in the spring is pests – the abundant rains have brought robust plant growth and with it an insect population boom. Slugs, caterpillars, pill bugs and the dreaded king pig of all insects (the earwig) have all invaded my vegetable beds and the food fight is about to escalate to an “all natural” but deadlier phase. My weapon of choice is beer — in small cups buried to the same level with the soil. I don’t recall where I learned this but it seems to work pretty well, and it also satisfies my sense of insect compassion (to drown in beer may not be too cruel a fate). My co-blogger and fellow gardener Kate suggests crushed eggshells as another line of natural defense, but we both need more ideas.What’s your best non-toxic springtime plant protection? My precious seedlings need your help!

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