Salves are thickened ointments used to treat skin issues such as rashes, minors burns, bites ecezma, inflammation, and cuts. They are easy to make using infused oil, beeswax, and essential oils.
How To Make Infused Oil
Infused oils are carrier oils such as almond oil, coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, grape seed oil, or olive oil that have been infused with one or more herbs. They can be purchased, but if you grow herbs they are easy to make. All you need is a mason jar, oil of your choice, and dried herbs hopefully from your garden. Use dried herbs to infuse oils because the water content of fresh herbs does not mix with the oil and introduces spoilage. If using fresh herb I suggests that you fresh wilt the herbs before infusing them in the oil. To fresh wilt herbs, spread them out on a tray in the sunlight for several hours until wilted. (Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar)
Gently crush the herbs and fill the jar half full. Fill the jar with the infused oil making sure to cover the herbs. Cover the jar with muslin or cheese cloth which are both breathable. Place in a sunny window for 2-4 weeks. Periodically stir the jar. When you are satisfied with the oil, strain the oil through layers of cheese cloth and store in an air tight jar.
Store oil in the refrigerator to prevent it from going rancid. Make small quantities more frequently so the oil is fresh.
Herbs To Infuse for cosmetics and medicinal purposes:
Beeswax is a thickener with anti-inflamatory and anti-oxidant benefits. It puts a protective layer over the wound and holds moisture in the skin. If you are fortunate enough to have bees you can use your own beeswax or purchase pellets from the health food store.
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. Some good choices for salves are lavender, melaleuca (tea tree oil), bergamot, or Roman chamomile.
Skin Soothing Salve Recipe
Make the infused oil.
For each cup of infused oil add 1/4 cup beeswax.
Heat over low heat stirring occasionally
3-5 drops of lavender or essential oil of choice
Place 1 tablespoon of salve on a plate in the freezer for a minute or two. Check the firmness of the salve. Add oil to soften and beeswax to thicken.
I like to store in small glass jars but tins also work. Store in a cool dark place. Remember it is an oil and can go rancid so use it.
1 cup calendula infused oil
1/4 cup grated beeswax
4-6 drops lavender essential oil
If you want color add a pinch of tumeric root powder
Follow instructions above. Use to treat rashes, wounds, cuts, diaper rash, cradle cap, aches (Medicinal Herbs by Rosemary Gladstar)
One of the flower beds at Thanksgiving Piont, Lehi, Utah. The hedge in the background creates the walls of this garden room.
I love the river rock. This is at Thanksgiving Point Gardens
While the majority of my posts focus on food production, I like my gardens to be inviting and beautiful. I like each area to have a place where people can sit, ponder, and enjoy nature. I want people to come visit and want to stay and hopefully discover new things while here. I enjoy the creating or designing. Everything is always a work in progress and I enjoy the journey.
Flower beds and landscape are not only aesthetically pleasing but functional. Flowers and shrubs provide home and food for native pollinators, predatory insects, birds, lizards, and toads. These inhabitants will benefit and assist in controlling disease and pest problems in the gardens and orchard. Basically you can't lose by landscaping and it can all be done organically.
My shade garden. My boys bring home the rusty antiques.
The garden is a canvas that can express your personality and passions as well and be functional and provide food. The more I garden more reverence I have for God's creations, and the more humble and grateful I am for the beauty around me.
Part of garden trail in my backyard. A gooseberry is in the back of the bed so landscape can provide food.
It is sad that to some gardening is reduced to a task or chore when it can be an inspiring, enjoyable passion. You may be thinking, "I would enjoy it but ......" Think of it as a partnership between you and Mother Nature. Sometimes she has things her way and occasionally things go the way you planned.
"It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not." ~W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman, Garden Rubbish, 1936
With winter comes all the possibilities, visions, and dreams of a new season. Whether you are planning a new area or working on improving an existing garden, it all starts with a plan. And that plan should start with a theme to inspire the design.
The river bank at Thanksgiving Point with yarrow and Black eyed Susan's.
Steps To Design
Pick a Theme
Brainstorm and research
Carry out the project
One of my garden beds in early spring. A snowball bush is blooming with irises. This is the early spring blooms.
Pick a Theme: There are lots of tradition gardens: cottage, cut flowers, vegetable, herb, a butterfly garden, rose garden, formal, evergreen, rock gardens, shade gardens. Why not incorporate a part of yourself. Think of hobbies, favorite books, favorite people, time periods, favorite foods, or holiday etc. Use those ideas to choose color, paving, shape, and furniture. Below are a few quick ideas that came to mind. Please share any ideas you have for garden themes.
Coleus and sweet potato vine are in the old wash tub with Bishop's weed as a ground cover.
Favorite Books: Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit , Secret Garden, Pooh's Hundred Acre Woods, Peter Rabbit and McGregor's garden, Peter Pan's Neverland, Pride and Prejudice..... People: Monet's Garden, Jefferson's Monticello,Picasso garden, VanGogh's Sunflower Garden or tulip garden
A perfect Monet's garden with water lilies. This is at Thanksgiving Point.
Time Period, Era, or Holiday: Patriotic, Old West, Victorian, Easter, Old English,
Places: Garden plants from a particular area or country alpine, meadow, desert, Japanese or Dutch garden Animals: Duck, goats, cows, pigs. beehives and bees, chickens
An old chicken feeder makes a great planter. In the background is an antique laundry stove.
Foods: Pink Lemonade (colors) , pizza garden Collections: Old spoons, watering cans, license plates, vintage garden tools, bucket list Colors: Primary Colors, secondary colors, warm or cool colors, favorite sports team colors, analogous colors.
Beautiful use of contrasting colors and mass plantings. This is at an LDS Temple..
The idea of a theme is to inspire color combos, shapes, paving, furniture, garden art, and planting choices. No one but you my know the inspiration for your garden or it can be very obviously worked into the design. Brainstorm:
Once you have a theme, write down any and all ideas that come to mind. Do some research, search pinterest, who knows what will inspire you. Hopefully some of you ideas inspire actually design elements.
Elements of Design Structure and Shape: Define the size of the area and the shape. Relate it to your theme. Should it be formal or informal, use defined shapes or be free flowing? Consider the contour of the land, adding different levels, and consider the purpose of the garden.
This is part of my backyard I like meandering shapes.
Hardscape: This includes all the non-living aspects of your garden. Patios, furniture, arbors, fences, walls, trellises, paving, and containers. If you think of the garden area as a room. Decide what to do with the floor then consider the walls
The floor determines the shape. Determine the planting areas and non planting areas, paving, and ground covers. Walls can be fences, part of an existing structure, trellises, planters, containers, rocks, boulders, or hedges The ceiling can be a tree canopy, lanterns, pergola, or open to the sky
This is part of the terraced garden.
This was at a wedding facility. Beautiful.
Furniture: Be creative, re-purpose, repaint, incorporate color and elements of your theme into the furniture. It's amazing what a can of spray paint can do. Create your own unique chair idea. Include a table, crate, trunk, barrel, milk can turned into a table, wheelbarrow etc.
Raymond Hill's garden in Rexburg Idaho.
The terraced garden with a bridge over a rock river in my backyard.
Examples of garden furniture. This area is in my raised bed vegetable garden. It is unfinished but so many ideas are forming just waiting for spring.
Ornamentation: Choose a couple of elements to make it unique. This can be lighting, garden art, fountains, creative planters, signs, wind chimes, plant markers.
A perfect statue for this river bank at Thanksgiving Point.
A garden girl helping in my garden.
I love this wagon and choice of plants. The Hill's garden in Rexburg Idaho.
An old ladder is a great garden ornament.
A wine barrel we turned into a rain barrel.
Be sure to use appropriate plants for your zone, soil, also consider the amount of sunlight, size of the plants and watering needs. Consider the care and time you have and how to minimize weeds. Do you want perennials, annuals, or a mix?
Hosta and Sugar Berry Heucheras or Coral Bells part of my shade garden.
Catmint, lemon balm, and May Night Salvia all in the middle of my raised bed vegetable garden
Hostas, Coral Bells, Impatients in my shade garden
Choose colors: coordinate color with your theme. consider bloom time and if you want year round color, consider flower shape and variations in height Include some neutral which is green plants in the gardening world. They define and draw attention to the color aspects of your garden.
Lots of color in this Thanksgiving Point flower bed
A bed of dahlias at Thanksgiving Point.
Other things to consider:
Mass plantings are more impressive than single plantings
Group plants in odd numbers
Consider the height and incorporate plants of different heights: tall, medium, border, and ground covers
Create a pattern or mix it up for a natural look
Pansies and Violas
I really like the yellow tulips in this river of lavender and violet.
Form: The shape of the plant will be more constant than the show of color so consider that when choosing plan. Flowers fade so the shape of the plant, leaves, bark color are all important.
Evergreens can added form to your garden
Incorporate edibles: Chard, Kale, rhubarb, nanking cherry, jostaberries, ornamental peppers, strawberries, can all be used in landscape
Fresh strawberry pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, fresh strawberries, and strawberry freezer jam, just think of the possibilities if you had your own strawberry patch. Strawberries have to be one of the most popular berries grown in the home garden, yet I find that people know little about proper cultural practices concerning strawberries Most people mistakenly think home grown strawberries are small and yields are scant. Perhaps we need a refresher course on proper management of an existing bed and how to plant a new strawberry bed.
This weekend we focused on the orchard. I am not quite done pruning but decided to go ahead and spray the orchard with dormant oil. All the trees are in such a hurry to bloom, I needed to get the spray on. It was already too late for apricots and plums. I will eventually finish up the pruning.
Every year while pruning I regret having so many trees, but I quickly forget when catalogs come. I ordered 3 more heritage apples to add to the orchard. So I have 25 total fruit trees. I will say you need to be committed to produce good fruit. These trees require a lot of care and attention.
I like purchasing bare root trees rather than potted.
I love the history behind heritage apple trees. I already have a Black Arkansas and Ashamed Kernel. The Black Arkansas originated in 1870. Ashamed Kernel is at the top of the list of the apple connoisseur for best tasting apple. It has a drab russeted appearance and is from England around 1720.
I planted 3 new trees: Spitzenberg, Yellow Newton Pippin, and a Belle de Boskoop (Don't you just love that name!). I am so excited to add them to the orchard.
Known to be one of two of Thomas Jefferson's favorite apples. He planted 32 of these at Monticello.
Yellow Newton Pippin. A pippin was Jefferson's other favorite apple. It originated in 1700 and was also George Washington's favorite dessert apple. I'm prepared to entertain the Founder's who were also avid gardeners.
When planting fruit trees, dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots. Do not amend the soil. Spread out the roots and cover. Do not bury the graft union. Fruit trees (scions) are grafted onto root stock and you can see the were they were grafted. Water that is all that needs to be done the first year. If you plant dwarf trees they will need to be staked in windy areas.
With all the work that needs to be done in early spring, don't forget to enjoy the beauty of the season. Below is a Nanking Cherry I pruned as a small tree. I have 3 of them and they are so gorgeous! They are early spring bloomers and produce in June small tart cherries I juice for jellies and syrups.
Swiss chard is an often overlooked super food. There are many good reasons to grow chard: it's an easy to grow crop, it's packed with nutrition, and edible as well as ornamental. It's beautiful on it's own or companion planted with onion, marigolds, or zinnias. It is also stunning in pots.
Rhubarb Swiss Chard
It's leaves look a little like spinach but its stems and leaves come in shades of pink, red, yellow, white, and orange. Unlike most spring crops it tolerates summer heat and will produce for you through the first hard freeze. If the red ribbed chard reminds you of beets it's because it is in the same family. Both the stalks and the leaves can be eaten.
Cardinal Swiss Chard
Planting Guide Chard can be planted in spring but prefers a warmer soil temperature than kale and other greens so plant it about a 2-4 weeks after kale depending on the weather. It will overwinter but it is biennial which means the second season it will produce seed. Plan on replanting each year. However the spring crop will continue to give you harvests through fall.
This is Fordhook Chard which is milder than the colored chards.
I've never had good results starting seeds indoors so I recommend direct seeding in the garden. I choose a site with a little afternoon shade. If using a square foot method plant one per square foot. In a row they can be 8-12 inches apart. As with all garden crops incorporate organic matter in the soil along with an organic dry fertilizer such as bone meal and blood meal.
Chard is not a very demanding plant. Be sure it gets sufficient water when getting established and watch for slugs. Other than that it has very few pest and disease problems. Be sure to mulch around the seedlings when they have 4-6 leaves and then enjoy harvests throughout the summer and fall.
Orange Fantasia my favorite!
Nutritional Benefits If you combine the health benefits of spinach and beets you have Swiss chard. Like beets, chard contains the compound betalains. These compounds give chard stems, ribs, and veins the red color. Betalains are an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and support liver detoxification. The leaves contain the antioxidant kaempferol which benefits the heart and balances blood sugar. Swiss chard also packs a lot of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It is third to kale and spinach in vitamin K levels. I'm predicting it will be the next super food ban wagon everyone jumps on. (Power of Plants, Flowers & Wylde)
Harvesting Break off the outer leaves at any stage. Young leaves are good eaten raw and older leaves can be used in stir fry's, sauteed and added to pasta dishes. Basically chard can be substituted in any recipe calling for spinach.
When I harvest chard I put it in jars with water and use it in 2-3 days.
Recipes ideas: How about trying a Swiss chard smoothie! Swiss Chard Smoothie Chard leaves with the stalks removed (antioxidants, vitamins) Frozen fresh pineapple chunks (contains bromelian) Juice from a lemon or lime (detoxifies the liver) Scoop of flavored Greek yogurt A liquid either water or a juice
Whole Wheat Penne with Chard, Artichoke Hearts, and Sausage I love this recipe. I adapted it from Martha Stewart's Living Magazine. 12 oz whole wheat penne Olive oil 1/3 lb of sausage Small bunch of chard 1 jar of marinated artichoke hearts 3 cloves of garlic 1/3 c sun dried tomatoes 1 small can of tomato sauce (I use my own canned tomato sauce) basil oregano 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes Parmesan cheese
Boil water and cook the pasta. Add the sun dried tomatoes the last few minutes of cooking. Add oil to a nonstick pan and cook the sausage. When cooked added the artichoke heart, garlic, and stalks of chard. When stalks are tender add the chard leaves, tomato sauce and spices. Simmer to blend to spices. Drain pasta and pour sausage chard mixture over pasta. Top with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Swiss Chard Dippers 1 bunch of chard (about 8 leaves) 1 tsp garlic minced 2 cups stuffing mix 1/2 cup parmesan cheese 1/2 tsp black pepper 1/3 cup butter, melted 3 eggs Preheat oven to 350. Remove stems from chard and finely chop the leaves. Steam for 2 minutes or until wilted. Squeeze dry. Mix dry ingredients. Add butter and eggs and mix well. Use a small cookie scooper to shape into 1 inch balls. Bake for 20 minutes.
Peppermint Swiss Chard
Varieties of Swiss Chard
Rhubarb A striking purplish stalk and red veined leaves distinguish this popular variety. It is characterized by quick growth, yields over a long period if frequently cut, and has a pleasing flavor
Peppermint White and pink stalks with tender leaves Giant Fordhook This old favorite is still a superior variety in several ways--thick leaves, dark green color, and a compact plant with a nice white stalk.
Pink Lipstick This is a gorgeous vegetable, with striking bright magenta stems and succulent savoyed leaves. Use it in salad mixes for brilliant color.
Cardinal An improved rhubarb chard, developed in Switzerland.Stems are a deep ruby red, and plants are large and productive. It has a darker color on larger plants compared to Rhubarb chard. Its narrower, savoyed leaves have a mild, slightly sweet flavor that is as nice raw as it is cooked.
Orange Fantasia Another gorgeous new chard that not only has great baby leaves for salads, but also holds its color when cooked. The stalks are a brilliant orange while leaves are a light icy green
Rhubarb is one of the first crops to enjoy in early spring. It's one of my favorite. There are so many delicious things to make with rhubarb. This week will be rhubarb recipe week. Each day I will post a delicious recipe to try with rhubarb. From crisps to cobblers, jam, sauce, and pies you can't go wrong with this perennial. It's very easy to care for, has few diseases, and makes a great landscape plant.
Purchase rhizomes of rhubarb in early spring and plant in a fertile soil. Make the planting hole bigger than what you need and mix in compost, peat moss, and a dry organic fertilizer. (1 part blood meal, 2 parts bone meal and azomite or greensand) The rhizomes are covered with 2 inches of soil. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so in early spring fertilize with fish emulsion when established. In late spring side dress with a handful of dry organic fertilizer and spread a layer of compost in watering well. Rhubarb can tolerate shade (I recommend planting in part shade in New Harmony) and needs even moisture.
Its one of the first plants to wake up in early spring. During cool, spring weather stalks develop red color. In summer growth slows, stalks turn green, and it sends up flower stalks which you remove. In fall vegetation continues to grow, stalks turn red, and it will die back at 26F. Do not eat the leaves they are poisonous.
Divide crowns every 5 years or when stalks become thin. Harvest 1/3 of petioles (stalks) the first year. Up to ½ when established. Twist outside stalks to harvest. Harvest for 6-8 weeks in spring or fall but not both. Enjoy this delicious perennial!
Spinach has specific growing requirements and if you procrastinate you will miss out on this delicious and nutritious green. Spinach needs a good 6 weeks of cool weather. It can be planted when soil temperatures are 55-65 degrees or as soon as your ground can be worked It will not germinate well in soils that are above 70 degrees. It is not a summer crops It can be sown again in fall and protected under row covers for late fall harvests. The spinach plant is daylength sensitive. This means it waits until there are a certain number of daylight hours and that is the signal to bolt or set seed. When daylight hours reach 12-15, your spinach knows it's time to produce seeds. It is at this point that you can determine the sex of you plants if that is important to you. If you save seed that will be a factor. You need both male and female plants.
Keep in mind that spinach is wind pollinated and the pollen is very fine and travels far. You can only save seed from one variety and must have both male and female plants. Besides daylight hours, spinach doesn't like warm and then cold again weather. Fluctuations in temperature between warm and cool will encourage early bolting.
Types of Spinach There are two types of spinach leaves: smooth and savoyed or wrinkled. Some people prefer the smooth, but I like both and plant some of both. The seed type can be used to determine the leaf type. The smooth seed produces wrinkled leaves while the prickly seed produces smooth leaves.
Spinach should be seeded directly in the garden it does not like to be transplanted. It can usually be seeded 3-4 weeks before the last frost date which for me is May 14th. If I count back 4 weeks, that means around mid April I can begin planting. If weather permits and the soil has warmed up, I plant even early and use a low tunnel or floating row covers.
Give the plants ample space. No more than 4 per square foot. It is a good idea to successive plant every couple weeks in early spring but stop planting if you do not have 6 weeks of cool weather remaining. It does not like temperature above 75. Plant in a soil with plenty of organic matter worked in and a dry organic fertilizer. I use a mixture of bone meal and blood meal. Fertilizing is not usually necessary after that as long as you prepared your soil. Mulch around the seedlings and water regularly. Spinach is very cold hardy and can survive in temperature as low as 15-20 degrees. Spinach planted in zone 5 in fall will die down in winter and come back early spring.
Harvesting I usually harvest the outer leaves so I can have a continuous harvest but the entire plant can be harvested. The younger the leaves, the more tender and better flavor. Harvest in the morning. Slightly rinse the leaves and store in a plastic container or plastic bag. Do not clean thoroughly until you are ready to use the spinach.
Spinach is store with lettuce and sorrel in a large plastic air tight container.
I enjoy spinach raw in spinach salads or mixed with other greens. It's also very good in place of lettuce on salads. It is very nutritious with vitamins A, B6, C, folate, calcium, and iron.
Pests and Disease of Spinach Spinach can get leaf miners and Mosaic virus which is called spinach blight.
Leaf Miners Brown and tan blotches on the leaves are a sign of leaf miners. The adult is a fly that pupates in the soil and lays white eggs on the under side of the leaf. The larvae called maggots (yuck) enter the leaf and create leaf mines. They are hard to kill with pesticides because they are inside the leaf. I pull off infected leaves so that the larvae don't mature and feed to livestock or throw in the garbage not the compost pile. To help control leaf miners, cultivate or turn over the soil where you plant spinach, chard, and beets to kill the pupae. Row covers can also keep the adult from laying eggs on the leaves.
Plants infected with spinach blight just need to be pulled up. There is no cure for viruses and they can be spread by insects feeding on various plants. Avoid planting spinach with cucumbers and tomatoes. I companion plant spinach with onions.
Varieties of SpinachBloomsdale Longstanding (OP): This is the standard for spinach. It's my favorite. It has deeply savoyed (wrinkled leaves) and is deep green and wonderfully flavored for salads. The leaves are upright off the ground.
Space (F1): A smooth leafed spinach with spoon shaped leaves. Tyee (F1): This is slightly savoyed leaf. Giant Noble (H): Heirloom of 1926. Very large leafed, tender Melody (F1): Also very large leaves with upright growth
Butterflay: Another good variety but low to the ground and more susceptible to problems because of that. There are lots of other varieties to try but my garden will always have Bloomsdale Long Standing along with a other varieties. Be sure to try a smooth leaf variety. It will make that spinach salad much more interesting.
After all the talk about cool weather, both New Zealand Spinach and Malabar Spinach that can be grown in the summer. The reason is that neither are a true spinach. Malabar Spinach is a perennial vine in warm climates. It prefers hot humid weather. The leaves are used like spinach in salads. New Zealand spinach needs warm soil to germinate and does not tolerate frost . The leaves can be substituted in cooked dishes for spinach. It is very high in oxalic acid which causes a flavor many people do not like.
Is it snowing outside yet you are already making plans for the garden? Are you busy browsing the seed catalogs and making your list of new and old varieties you gotta plant? Let's look at the earliest spring crops you can plant. They are cold hardy and many enjoy a light frost because it converts starch into sugar and sweetens them up. Cool season crops offer early harvests and delicious fresh produce.
These crops need cool temperatures to germinate, grow, develop fruit, and mature. Once the heat sets in the quality and taste of these crops declines. Radishes get hot and pithy in the heat. Aphids tend to take over brassica crops like broccoli and cabbage as temperatures warm up. Planting cool season crops at the right time is critical.
Cool Season Crops
Need to mature when weather is cool
Can be planted in spring and early fall
Direct seeded when soil temps 45-50
Flavor often improves with light frost
Do not like heat encourages bolting and aphids
Divided into hardy and semi-hardy
When To Plant Soil temperature is the determining factor on when you can begin planting. It is also important that you know the average last frost date for your area. Generally you can plant these crops as soon as the soil is dry enough to work and soil temperatures are between . Seed packets will usually tell you the best soil temperature for germination and will also suggest how many weeks before your last frost you can plant.
To determine soil temperature use any thermometer and insert it an inch in the soil in the middle of the day.
How To Plant Most cool season crops are seeded directly into the garden. However you can start broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage, and lettuce indoors. They need more time to mature and direct seeding them usually means they mature to late in the season when temperatures are high. They are generally planted 2-4 weeks before the last frost date of your area.
A general rule for planting seeds is to plant the seed 2-3 times as deep as the seed is. Lettuce is the exception. It need light to germinate. This is why I prefer starting it indoors. You can gently press the seeds into your trays and you don't have problems lettuce seeds migrating to unwanted areas in your beds.
What to Plant
Hardy Cool Season Crops
Most cold tolerant
Planted 2-4 weeks before last frost generally mid March to Mid April
Seedlings endure freezes and grow when air temps in 40’s
A beautiful apple blossom with large king bloom in the middle. Oh how I am looking forward to spring.
Outside the north wind is blowing and I trudge through ice and snow bundled up as I go feed the goats, chickens, and ducks. But the day before I was 70 miles south visiting family and it was a beautiful 70 degrees. I meet fellow gardeners in the garden section of the local nursery with dirt already under their fingernails. I admired the transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and kale already in the store and sighed. Spring has sprung there but sadly not in New Harmony.
Peach trees in bloom.
Deciding when to plant is a perhaps one of the harder decisions especially to a new gardener or if you have moved to a new location. Determining when spring has sprung has more to do with observing natural events than a particular date on a calendar. The official declaration of spring occurs with the vernal equinox which is around March 21 or 22nd. This date has no bearing on the appearance of spring for the gardener. In some areas of the north "spring" won't actually make its appearance until May or June and in the south is may already be too late to plant some crops.
So what does the Spring equinox tell us? On this day the suns rays fall straight down on the equator. Around the globe the length of daylight and night are equal. From then on the hours of daylight will increase. For many that is reason enough to rejoice. This day does influence the behavior of animals. Increasing daylight triggers courtship, migration, and other behaviors. So how do you determine when spring has arrived? The temperature of the air is less important to plants than the temperature of the soil. The only dependable thing about spring is that is is fickle. It toys with your emotions appearing then quickly retreating. In our part of the country they say, "If you don't like the weather wait 5 minutes and it will change." To understand planting schedules it is more important to look at nature herself and the observe when certain indicators begin the "spring" forth.
Early spring bulbs
Some signs of spring:
Sap begins to flow
Appearance of certain insects
Appearance of certain birds
Spring bulbs emerging
Emergence of weeds
And the smell of the soil warming.
Emerging tulips are a welcome sign of spring.
Warming Soil I want to focus the last one- warming soil. Why is soil temperature important? As the temperature of the air rises and sunlight increases it begins to warm the soil. This warming of the soil awakens the living organisms in your soil. Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and protozoa come alive and restart the process of decomposing organic matter. This process of decay is what will make your soil rich in nutrients and gives it the earthy smell that gardeners love. Earth worms migrate up when the soil is frost free eating there way through soil, aerating as they tunnel, and depositing castings which enrich the soil. During winter months or drought the earthworm burrows deep in the soil, encases itself in slime, and "hibernates" until the soil warms and there is moisture.
What The Gardener Should Do This is why I feel it is important to add organic matter in the form of compost and aged manures in the garden in the fall. You want organic matter available for these organisms in early spring. It is the food source of soil organisms and combined with the warming sun will awaken the soil food web essential to organic gardening. I add additional compost again when planting along with and organic dry fertilizer.
The minimum temperature that seeds of cool season crops can germinate is 40 degrees. It is possible to assist nature in warming your soil. Build Your Soil A sandy loam soil with organic matter will warm more quickly than a heavy clay soil.
Raised Beds Soil in a raised bed warms more quickly than bare ground.
Plastic Mulches Plastic mulches can be used to warm the soil. For northern gardeners they can be used to warm the soil to get an earlier start on melons, tomatoes, and peppers. Stretch the plastic mulch tightly across the bed and secure the edges. I recommend using a plastic mulch specifically for gardening. Black or clear plastic do NOT allow for the movement of air and water and are used more for solarizing the soil or killing weed seeds.
Hoop Houses or Low Tunnels This is what I use in early spring to get a head start. Low tunnels increase air temperature during the day and retain heat at night. An additional row cover can be placed over plants under the low tunnel. They are inexpensive to build and easy to remove and relocate.
You can see row covers in the background and a low tunnel. Both allow you to plant earlier.
Cold Frames Cold Frames are a bottomless box of glass or plastic placed over an existing bed. They are more expensive and you must monitor the inside temperature more closely because they offer more protection from frost and heat up more readily than a row cover. Hot Caps Hot caps cover individual plants creating a mini greenhouse. They are an options if you have only a few plants to protect which is rarely the case in my garden.
Word of Caution For those of you that are like me and get spring fever in February whenever the sun shines and snow melts and seed packets arrive in the mail, be gentle with spring soils. Seed packets will say to plant as soon as soil can be worked. So what does that mean? Because spring soil has a lot of moisture in it, the soil compacts easily. Every time you step on your garden soil your weight squeezes out the air and when the moisture evaporates it drys into a hard clod. Even hoeing or turning a wet soil can compact the soil particles together. While weed seeds don't seem to mind hard compacted soil, garden seeds are more particular. So when is it OK to "work the soil?" Grab a handful of dirt from your garden beds, squeeze it, then open up your hand. If the ball of soil crumbles on its own or crumbles when you poke it then go ahead and work compost and dry organic fertilizer into the soil. If you have sticky mud ball then wait for the soil to dry out.
When working the soil in open ground and if you cannot avoid walking on your soil, lay boards out on the garden soil to distribute your weight. It is a better option to have specific paths to walk on and avoid walking in your planting areas at all.
"When a spadeful of earth crumble, the plows may be started, but not while the spade comes out of the ground smeared." John P. Morton & Co. Western Farmers' Almanac 1884
One of the earliest springs crops you can plant are peas. They have a very specific growing conditions and a short season but are always worth it. They are happiest in cool spring weather and dislike summer heat. While the plants are frost tolerate the flowers are not so fall plantings are not usually very productive.
In my garden the majority of peas are eaten fresh out of the pod. They are a delicious and sweet, healthy snack. I always try to shell a few batches of peas and cook them for a few meals, but they rarely make it that far. There is an amazing difference between steamed fresh and frozen peas. My last option, if any peas are remaining, is to try to freeze some. Truthfully the majority get eaten fresh. I never seem to have enough peas to preserve so I am always increasing my plantings.
Meet the Pea
Peas are part of a group of plants called legumes. Legumes bear pods with the seed inside. Peas are different from their other legume friends in that they can be enjoyed fresh. Other legumes like lentil, cow-peas, and beans are eaten dried.
There are Four Types of Peas:
Shelling peas: Shelling peas have rounded vibrant green pods with starchy, sweet, round peas inside. These peas are meant to be shelled from the pod. They can be enjoyed fresh, canned, cooked, or in soups.
Edible pod peas: These include snow peas which have flat pods with the peas visibly bulging from the pod. The pods are enjoyed fresh, in stir fry's, and salads.
Snap Peas: Snap peas have rounded edible pods. They are best when slightly cooked and eaten fresh. They develop a string that is easily removed by peeling it back from the pod. Dried or Field Peas: These are allowed to mature in the pod until dry and stored and used in soups or stews.
When choosing a variety consider the maturity date and the height of the plants. There are bush variety of peas that only grow to 2 feet tall and need very little support and trellising. These small varieties are usually determinate meaning they produce a set number of flowers and fruits.
My spring garden. Snow peas are planted around small round tomato cages.
The vine types vary in size some reaching 4-5 feet tall. They need trellising. Last year I grew Telegraph peas which mature to 5 ft. The trellis needs to be very sturdy so it will not blow over in the wind. The vine types are more productive because they a indeterminate meaning they produce flowers and fruit over an extended period.
Tall Telephone peas are a climber reaching 4-5' and are an heirloom dating back to 1881.
Peas as a Soil Builder Peas and other legumes belong to the plant family known as the Fabaceae, which is also commonly called the bean family or the pulse family. In fact, commercial production of peas is commonly placed within the category of pulse production, and like its fellow legumes, peas are often referred to as "pulses."
Peas are the garden workhorse. They produce fruit and improve the soil. They belong to a unique group of plant called nitrogen fixing crops. This includes all legumes. They have a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that causes them to convert nitrogen gas into a usable form of nitrogen in the soil. Some gardeners inoculate the soil with the live rhizobial bacteria to further facilitate this process.
Another benefit is that once picked the pea plants break down quickly and can be worked into the soil. In order for your soil to benefit from the nitrogen fixing ability of peas always leave the roots to decompose in the soil. Clip the tops off and put them in the compost pile if you need the space to plant summer crops or incorporate the plant into the soil to decompose.
I finally broke down puchased pea fences. They are great.
As soon as the soil temperature warms to 40 degrees you can plant peas. That can be in late March or early April. I reccomend waiting until the soil is a little warmer because they germinate faster. Those planted too early will germinate but are slow.
You can make additional plantings through early May.
Plant the seed 3 times the size of the seed and space them 2 inches apart. I plant a row down both sides of the trellis. Trellises don't have to be vertical. I have used the small round tomatoes changes which are too flimsy for tomatoes but perfect for peas.
Peas do not need fertilizer if you properly prepare you beds each season. That means that each spring and fall you add compost and a dry organic fertilizer. If your beds are new you will need to work this into the soil but established healthy beds only need this applied to the surface. Preparing you beds in the fall means all you need to do is plant in the spring. Have a soil thermometer and when soil temps are between 40-50 degrees and your soil can be worked then go ahead and plant.
As soon as the pod begin to swell , it is time to harvest. Check daily. Peas left too long on the vine turn starchy and the pods become fiberous. On indeterminant vine types, frequent picking encourages more production.
The top 6 inches of the pea plant including the pea tendril can be cut and used in salads and stir fry's. They are sold in bunches at farmer's markets. Cascadia and Oregon Sugar Snaps are good varieties to use as pea tendrils. Make a specific planting to use in this manner because once you cut the tendrils they are not going to produce flowers and fruit.
Snow or edible pods: Oregon Sugar Pod II (OP), Avalanche
Shelling: Canoe (OP), Lincoln (OP), Green Arrow (OP), Maestro, Dakota (OP), Tall Telephone (H) 1881 this one is a climber 4-5' Snap: Cascadia, (OP), Sugar Ann (OP),