Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

A hot pink and green salad. Mother Nature is a creative genius.
DSC_0342This is a close up of a salad we had for dinner this week. We call it the Lily Pulitzer Salad. Every part of it came out of our garden: lettuce, radishes, pea pods, dill, green onions and tasty radish flowers. I am beaming in amazement! To think, these vegetables all started out as tiny seeds planted in brown dirt, and now they’ve become something delicious, nutritious and gorgeous.

Here is how the newly planted garden looked on Sunday afternoon, March 15th after I spent the day tending to the soil and seeds.

DSC_0042

Here it is today, just ten weeks later.

DSC_0451

This was the first vegetable garden we built in our yard. I think of it as my summer Italian garden because later in the season, I will grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, onions, and basil in it. The garden space is 20 by 30 feet. The fence was made using four-foot high chicken wire and wood. About 18 inches from the fence sides, I “planted” a necklace of empty, upside-down, wine bottles to separate the spring planting space from the summer planting space. By keeping the center of the garden open and available, I no longer have to wait for spring crops to die off before I plant summer crops in early May.

People often ask when it is I start working the soil and planting vegetable seeds. The first vegetable I plant is always peas. I aim for getting them in the ground by March 1st, at the latest, which means I have to get the perimeter planting space prepped before then. This year, I invited the chickens to help out by doing what comes naturally to them: scratching up the dirt (tilling), eating the CHICKweed (weeding), and leaving some of their nutrient-rich poop (fertilizer) scattered about. It was a free-for-all for them and a bonanza for me.

Veg garden

To prepare the necklace space for planting, all I do is use a pitchfork to loosen the soil. I let worms and old roots do the bulk of the work of aerating the soil. I try to stay out of the way of nature. Additionally, because the perimeter space is off the beaten path, it doesn’t get compacted by foot traffic which also helps keep the soil loose and ready for the next planting season.

DSC_0528

Next, I planted a row of peas along the fence (notice the white dots in the soil), and then I planted two rows of green onion sets in the middle row, and finally, one row of radishes next to the bottles. This season, I was careful to space the radish seeds about every four inches to help with good root ball formation. I planted a different variety of radishes on each side of the garden, one that was quick to mature and one that would mature later in the spring.

Inside the Necklace Space: peas, onions, and radishes photographed 3/30, 4/17, and  5/30. Mixed in there were some dill seeds that had self-seeded from last year’s dill crop.

Sugar Ann Peas
There is an old gardening tradition that says to plant your peas on Valentine’s Day. That is always the goal, but seldom the reality. This year was no exception, in fact, we were iced-in for most of February, and I didn’t get around to planting anything until mid-March. This may be the reason my Sugar Ann peas, a new variety for me, failed so miserably. The other reason is they probably got crowded out by the quick growth of the onions and radishes in front of them. If I use this same planting plan next year, I’ll start the peas two weeks earlier than the onions and radishes.

In previous years, I planted two varieties of peas: a sugar snap and a snow pea. They both grow the same way and need a trellis or fence for vine support.

May 21

Sugar snaps are an edible-podded cultivar that has plump peas inside. If you harvest while young, you can still eat the pods. If you harvest late, you would need to shell the peas and discard the pod. These are so delicious raw; they hardly ever make it to the kitchen.

vegetable gardens vegetable gardening

Snow peas have edible pods, as well, but are flat with tiny peas inside. Snow pea pods are often used in Asian cooking. I like to use a “stringless” variety of snow peas. The chickens love the pea plants, including the leaves, and will often eat what pokes out of the chicken wire fence. One of them took a bite out of a snow pea in the photo below.

5:28meltingsugar

Spring Onions (aka Scallions or Green Onions)
Sets planted 3/15. Harvest started six weeks later and continues. Even though you can buy white, yellow, or purple onion sets, I plant the purple variety for one reason, I love the color. I planted 200 sets this year. I cannot get enough of spring onions. I use them sliced and uncooked in salads, sautéed in mirepoix, and roasted whole in the oven or on the grill. Yum.

For more information on growing spring onions, radishes, and turnips, go to my last blog post, Urban Farming Part 1: Fall Planting.

“Easter Egg” Radish
Seeds planted 3/15. 30 days to maturity. Started harvesting 4/17. Sweet, mild, crispy, and colorful. Flowers are edible.

spring garden

“Red Meat” Radish (aka “Watermelon” Radish)
Planted 3/15. 50 days to maturity. Started harvesting May 18. Crisp, have more of a bite and have a beautiful hot pink color inside. Their white flowers are edible, too.

Cauliflower and Broccoli
On each end of the rectangular garden, I planted cauliflower and broccoli. Both crops were a failure. Something ate the leaves within a week of planting them. Every year, I swear I’m not going to grow these two plants ever again and every year I cave when I see them at the garden center. It’s a case of tunnel vision — I remember the glory days of gorgeous broccoli and forget about the pesticides I used to keep caterpillars from chomping away at them. Now that I have free-range chickens in my yard, I don’t use any chemicals. In fact, I often joke that the hens keep me honest whenever I get tempted.

 spring garden 4/17

Raised Beds: kale, chard, turnips, beets, potatoes

“Premier Blend” Kale
Seeds planted March 23. Days to maturity: 28 baby, 55 bunching. Harvesting began late April

kale 4/17 garden IMG_0607

“Bright Lights” Swiss Chard
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 28 baby, 55 bunching. Harvesting began 5/26

IMG_0588

“Hakurei Hybrid” Turnips
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 38. Harvesting began 5/26

These white turnips have been the tastiest surprise of all the vegetables growing in my garden. This pure white variety of turnips are so light and crisp you can eat them like an apple. Truly. When sliced, they can be used as low-cal scoops for hummus and other dips. I’m so glad I planted two rows of them! As with other turnip varieties, you can cook the greens. I like to sauté them together with radish greens, green onions, and garlic in olive oil.

Turnip 4/17

Beets 
Planted as seedlings 4/2. Days to maturity 55. I haven’t started harvesting the beets yet because they are still quite small. I have, however, been harvesting the beet greens for the last month. I should have separated the seedlings when I first planted them for better root ball formation. In the picture below you can see how small the beets are. New gardening rule: all plants with edible roots need to be planted with sufficient space around them for good root ball formation.

DSC_0447

My healthiest vegetable seedlings came from my annual subscription to The Nashville Food Project‘s “Project Grow,”  a plant CSA. All plants are grown organically in TNFP’s greenhouse. The plant subscription includes herbs, leafy greens, edible flowers, tomatoes, eggplants, squashes, and peppers. Pick-up is once a month at their urban gardening site. The beet seedlings below were part of the March selection.

“Red Norland” and “Yukon Gold” Seed Potatoes
Sets planted 3/16. Harvesting began 5/26.  To prep seed potatoes for planting, slice the potatoes into 2″ chunks/sets that each contain 1-2 “eyes.” Allow to dry out for a couple of days to form calluses over the cut sides to help prevent sets from rotting in the soil. In general, when the plant leaves turn yellow, it’s time to harvest, but you can start digging for a few “new potatoes” long before that.

vegetable gardening vegetable gardening vegetable gardening

Photos of potato plant growth taken on 4/4, 5/19, and 5/26:

  garden 5/19   IMG_0585

Every bit of the delightfully colored food in this photo was harvested on April 17th.

DSC_0504

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

 

Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

About 10 years ago, we had the deck on the side of our home dismantled. The contractor who did the work asked if he could have the twenty 12 x 2 x 13-foot pressure treated wood boards that had previously supported the deck floor. I didn’t know much about reclaiming used wood, but I remember thinking, If he wants it, maybe I should want it. I had him put the boards under our porch until I could figure out another use for them.

Many years later, I was looking at a barren, sunny area in my backyard and had a vision for a way to get more garden space for my vegetables — make raised beds using those old boards. I had a handyman build four 4 x 13-foot beds for me. Last summer, Jeremy Lekich, owner of Nashville Foodscapes, built two more raised beds and filled all six of them with his gorgeous, dark, chocolate-colored compost. Next, Jeremy and his team built a beautiful, simple, chicken-proof fence around the beds.

My compost bed is located behind the white picket fence in the photo above. The chickens have open access to it and it’s the first place they run to when I let them out in the morning.

Here is a photo of the same garden taken September 25, 2015

img_1900

I love the way Jeremy used inch-thick cardboard to smother and kill the crabgrass underneath the woodchip-covered paths in the new garden rather than using chemicals to do the same job. Now that I’ve become more educated by the fabulous education department of The Cumberland River Compact regarding water quality, runoff and watershed issues, I’m much more conscious about the use of chemicals that can leach into our soil and eventually into our ground water.

fall garden

On August 24, 2014, I planted a fall vegetable garden in three of the raised boxes with the intention of using hoops and agriculture cloth to protect the beds as we moved into winter. It was one big experiment and it was fun. First of all, I loved checking the garden beds every morning to see if seedlings had pushed through the dirt and unfurled their first leaves. Just knowing they were under there getting ready to pop kept me in a state of happy anticipation; I have been known to get on my hands and knees to inspect the earth in search of those first glimmers of green. Later, as it became colder in the winter, it was thrilling to go to the back garden and pick green onions and spinach from those same beds when a recipe called for them. Even with this year’s harsh winter: an early freeze in November, another one in January, and then a two-week freeze in February, many of the vegetables survived and perked up in March for an abundant spring harvest.

 

For those of you who are thinking of planting a fall/winter garden, I kept a photo journal of the project knowing a picture is worth many words. For each raised bed, I used four sequential pictures of how the plants looked as the weather temperature changed.

The raised bed series of photos were taken on 9/4, 10/9, 12/31 (taken from inside the covered garden, opposite direction), and 3/15, the day I took the protective cloth off.

Raised Bed #1, Root Vegetables
Left to Right: garlic, beets, garlic, carrots, green onions, leeks

fall garden  DSC_0117 winter vegetable garden  vegetable garden

Garlic
Garlic cloves planted 9/15. Only about 15% of the plants survived the February freeze. The ones that survived are still forming their bulbs. In March, I added more garlic cloves. They should all be ready for harvest in August. Next year, I will mulch them with straw.

IMG_7567  IMG_0158

“Colorful Beet Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24. We started snipping leaves for salads in October. None of the plants survived the February freeze. Next year, I will mulch them with straw.

fall garden  DSC_0962

Green Onions (aka Scallions or Spring Onions)
I planted two rows of onion “sets” on 9/1 and two rows of onion seeds on 8/24 (on the right side). If you look closely, you can see the faint strands of green seedlings. Unfortunately, the young seedlings didn’t make it through the winter. We started harvesting green onions from the sets in November and continue to do so even now.

fall garden  DSC_0950

“Kaleidoscope Carrots”
Seeds planted 8/24. Harvested through early May. The carrots had beautiful color, but were thin and not as flavorful as I had hoped.

fall garden  Version 2

Leeks
Seedlings planted 9/15. Harvesting now.

IMG_0565  DSC_0113

Raised Bed #2, Greens
Left to right: many lettuce varieties, mache, and spinach

fall garden  Fall garden winter vegetable garden  Veg garden

“Mesclun Lettuce Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24. This was the first seed to germinate in my fall garden. I pretty much watched it unfurl.

fall garden  fall garden

“Gourmet Blend Lettuce Mix”
2 rows of seeds planted 8/24. By 9/18 only a third of the seeds had germinated. A huge difference from the Mesclun Mix on the left in the second photo.

fall garden  fall garden

On 9/22  I bought “Salad Bowl Mix” seedlings and filled in the empty spaces created by the spotty germination of the Gourmet Blend Mix. We started eating lettuce by mid-October. Surprisingly, many of the red oak leaf lettuce plants survived the hard freezes. Note to self, plant more red, oak leaf lettuce plants in the fall!

fall garden  greens fall garden

“Bloomsdale Spinach”
2 rows of seeds planted 8/24. Only half the seeds germinated so I consolidated the two rows into one. We harvested the Bloomsdale crinkly spinach leaves all winter. The plants started to bolt May 3rd and I pulled them.

Seeds planted. new garden beds  vegetable gardening

“Hybrid Smooth Leaf Spinach” 
Seeds planted 10/2 to the right of the Bloomsdale spinach. We continue to harvest this variety now. Note those smooth leaves. Just sayin’.

 Fall garden  bridget soup

Mache (aka Corn Salad)
Seeds planted 10/2. Harvested March-April. Plants started flowering in late April and I pulled them. Mache is a good cold weather lettuce alternative.

greens new gardens plants  

Raised Bed #3, Root Vegetables with Edible Tops
Left to right: Broccoli, beets, turnips, radishes

fall garden  DSC_0655  winter vegetable garden  Veg garden

“Sparkle” & “Champion” Radishes
Seeds planted on 8/24. The crop failed because radish seeds were planted too close to one another and a ball couldn’t form. I should have thinned them out when they were seedlings. At the time, I didn’t think thinning mattered. I’ve learned my lesson. The same problem happened with the turnips — no ball formation. The crop wasn’t a total failure because I was able to harvest greens from each plant. Yes, you can eat the tops of radishes. Some varieties taste better than others.

fall garden  

“Purple Top White Globe Turnips”
Seeds planted 8/24 (on left). Started harvesting turnip greens just one month later! As mentioned above, the plant did not form a turnip ball in its root. Instead, the roots were long and thin as in the picture above.

fall garden  fall garden

“Colorful Beet Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24.  None of these plants survived the freeze.

Broccoli
Seedlings planted 10/2. The broccoli did not make it through the freeze.

What I learned
-I now know which plants are the most cold-hardy: spinach, mache (corn salad), green onions, leeks, and carrots. I think the beets, kale*, and garlic could have made it, had I mulched them with straw.

– When you plant tiny seeds, such as radishes and turnips, plant them separately, each a few inches apart, OR, direct seed them haphazardly and thin them as they mature, OR, as The Barefoot Farmer suggested to me, mix them with sand and scatter them in the row.

-Kale* I had a 4th bed with kale in it that I threw a tarp over at the last minute when it turned cold. It didn’t stand a chance with the blue tarp, as the sunlight was totally occluded. This fall, I will do a better job of planning which plants I put under the protective cloths. For example, I’d like to add a few hardy herbs to the mix, such as rosemary, parsley, and sage.

-When I bought the protective cloth, I didn’t plan on the extra amount of cloth it would take to cover the ends of each “tunnel” which was about another six feet of fabric per tunnel. I covered the first two beds just fine, but ran out of fabric by the third tunnel. That last bed, the one with the broccoli, had open ends and nothing survived in it because of the draft. If you are purchasing protective cloth for the winter, remember to add extra fabric for the ends. I bought the ag cloth and hoops, as well as many of the seeds and seedlings, at Gardens of Babylon next to the Farmers Market.

DSC_0266

How cold was it?
Even the eggs froze!

Frozen egg  IMG_7034

I harvested this basket of greens on November 12th, the night before our first hard freeze.

chicken greens fall garden chicken greens fall garden chicken greens fall garden chicken greens fall garden

Other Posts About Farming
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Family Dirt
Herb Porch Pots!
How to Make Grape Jelly (and grow the grapes)
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
The Tobacco Barns of Trigg County

 

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.