Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yet Another Snow Day in Zone 4 Central Wisconsin

Or "What to Do in the Garden in March, part 2"...

Sleep. We wish.

It's official. They canceled school. It's a snow day. That means my mother called and my brother can't make it to the farm to milk cows. Can my son come out and help Grandpa? He goes a bit grudgingly. It means here, in town, with such limited space, he has to shovel out my car and chip off the ice before he can get to his car. I don't have the heart to give up garden space to park his car next to instead of in front of mine. I already have my pick-up taking up space as it is.

I think we got about 3" of sleet, snow, and ice last night, another 2" to 4" of snow forecast for today.

So what to do in the garden in March? Not a lot apparently. I can usually count on frost-free, snow-free ground by the second week in April. That's not to say it won't snow. I just doesn't stay more than a day at that point. I did notice the snow had melted enough yesterday morning before this all began to see my garlic was 3" tall. It's a sign of spring to be sure. I had ordered a couple different kinds of garlic from last fall and planted them next to my deck the beginning of November.

I like to can. Canning, for me is a quality and value-added project: baby cucumber gherkins, roasted sweet red pepper spread, hamburger dills with big chunks of dilled onion, dilly beans with a couple of carrot spears in every jar, salsa, tomato juice and sauce. All these things call for garlic. Fresh is best, but at my "local" grocery store fresh is "produced in China".

Produced in China?

Well, last fall I decided I was definitely going to grow my own garlic. I was delighted that I could purchase my garlic starts from a Wisconsin company. We Grow Garlic grows more garlic than even I could imagine. And they seem really excited to do it. They have more kinds than I can quickly count. They COLLECT garlic. Do you know anyone who collects garlic?

I chose Thermadrone and China Purple. Later this summer, I'll tell you how they grew for me.

I did reserve a few of each for cooking through the winter. They sell garlic untreated, so eating or planting, whatever you choose to do with their garlic is fine with them. Mincing the cloves, I have noticed a milder note, more mellow garlic aroma. The darkly handsome male vampire from SyFy's "Being Human" might be able to sit next to me and ogle the blood coursing in my veins while I ate a bowl of pasta without developing hives.

Swiss chard 'Primo Rossa' and Cabbage 'Wakefield' stretching for the light.

Beautiful tomato 'Siberian' supposedly produced 52 days from transplanting.

Sweet red peppers 'Carmen' with onions growing behind.

Ornamental millet 'Jester' on left, Italian flat-leaved parsley and cayenne pepper. These seeds from Jung's had amazing germination (90% to 100%) compared with 50% I got on the sweet red 'Carmen'.

A 'Savoy' style cabbage with leeks growing behind. In the foreground, celery 'Tango' and the bare soil, seed planted on 3/21 for Dinosaur Kale. Tango had a very uneven germination. I have already pricked out and potted on a couple dozen celery which had developed their third leaves before these guys were hardly more than germinated.

Gardening in March for me consists of planning growing my garden. A couple years ago, I had my then 14-year old son help me build two light racks. I have a room I had originally planned as my upstairs bathroom when I bumped out a dormer and made the attic into a master bedroom loft. Budget issues have continued to leave this room unfinished. Vacant space too often becomes storage, especially in a home as small as mine without a garage or basement. My house is a scant 900 square feet, with my loft. I've managed to get a lot into a tiny space; I have a dishwasher, washer, dryer, fireplace, a 8' by 6' bathroom, a dining room where ten can sit down for pasta. The light racks fit beautifully into this space and almost make it worth the absence of a second floor bathroom.

The light racks hold 18 10" by 20" plant trays. I could pimp them up to hold an additional 10 plant trays, if needed. Right now, I have lots of little plants screaming for a cell-pack they can call their own. I have one position in one of the racks with a tray on my heating mat. I have found using a heating mat cuts my germination time by half. After about 90 percent of the seeds have germinated I move onto the next batch of seed I need to germinate.

Last night, I chipped four o'clock seeds and soaked them along with the colored cauliflower seed from Botanical Interests. Those will be planted today. I also have some Savoy style cabbage to prick out. I could start some coleus, and begonia cuttings. I have seeds started for a lot of things, cabbage, kale, onions, leeks, broccoli, that will go into the garden before last frost, which here is sometime around the third week in May.

I have found those kabob spears to work just perfectly to prick out and plant seedling. I think this step, after getting good germination, to be the most important in growing good strong transplants for the garden. To prick out, I prepare the next up size cell, going no bigger than 2" by 2". It is important that plants develop roots that fill the cells. I use the kabob stick to make a hole in the center of the cell and than draw down the root system of the seedling into the cell with the pointy end of my stick. I carefully press the soil around the seedling, fertilize if I so inclined and water. If the seedling is a difficult transplant I may cover the newly transplanted seedling with a clear dome to conserve transpiration. This is a great method for just a few seedlings planted in a mass planting like I did in a couple trays above.

If I am growing a lot of seedlings in a 256-cell-count tray, one seed to a cell, I may want to use a dibble to may the holes (or I have even seen these dibble racks that will make the holes a whole flat at a time. Simply pop out the cells, place a cell in the larger pots and press. seedling need to have good cohesion with soil to keep growing. Air pockets will air prune the roots. "Watering in" the seedlings helps get rid of air pockets.

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