• rebeccaecarpenter

What’s Happening in the Garden: First Spring Planting

After the early spring clean up of our garden, I’m eager to get some plants into the ground.  There are some crops that are frost-tolerant and in fact thrive in cooler months, so I focus on those first.   I use a simple model — The Vegetannual, created by Barbara Kingsolver in her wonderful book, Animal Vegetable Miracle — as a rule of thumb to remember the seasonality of different crops.  (This post explains the veggie garden life cycle in more detail.)

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The fictional — yet handy — Vegetannual.

In general, the early season crops are leafy greens (e.g., spinach, kale, chard, lettuces) and flowering heads (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage).  You can start these indoors from seed, but I prefer not to do this, so I’ve bought a bunch of seedlings that another kind farmer has started for me.  Around the last frost date of the season (early April this year), I’m ready to start putting plants into the ground.

I’m building a raised bed for our warmer-climate crops, so I designate a few other beds and containers for our early plantings.  I begin with The Lilac Bed — named such for the lilac bush growing there — which I’ve cleared of all other shrubs to make room for more veggies.  This will be the main in-ground bed for our early season crops, including a vine that overwintered (which I believe is a kiwi, but I won’t know for sure until it develops fruit).  Read here for details about the transplanted shrubs, overwintering spinach and mystery plant.

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The magical mystery vine that overwintered in our lilac bed, and now is starting to bud.

I amend the lilac bed by tilling the soil with a hand cultivator, and mixing in compost and soil builder.  (I use Bumper Crop Soil Builder and Lobster Compost — both are organic and have previously proven themselves in my veggie garden.)   Our Virginia ground is dense with clay and rocks, so the compost and soil builder create a more nutrient-rich and appropriately-textured soil.

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The “Before” photo of The Lilac Bed.  It includes our awesomely-fragrant lilac bush, a small spinach plant and mystery vine that overwintered, as well as some remnant “cover crops” that I threw down in the fall to add some nutrients and prevent erosion during the winter.

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A hand cultivator and a trowel are all we need for this simple planting.

Once the soil is amended, I put the plants into the ground.  This truly couldn’t be easier, especially with the new soft soil.  If you’re a novice gardener, have faith that YOU CAN DO THIS!   I dig small holes with a trowel, remove the plants from their containers, gently loosen their compacted roots, and put them into the holes.  I then fill in the holes around them, and give them a good watering.  That’s it!

In this first planting of the season I’m putting broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage and a couple kinds of lettuce into the ground.  I plant the veggies close to one another, and even tuck a few in under the lilac bush.  I’m experimenting with intensive gardening, so I’m aiming to maximize my produce in this space.  Like much of life, gardening is a learning process, so I’ll find out just how much can be grown here.

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Your plants may look a bit wilted after you put them into the ground.  Don’t worry — this is normal.  They are in shock from the transplanting process, and they’ll perk up with some water and a few days to adjust to their new home.

Because we live in Arlington — an urban environment — our gardening space is limited.  But I like to think our capacity for growth is limited only by our imaginations.  So in addition to tucking plants into the ground wherever we can, I supplement our garden patch with containers.   This is a great option for folks with patios or decks — container gardens are mobile, inexpensive, and easy to care for.  You just need good soil (I use Gardener’s Gold Potting Soil, which is organic and optimized for containers), and a good container (talk to your local nursery to select the right size, and be sure it has drainage holes in the bottom).

In this first planting of the season, I’m putting strawberries and all of my herbs into the containers.  The herbs include some of our favorites (basil, rosemary, cilantro, oregano) as well as some new ones (stevia, pineapple mint, orange thyme, and papalo quinquina).  I also transplanted our garlic (planted last fall) into a container, as I needed to move it from its previous location to make room for our new raised bed.  And I put in an extra lettuce plant that wouldn’t fit in The Lilac Bed.

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Basil, cilantro, papalo quinquina (a South American cousin of cilantro)


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“Flashy Troutback” lettuce and stevia (its leaves taste like they’re dipped in sugar — so sweet!)


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Several varieties of mint and thyme

When you’re starting your garden, I recommend choosing veggies and herbs that are your favorite to eat.  Later, when you’re more comfortable in the garden, you can begin experimenting with new plants.  This year I’m looking forward to trying a bunch of new crops.  The jury is out on how they’ll grow or if we’ll like their taste, but I know for certain that I’ll love the learning that comes with the new adventure.

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I purchased our veggie seedlings from Greenstreet Gardens in Alexandria.  Greenstreet has taken over the nursery formerly known as Apple House, and so far I’m pleased with how knowledgeable and helpful their staff is.  They have a good selection of plants, including a variety of organic options, which I appreciate.  Our herbs are from DeBaggio’s Herbs in Chantilly.  DeBaggio’s is a multi-generational farm and nursery that has a great history and reputation in our area.  Their selection of herbs is unparalleled — it is definitely worth the trip.

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