Spring underway at last!

This past week has seen real forward progress in the garden. The last of the rows of snap peas got planted. As I explained in a previous post, we plant peas in the middles of beds of spinach. I wrote more about this and other examples of interplanting in my post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog.

We also transplanted 4 beds of spinach (360 row feet each). Tilling was delayed by wet soil, so I was happy we had enough transplants to get us off to a fast start. Hot weather arrives early here, and causes the spinach to bolt, so having transplants helps us get a longer harvest season. Many of the plants were bare-root transplants which had been growing in the hoophouse since 1/25.

Speedling flats. Photo from EPS Manufacturing

Speedling flats.
Photo from EPS Manufacturing

We ended up with spare spinach which we had sown in Speedling flats in the greenhouse. Speedlings are available from many grower supplies places, or look for them (organically) used. They are expanded styrofoam, which makes them very lightweight, and in fact they float, a feature which we make use of when we sow sweet corn starts to fill gaps in rows of our first (chancy) corn planting. We have a big tank where we float 8 Speedlings of corn. They need no watering and don’t get stunted. Carefree! They are a tad fragile in novice hands, and as we like to make our plastics last as long as possible, we make sure to instruct people to pick them up when transplanting, not drag them by putting a thumb in a cell and pulling. Butter knives make great transplanting tools for the 200 cell or bigger Speedlings. Jab the knife in the soil, wiggle it from side to side, making a wedge-shaped hole. Then slide the knife down the sloping side of a cell, hold the plant gently in the other hand, pulling slightly while lifting the knife in the first hand with a scooping motion. The plug then rests on the horizontal blade of the knife. Slide the plant into the hole, firm the soil, and repeat 719 times for one bed of spinach! Or get help.

Transpalnting spinach from Speedling flats. Photo Denny Ray McElyea

Transplanting from Speedling flats.
Photo Denny Ray McElyea

A carrot bed showing the indicator beets. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A carrot bed showing the indicator beets.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We sowed 3 beds of carrots 3/23, along with some “indicator beets”, which should germinate a day before the carrots, and so tell us when to flame-weed. Typically carrots take 9-12 days at this time of year, but I think the soil is still colder than normal for the time of year. They’re not up yet (day 8). It’s time we moved the soil thermometer from the flats on the heat mat in the greenhouse out to the carrot beds. [Why not buy another soil thermometer, Pam?]

We also got two beds of beets sown, with more to do today. And we’re ready to transplant our first three sowings of lettuce. That will give us some much needed space in the coldframe. (Not to mention some much needed lettuce in a few weeks!) The delayed outdoor plantings have caused a lot of back-up congestion in the greenhouse and cold frame.

Our over-wintered Vates kale isn’t looking too good, after the extreme cold weather we had this winter. And unfortunately our spring-sown kale didn’t come up, so we’re on course for a spring kale shortage. We can plant more collards, as we have lots of those plants, and maybe some more senposai.


The number of people reading my blog grew from a lower point in September, through October, November and December to a steady 4200 per month in January, February and March. That’s 140 a day. I’m very happy with that. My blog now has 88 followers. If you want to leave a comment, look for the button at the end of the comments section, or the speech bubble at the top right of the blog.

My review of Craig LeHoullier’s wonderful book Epic Tomatoes continues to be a very popular post, and I’m embarking next on a review of another great book: The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe

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4 thoughts on “Spring underway at last!

  1. I favor Premier kale over both collards and Vates kale for its smoothness and the plants’ hardiness. In last winter’s dry, extreme cold (I’m one county over from you, in western Goochland), I lost all but a couple of my fall-planted Premier seedlings in the field. This year, between the wonderful snow cover and a single thin layer of insect barrier laid over the Premier seedlings, I’ve had success overwintering the seedlings. I’m looking forward to harvesting those!

    • I’ve grown Premier in spring in the past, but not had luck with over-wintering it. We like the Russian kales in the hoophouse in winter – they don’t suffer from getting weather-beaten in there. We also tried Beedy’s Camden and Black Magic dinosaur kales this winter but I wasn’t wowwed by either for our climate. Our over-wintered Vates outdoors is recovering, but it’s so late in the season that it is preparing to bolt before making much new growth. Pam

  2. I love this blog and your book is on my Mother’s Day wish list. I have a question that you might be able to give advice on.
    I have just prepared a bed down the middle of my new hoophouse and I want to plant peas in the middle with greens on either side. I have seedling spinach, tatsoi, endive ready to go (we’re still getting nights in the teens, so I will wait another day or two.) My question is, with a east-west orientation will shade from the peas prevent the greens from thriving on the north side of the bed? Is it worth putting the greens in now, or would it be a better idea to wait until things warm up a little and transplant some warm weather crop, with the idea that the peas will be on their way out?

    • I’m happy you like my book! I wonder what your climate is like? With nights still in the teens, it sounds like it must be quite a bit cooler than central Virginia, because we are done with planting peas and spinach outdoors, never mind in the hoophouse. So, assuming it’s still too cold to plant these outdoors, then, yes, by all means, put them in your new hoophouse! It will be more shady on the north side of the peas, but this could actually be an advantage later, when it warms up. Usually we plant our tall plants on the north of the beds and have shorter plants “in front”, that is, on the south side. If your peas are a tall variety, they will also shade the beds to the north, not just the bed they are in. Is it too late to put the peas in the north-most bed? Pam

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