Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What's Happening in the Garden - Early April


The weather is warming up oh so slowly and a couple of nights ago, we had the obligatory April snowfall (or so it seems based on my April 15th post from last year).

On the whole we have been having relatively normal temps, with highs a few degrees above freezing and lows a degree or two below the freezing mark.  We have had a few below & above seasonal days, but not many.  I removed the thin layer of straw that I put on all of the empty beds last fall (I don’t like leaving the beds “naked” over the winter!) & the soil was thawed to a depth of about 1”.

Most of the snow melted away a few weeks ago (before this last storm), and only a few persistent patches remained where it had been piled exceptionally high.

Backyard - 1st week of April
 
Thankfully, this recent snowfall was short lived and it all melted within a few hours; even that patch you see on the right side of the photo is almost gone.
 
This year I want to see if I can get a bit of a head start on planting the early spring crops - peas, favas & spinach.  I have actually never done an early spring planting and really have no idea what the normal time to plant these out would be in my area.  The whole "sow as soon as the ground can be worked" business has always confused me.  I have read that this generally refers to 4-6 weeks before your last frost date, so that is what I am using as an estimate.  My last frost date is May 10th, so this would mean I should be sowing early crops from March 29 - April 12.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a big roll of 6 mil plastic from Home Depot.  My plan was to cover the beds that were to hold the early crops & hopefully get a head start on defrosting/warming up the soil.  With the plastic all cut & ready to go, I headed to the shed to get the rebar that I would use to hold the plastic down on the beds.  Of course, one of the aforementioned snow piles was right in front of the shed door.  I shoveled the snow out of the way, just to discover a thick chunk of ice that blocked the bottom of the door, so my plan to lay plastic on the beds was delayed.

Our temperatures continued to hover around the freezing mark which meant that little progress was being made when it came to the ice melting naturally.  I eventually got out the hammer and tried to break it apart – it's a tougher job than it seems.  I had thought that the ice would simply shatter after a couple of good wacks, but it was literally hard as a rock and each time I pounded it, a few splinters would fly off, but that was about it.

The ice looks deceptively thin from this angle,
but a 1-2" thickness was completely blocking the left side of the door
 
I did get maybe half of the ice off, but the door was still firmly shut – I didn’t want to damage the door or concrete pavers that the shed sits on, and quite frankly, my arm was getting a bit sore, so I left it alone for a few days and hoped that Mother Nature would take care of the rest.

On the last weekend of March, I was finally able to open the door and get the plastic onto the beds.  Unfortunately, plastic is most effective at warming up the beds when the sun is out and there was a decided lack of sunshine after the beds were covered, so progress was slow.

Late last week, the beds were only defrosted to a depth of about 3" (which was at least better than the uncovered beds, which were still at 1").  However, this past weekend we actually had some beautifully sunny days.  This did the trick, despite the still cool temps.  When I went out with my trusty stick yesterday evening, it actually sunk into the bed a good 6" or so.  Hurray!  The raised beds dry out relatively quickly so I don't think I'll have issues with the soil being too wet.  Looks like I will be doing some sowing this week.

Plastic Finally Laid on the Beds Last Week
 
See that orange bag of manure in the middle of the bed?  I put that there last fall thinking that it would be all ready to go for an early spring planting.  As it turns out, that was not such a great idea.  Over half of the manure in the bag is still solid as a rock and the bag is firmly frozen to the ground; meanwhile the bags I left in the shed are nice and soft & ready to go.  Since I took that picture, I have placed hoops on the rebar (which I also put in the bed last fall) and draped plastic over top - hopefully the bed will warm up & the manure will defrost in short order.

And lastly, I hadn’t even worked in the garden for an hour before I spotted the first potential casualty of the season.  When I was looking over all of the beds, this is what I saw on the straw covered garlic bed that was planted up last fall:

Unknown Burrow in the Garlic  Bed
 
That did NOT look good.  I have no idea who caused this – it could be rabbits, mice, voles…..who knows?  The critter chewed right through the plastic trellis that I used to hold the straw in place.  I dreaded what I would find once I pulled the straw back & was cringing at the thought of potentially losing some of those beautiful garlic cloves that I had purchased at the garlic festival last year.

The thick layer of straw does freeze over and get stuck to the bed, so it took several days to remove it, a few inches at a time.  Thankfully, the hole didn't extend into the soil.  It appears that the critter dug into the straw, perhaps as a cozy spot to escape the cold, and that was it.  I don't think it was rabbits as I didn't find any poop in the straw - and let me tell you, when rabbits find a good spot to hang out in, you know it - those little round balls are everywhere and there are a ton of them!

Anyhow, I was lucky that this time there was no damage, but I can't count on that always being the case so next year I think I will use chicken wire to cover the garlic bed.  Hopefully I can patch up the hole in the trellis with some twine and still use it this year.

According to the long range forecast it seems as if low single digit temps will persist into the middle of the month.  The average daily temperature by mid-April should be around 10C (50F) but our temps are forecast to be several degrees below that.  I guess the good news is that long range forecasts do tend to be wrong almost as often as they are right.  Let's hope they got it wrong this time.

Till next time…

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

12 comments:

  1. I'm really hoping our long range forecast is right and not wrong this time. They say Friday we will warm up and it will be about 60F(15C) for a week. That would be perfect. Of course we have some damp and cold weather until that. We might even get snow too, though probably it will just be rain.
    And I know what you mean about ice being so hard to crack. Sometimes it just pays to wait it out.

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    1. 60F sounds like heaven right about now...true spring weather. I would much rather not have to wear a jacket and gloves when I plant out my peas later this week.

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  2. We're still into cold and snow, so hubby and I took off for a little trip while waiting for the temps to settle a bit. I did sow a coldframe before we left on Easter Sunday, but doubt anything will come of that. It was old seed, so no big deal.
    Funny how sometimes ideas that sound really good in the fall don't turn out as planned. Live and learn, I guess. I would have thought the bag of manure would thaw quickly on just one decent day, but guess it didn't for you. Ah, the joys of fickle spring!

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    1. Live and learn is right...not only didn't it defrost but it was acting as an insulator on the bed, slowing down it's defrosting action as well.

      I hope you are both having a wonderful (and warm) time on your trip - and wouldn't it be nice if you came back to find a cold frame full of little seedlings!

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  3. We're having some glorious weather at the moment, unfortunately, it does make you get on with things which you otherwise would hold back on, like sowing the cucurbits which I did at the weekend. I'm hoping that I haven't done it too soon and that when the colder weather returns they won't suffer. I wonder what made the burrow in the straw. I would have suggested a hedgehog but I don't think you have them over there, do you?

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    1. No, the only hedgehogs we have around here are at the zoo! I do think that weather had a definite impact on how you get on with gardening tasks...when you have some great days, it's sometimes hard to envision that there could be a dip in temperatures just around the corner. Unfortunately, no worries of that on our end - right now it couldn't be more miserable outside - it's 2C and windy with freezing rain...I'm just hoping that my plastic doesn't blow off the beds.

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  4. This reminds me that I really ought to post a spring garden update one of these days... at this rate, it will be summer by the time I get around to a spring garden post! I've always been confused by the "as soon as ground can be worked" also... but I think it means just when the ground is thawed. Last year, I had great success sowing peas at the end of February and did that again this year - - our summers always come on fast and hard, so it's tricky doing spring crops because the beginning of May will be in the 70s and then the end of May could easily hit 90 or 100. But, it sounds like you don't have that problem.

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    1. I think you are right - I'm just a worried about putting transplants or seeding outside so early when there is likely quite a bit of bad weather still to come. As I mentioned to Jo above, it is just miserable outside right now - if I had seedlings coming up already, I'm wondering if they would survive the freezing rain.

      Temperatures in our springs/summers do increase fairly gradually & we don't usually hit the 90's until late June or July. Key word here is "usually" - with all the wacky weather in the last couple of years, who knows what this season will bring.

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  5. I think figuring out early planting times are always challenging. I know spinach is about as hardy as it gets and can usually take cold soil. I don't often grow peas as our spring weather heats up so fast, but I do remember them rotting before they sprouted if conditions weren't favorable. I feel your pain with the frozen bag of manure. My potting soil froze solid inside the bags and also inside the big trash container I keep it in. It took forever to thaw

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    1. I'm hoping to get the spinach in the ground later this week & will also try sowing some directly to see how it goes. I was also planning to sow the peas, but am worried about the whole rotting issue. Hopefully the plastic has warmed up the soil enough in their bed...I think this will be the perfect time to try out the soil thermometer I purchased a while back ;)

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  6. I've also wondered about the "as soon as soil is workable" concept - seems too cold still. But I plan to get a few things in the ground earlier this year just as a test (e.g.I have never seeded lettuce outside until mid-May but everything suggests I can do it now??). I think this is the first pic I've seen of your garden beds - nice set up!!

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    1. Thanks Susie! So it looks like both you and I will be doing a bit of testing when it comes to planting things out this early. It really does seem too cold, doesn't it, but you never know until you try. It would be great to get such an early start on planting (and harvesting!).

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