Spring, COGgers, and Cloches
Spring in the demonstration garden means a lot of things: seedlings are sprouting, greens are growing, shot-weed has shot, volunteers are our saviors, onions are out, the wind is relentless, and classes are everything!
It's been awhile since our last post, and a lot has happened since. Peas, radish, carrots, beets, dill, and cilantro have been direct seeded into freshly prepped beds. Potatoes were planted two days ago into a bed that was mulched over-winter - teaming with life, plenty tilthy and perfect for planting. This year we chose to experiment with German Butterball, Rose Finn, Yukon Gold, and Caribe varieties of potatoes.
On another vegetable front, the onions and leeks have been transplanted, as well as our first bed of kale, both Italian and Red Russian. In the kale bed, you'll also find bunching onions and dill, beneficial to vegetables in the Brassicacae family due to their tendency to repel the dreaded cabbage fly larvae - a fat little green species of caterpillar that eats and poops all over many of our favorite spring greens.
For early spinach, we transplanted our first round this week, along with some very happy looking Golden Chard seedlings, grown from Wild Garden Seed. We'll also be direct seeding spinach (it usually does better that way) every couple weeks in succession for the next couple of months. It's always nice to spread the harvest, and it's easy if you leave room between your transplants for a direct seeded crop. As our first batch comes out, the next fills in.
All over the garden, you'll find beds in varying stages of preparation, from sheet mulches covered in burlap waiting to be forked, raked, and prepped, to beds planted and covered in floating row cover (a light poly spun fabric) which helps to mediate conditions (light, heat, wind), and offer a barrier to flying pests. As the row cover is pulled tight over wire hoops, the beds take on the shape of huge, white segmented centipedes. Other "season extension" demonstrations include a cold frame to warm the soil and get a jump on early lettuce, as well as a plastic cloche pulled over metal conduit, which will also warm and dry out the soil, providing a perfect cozy condition for the first tomato transplants of the season - still weeks away, to be sure, but it's nice to imagine!
Our office propagation area is filled with transplants! This time of year poses some "challenges" for our management of the seedlings. We need to move them from under the flourescent lights when true leaves begin to form, both because they need natural light, and because we need to make room for more seed trays. Once outside they are kept under a hardening off area, which in our case is a cloche with a floating row cover, AND a plastic cover. Any extra heat trapped during the day is helpful in buffering against the chilly nights. But during the day, with the recent blasts of sunshine, temperatures under a small plastic cloche can spike to well over 100 degrees in a matter of minutes. This necessitates frequent removal of the plastic (the row cover is good for wind and sun protection, so it stays on) or at the very least opening the ends to increase air flow. Sunshine and wind also necessitate more frequent watering, especially with plug trays or flats. The transition outside can be harsh for our young plants, so whatever we can do to ease the shock now will mean more robust specimens in the future. Some might say we fret over our seedlings ad nauseam. But we love it, and they seem to reward us for the attention.
Lastly, we were excited to enjoy all of this Spring productivity with our newest crew of Comprehensive Organic Gardeners, recent graduates from our "COG" class series which involves both classroom time and hands-on learning in the demonstration garden. We were lucky to pick some sunny Saturdays for the outdoor sessions - it was tee-shirt weather, and everyone enjoyed getting their hands dirty! Please check out the pictures, and stop on by the garden anytime to see the changes in action.
Class in the grass - our favorite way...
Laying out the transplants - leaving space for companion planting
Hoops waiting employment for early summer plantings (corn and squash)
Leek and Onion transplants under floating row cover.
Companion planting bunching onions with Kale
The plastic cloche (with metal hoops) - this gets hot!
Students transplant Kale into a freshly prepped (and amended) bed
Soil Building, and Double Digging demonstration
Comprehensive Organic Gardeners - "COG" Graduates