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Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer



April in the Garden
A wet spring delays planting

by Carolyn Singer
April 10, 2010

CercisWith cold temperatures and lots of rain well into April this year I have not done much work in my vegetable garden. I know how much damage I can do digging in wet clay soil, even with all the compost I have added over the years.

However, I have spread one of the compost pile built on top of a garden bed last fall. Already, broccoli raab seeds from plants thrown on the pile began to sprout at the end of March. I would have judged the soil too cold for good seed germination, and waited until the sun came out. But nature knows best, and my reward will be earlier greens.

Another fall-built compost pile will be spread, and again without digging or tilling this perfect amendment will become the planting bed for peas. Because I added colloidal phosphate and oyster shell as I built the compost pile, no additional amendments are needed. The poultry mature that was fresh last fall, high in nitrogen, was an ideal amendment for composting the spent summer vegetables.

In late April, a portion of an area where cover crop is growing will be used for the next planting of greens. With a sickle, I will cut the cover crop. Another nearby compost pile will be spread on top, activating decomposition. This is one method of sheet composting. Instead of creating a pile, layer upon layer builds a planting bed. I've done sheet composting many times in the flower garden, especially where soil is too rocky to dig easily.

Some seeds, such as peas, may not germinate planted directly into cold soil. Even if you don't have a greenhouse or cold frame, planting seeds in flats or small containers may be more successful than sowing directly into the garden. Flats may be placed in a warm microclimate, such as on the south side of a building. Row covers may also be used to warm the seedbed and protect the young seedlings.

cherryThis year I may also make use of a heating pad for faster germination. When you do this, move the flats off the warm pad before roots make contact. Young roots grow quickly, so watch your plants closely. The heat may be drying, and damage young seedling roots.

Tomato plants are beginning to show up in some foothill nurseries. Gardeners are ever optimistic and always eager to get the jump on another season of growing this coveted vegetable. But winter still lurks out there in the Pacific. And at my elevation, I've had many a killing frost in May.

Getting an early start, my tomato plants are always grown in 2-gallon containers in a mix of compost, decomposed straw, alfalfa meal, kelp, colloidal phosphate and oyster shell. With this mix they grow quickly and plants are very healthy, with good root systems. Strong light is essential so plants do not get leggy. And until all danger of frost is past, these precious plants must be protected from any cold.

A cold and wet late winter benefits flowering shrubs. From the rich blues of Ceanothus to the vibrant magenta of redbud (Cercis occidentalis), natives color the April natural landscape in the foothills. In many local gardens, Spireas (Spiraea) species flower all month and into May with masses of delicate white blossoms. Forsythia 'Beatrix Farrand' started blooming in my garden in March and is still showy. This is just one cultivar available of several in this tough genus, a shrub that looks beautiful (see photo, below, left) once mature even without summer irrigation.

ForsythiaSpring-bloomers hold their beauty through heavy rain, snow, hail, and even sudden warm sun. April vegetables and flowers, and gardeners, have to be hardy!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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