I’m feeling very much like the white rabbit, late for a very important date, one that occurs eight to ten weeks before the last frost of the winter. I should have planted seeds a few weeks ago, but I didn’t, and somehow it is already March. At least I managed to hit a good day for planting, or so says the Farmer’s Almanac calendar for gardening by the phases of the moon. I recognize that it is folklore, and most of my seeds are going into pots, not the ground. Nonetheless, when I visited my grandparents’ farm as a child, there was always a paper calendar on the wall, and the phases of the moon were clearly marked for each month along with planting recommendations. It seemed both magical and mysterious, this celestial force that somehow influenced the soil and plant life, either helping or hindering, depending on the date. There is a bit of comfort in sharing a culture that believes the moon is working to the benefit of my garden, and, frankly, as late as it is in the planting season, I’m going to take all the help I can get.
The herbs, greens, and leeks can tolerate lower temperatures, so these seeds are going to stay in the cold frame until they are ready to put out in the garden. I use half potting soil and half compost as a starting mix, and I try to toss out any big chunks that might keep the little seeds from sprouting properly. They sell a seed starting mix that has very fine particles of soil, but I can’t bring myself to buy yet another plastic bag full of anything when there’s a full container of compost to be used. I learned last year that celery needs to see the sun to germinate, so that particular pot will be more carefully treated to make certain that the seeds remain on the surface. The little bamboo cocktail picks make wonderful markers. They have a flat area for writing, they have a nice, sharp tip for pushing seeds into the soil, and when put out into the elements, they will break down and become part of the garden. A tray is not necessary, but it does make watering a little easier, and the black color will collect some heat.
The flat is planted with heat-loving plants from the Solanaceae, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Every year I carefully record which seeds are in each compartment and then promptly lose the relevant scrap of paper. This year I have created a photographic record as well. (Winning.) The tray is heading to the basement where it will sit atop a cat warming mat lit by a couple of full-spectrum desk lamps. Special equipment exists for this task as well, but what I have on hand gets the job done. By the time everything has popped up, it should be warm enough to put the plants outside in the cold frame in the sunlight. Most of these more tropical cultivars can’t safely go into the ground until May, so I’ll do a series of re-pottings and keep them protected until the weather warms up.
This cold frame was an inexpensive, some-assembly-required, flat-pack item that I bought online, and it works pretty well for transitioning between the seasons, but needs to be surrounded with straw bales and covered with a tarp to keep things from freezing during the winter. Every now and again I go onto Craiglist, look at all the old windows people are discarding, and have delusions of building some gorgeous, bespoke planting frames with little solar-powered motors that open and close the lid as the temperatures change. Or maybe even a greenhouse. That one may have to wait until retirement.
When I finished with the seeds, I raked and hoed the weeds out of one of the plots in the main garden and sowed some radishes and arugula that should come up in a week or so. The vegetable garden is divided with lines of old bricks that serve as narrow walkways. Raised beds have become a bit of a trend in home gardening, and for good reasons. They are very attractive, sit up higher than the ground to allow for an easier harvest, and you can fill them with a perfect blend of soil for whatever you want to grow. They also, however, heat up much more quickly in the summer and dry out in a flash during hot days, so they require a lot of water.
Traditional raised-field agriculture is common in areas that are seasonally flooded, and the elevated gardens keep the plants within reach of water, but with dry feet to prevent rot. In areas where it is reliably hot and dry, farmers dig down into the earth reaching cooler soil, collecting precious rainfall, and getting closer to the water table. With our recent cold, wet springs and blisteringly hot, dry summers, I split the difference and kept everything at ground level. So far so good, although I will have to do some lifting of a few bricks this spring. We will see what Mother Nature brings us this year, and how well my strategy works in 2022. Meanwhile, I’ll watch and wait for my seeds to come up.