Plants may not wear a watch, but they know what time it is
It’s March and days are ripe and sunny enough for a patio lunch downtown. Other days bring wind and snow and winter boots out of the closet. Seriously, is there really anything a newbie gardener can do outside this early in the season?
Sarah found out by accident that there is plenty you can do early. She attempted to plant her spinach in May with her other garden crops a couple of years ago and then found out, by surprise, that spinach could tell time. Perhaps not time the way people measure minutes but certainly plant time, as dictated by the sun and the moon.
When the days got longer close to summer solstice on June 21, Sarah’s spinach, barely four leaves old, suddenly bloomed and went to seed. She was devastated because spinach is one of her favorite foods and it was finished for the season before July.
The following spring Sarah’s garden was full of spinach even though she didn’t plant any. The spinach had sprouted all on its own after her previous crop went to seed. The lesson learned is that in nature, spinach seed is planted in late summer or early fall. Gardeners can imitate this now by scattering seed early in spring when we are still have patches of snow and frost and ice on the ground. Spinach sprouts quickly as the days alternate between warm and cool. The best sites for early seeding are south facing walls where the soil warms against the building and the surface of the soil dries enough to rake in the seed.
It is most efficient to plant spinach in patches, 30 to 60 cm wide, instead of in single rows. You never want to stand on muck – and there will be mucky soil in early spring – so plant early crops on the edge of the lawn, or by a walk.
“The lesson learned is that in nature, spinach seed is planted in late summer or early fall.”
Other early crops like cilantro, bok choi, kale, collards and arugula are also planted as soon as the warming soil can be worked. Garlic is planted as a clove, preferably in fall, but if you missed that window and you have bulbs sitting on your counter or in your fridge with tiny green tips emerging, get it planted. Because garlic needs a deeper frost-free soil than the seeds mentioned, it can also be started first in small pots on a windowsill or under lights before it is moved outdoors in later April or early May.
It seems early but the life emerging outdoors isn’t all on patios downtown. Buds are swelling, birds are arriving and ladybugs are stirring from their overwintering sites under leaves. Gardeners need to jump to action and get planting early stock soon or they will miss the early edible boat.