As the snow clears I find myself chomping at the bit to get out into the garden. About a week ago we started our first seeds under lights* in the basement. We have been rewarded with tiny cabbage and broccoli, brussel sprouts, and leeks and onions as well as a smattering of annual flowers. I probably started the zinnias and marigolds too early, but that’s life! A couple of shoots from a new dahlia popped through the soil yesterday and I could hardly be more excited.
Until this afternoon when I went out to the yard, too restless with spring fever to stay indoors and began prowling around the garden. We’ve had snowdrops since the last snow melt. Now they are joined by early crocus, scilla, and buds on the earliest Dutch iris! I greeted the first shoots of delphinium, found hundreds of tiny, self-sown larkspur, the coreopsis and coral bells. I took stock of the roses and noticed the swelling lilac buds. I found the buds and first flowers on the hellebores (Lenten Rose). I rejoiced to notice that an entire border of dwarf snapdragons has returned along with a few tiny sweet alyssums.
I found a few tiny living nubbins from last year’s final planting of lettuce and spinach. They were still alive. Perhaps they will start growing again. The Red bore kale is starting its third season with a few leaves nearly ready to harvest, yum yum! Early garlic shoots are poking through the mulch. And the parsley is sending up new stems.
Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and, kneeling down, grabbed a handful of soil. I squeezed it tight. When I opened my hand, it seemed to crumble apart. My heart was pounding as I repeated the experiment. Success! The soil in this bed is nearly ready to work. When the soil is ready to work, it is called friable.
Tomorrow, on the New Moon, I hope to go out and plant our earliest lettuces, spinach, arugula, and pok choy. I may try a first planting of sugar snap peas. Maybe carrots!
In my sandy soil, spring comes early. If your soil is heavier, wait until it passes the squeeze test. Take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a fist. Open your hand and see if the soil crumbles apart. If it does, it’s ready! If it holds the shape of your fist, it’s still too wet to work. Working wet soil, like walking on it, compacts it, first turning it muddy. Then it bakes hard. It may be challenging, but the wait is worth it.
*To start seeds under lights, use a light potting soil mixed 1/3 to ½ with compost. This year we filled small pots and planted several seeds in each, covering the seeds over with a bit of soil. Then we waited. We started with cold-weather plants, the broccoli family (Brassicae) germinated within a couple of days. The rest took a few days longer.
Once the plants germinate and you see tiny green shoots, turn on the lights. We keep the lights on a timer so they shine for 16 hours daily. We suspend them from light-weight chains hanging from the ceiling. Using chains makes it easy to adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow. Keep the lights about 2-3 inches above the plants, or less!
We try to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before planting them outside. But once they get three or four sets of *true* leaves, we begin to harden them off by putting them outside in a sheltered spot during the day, and bringing them back inside at night. Hardening plants makes them strong and able to withstand wind and weather. The closer they get to planting, the longer we leave them outside.