Gardening is now in full swing for many people, as the snow has melted, the grass is showing green. By now spring pruning is done on fruit trees and a few shrubs that flower in the fall. Never prune spring flowering shrub branch tips this month because in doing so you will cut off all flowering buds. Here is pruning lilacs on U-tube. But that doesn’t mean you cannot cut out the mass of growth at the base of a shrub you want to tidy up or thin out, or even branches higher up.
A word about pruning. Make all cuts at 45 degree angle tight above a bud on a branch, pointing sheers outwards in the direction you want the branch to grow. Cut away all crossing branches. Open up the centre of the plant to let the sunshine in. But this is not the time to shave the plant all over for a neater look if it blooms in the spring. Okay for fall blooming shrubs, who make flowering buds later in the season.
Wait to uncover your roses until the Forsythia is in bloom (its branches turn yellow). Open the air holes of protective rose huts, however, or the heat will build up too much under styrofoam or other types of protective covers over roses. Watch the weather report, and on really warm days take them off, but if there is a threat of heavy frost, recover.
Now is the time to rake the lawn to clear it of fallen tree twigs or sticks blown about by winter winds. If you have a lot to do, save some work by using a tarp instead of a wheelbarrow, a fairly big one that you spread out. Rake all the debris onto it, then haul it away to dump off in an area where over time the leaves will break down into compost. Smaller areas may not give you that option.
Snowdrops have been in full bloom for a week now in this area, with their shiny little white blossoms peaking above some snow. If you want to thin the crop and move to another area to build up more plants at a later date, use a marking stake right away to outline the area where they are blooming. The plants need time to die down and build strength in their bulbs for another season. Yes, you can go ahead and dig them up in small clumps to move a few anyway, even if in bloom, Better than pulling them all apart for single bulbs. Make sure you leave lots of roots with soil on them for best results. They are so hardly.
If you want a veggie patch this summer, now is the time to plan it first, to choose the right spot for it watching for shade patterns over your property. Vegetable gardens should have full sun all day long. Also you can grow a lot of food in a small space, so even a 8 x 10 patch or better 10 x 20 patch will be ample. You choose the size you want, but plan to make your rows so that the sun does not cast shade on plants beside each other. I tend to plant north to south, but you check your own area. You can put the tallest plants like tomatoes in an outer edge row and then next tallest, and so on extending outward to the shallowest rows as one example. The sun rises in the east here to settle in the west arching overhead from the southeast. But also remember you can grow some plants upward, like beans and peas on a frame so put them with the taller plants.
If you plan to garden for more than one year, then divide your garden in two, so that you keep the root crops together in one area (i.e.carrots, parsnips, beets), and the above ground crops (lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, in the opposite side. Each spring alternate position in the garden, so that there is no disease build-up or depletion of nutrients from overuse. Keep a main walkway through the middle along the top and bottom for weeding. . And if you need a water barrel, chose a corner for it. For vine crops which take up a lot of room, separate your squash and cucumber plants so they do not cross-pollinate, if you can. You can grow pumpkin or squash in the corn rows. You will need a fairly large block of corn rows for pollination. I keep corn and potatoes and big vine crops in another garden, not my main vegetable one, cause they take up too much room. Don’t grow them at all if you have only a small patch.
I always enjoy planning my vegetable garden on paper long before it is time to dig the whole garden bed. Usually I do that digging work in the fall, but there is no rule here. If not then, then do it in the spring to loosen the soil and mix in a fertilizer, maybe sheep manure. I am concerned about chemicals in animal feed and antibiotics with cow manure. Fresh manure is too hot and can damage plants, so buy the older bagged type, or compost your own for awhile. Don’t forget to add soil ammendments or think it not important because all success in gardening is the quality of the soil and sufficient moisture and sun.
After digging the whole area you want to plant, adding nutrients, removing sod, level the garden now with a rake, and get out stakes to mark rows. Now you decide whether you will have several rows close together, like peas with a portable fence between for the vines to climb up. I prefer the seed tapes for some vegetables so I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinning plants once they are up. Run a chord between top and bottom of a row to keep your efforts straight, and then lightly dig a tiny trench in which to plant and then cover over the seeds in the ground. The bigger seeds are easy to do that way, but the tiny seeds can just be planted on top of the soil and then pressed in. Water well afterwards, and keep the rows slightly damp for germination. I use a drip irrigation system in the biggest garden, or put a lawn sprinkler on a stand in the middle of the main garden bed, and letting it move back and forth spreading a light mist of water over the whole bed. After seeds have germinated, you can slow down the watering as the plants grow. No hose? Use a can and just water the rows from the barrel of water you have stored nearby
Finally, some serious gardeners build raised bed with wood and plant the whole area with one crop, maybe two. You can do single rows in them of course. Don’t invest in this until you really know gardening is for you.
You don’t have to have a big garden outside. I am using big pots on my deck this spring, which I discuss in the March blog. I’ve already had one big salad crop to enjoy from those few cups of lettuce plants. More tips coming from a lifetime of trying all kinds of things. Lots of U-tube videos to help you, and I screen a lot of them before settling on one for each subject that I recommend here in these articles.
If you are a brand new veggie gardener don’t try broccoli or cabbage the first year as they will invariable have a lot of worms for you to deal with. Stick with the old faithfuls such as salad crops and carrots and other leafy greens. A tomato plant or two (cause there are the big beefsteak types and the smaller salad little ones so sweet to the taste). Onion, lots of them and different types, but most of us just plant the Spanish bulbs.
You will find planting marigolds in the garden and using them with rows of onions around the perimeter will ward off a lot of nasty critters, like slugs and flies and bad bugs that want to feast on plants. My next blog in March will share what not to plant beside each other, to name a few. It is called companion gardening.
I want to mention water. City water has a lot of fluoride in it, not healthy for plants. If you put water in a big barrel or a jug on a window sill in your house, the fluoride is killed by sunlight within hours. I know fluoride is recommended to prevent tooth decay, but it can have a negative effect on your gardening efforts. I want less chemicals in my body and food, not more.
Starting Seeds & Indoor Gardening
I’m an avid gardener, having enjoyed spring preparation for many years. I have had two greenhouses during my life, and offered gardening skill in landscape design. Now as a senior I have to make a lot of adjustments as my physical ability declines. The pleasure is still there, only on a much smaller scale. There is always something more to learn, and gardening provides that.
The method is simple: Buy a packet or so of seeds, learn if each seed has any special requirements to germinate (cold treatment; nicking; soaking, don’t cover) then find something to plant the seeds in. It is better to use a sterile starting mix inside rather than regular soil to prevent problems with insect and what have you in that soil. Put a strong light about 2 inches above the seed containers. Keep the area warm, and the soil damp. Wait, between 4 to 28 days for little shoots to appear.
My indoor garden at two weeks of age – March 12, 2021
Leaf Lettuce on left side, and one row of cucumbers in cups on the right. The front cucumber was wilting, and only needed watering for it to brighten up. That is what the bottom cups are for, to catch the drips or water the plant. The cups are reverse colour co-ordinated cause I am using a different soil mix, and want to see if it makes a difference in growth. Seed starter is for beginning seeds. I use a soil potting mix when I transplant.
Note the little thermometer on the left side. 30C. so the room is warm. I cover these shop lights at night to ensure darkness from a street light outside. The timer for the lights is set for 16 hours on; 8 hours off. I will drop that in another week or so once to about 14 hours lights on as soon as all plants are growing well. Germinating is a period when a lot of bright light is needed by the seedlings.
Once there are about four leaves on the plant, I begin fertilizing. I am watering now about twice a week, and will use a very weak fertilizing solution. Use a dissolvable fertilizer powder in water for these tender plants. Since I haven’t any fertilizer at the moment with a high middle number for phosphorus to push root growth, I’ll just use what I have (20-20-20), but I will reduce this as soon as I can. The first number, Nitrogen will really push leaf growth. Then I’ll strengthen that solution of a more suitable fertilizer as the plants mature and begin to use up the nuturients in the soil. I’ve turned on a fan very low in the distance to keep the air circulating, to prevent the development of mould from the dampness. The fan’s hum blends sounds for easier sleeping.
Remember to raise the lights as the plant grows, keeping the same 2 or 3 inch distance between plant top and lights. Transplant the seedlings into a bigger pots when the plant roots nearly fill the container. By then it should be warm enough outside and time to move all plants to their permanent location. Water in well.
I just remembered that half the world is experiencing a different season than here in Canada. Whenever you have winter that is too cold for plant growth outside, enjoy growing plants inside instead. You can do it any time of the year, but spring is perhaps the most enjoyable.
Not much happens in the dark days of November and December here in this country. January and February are the hardest winter months in Canada, but the light starts to get better slowly and spring seeding begins in greenhouses. March is a very busy time for indoor gardeners. Snow disappears and people are outside raking lawns and digging beds by the middle of April, although cold and wet is common. The soil gradually warms up and dries out and planting begins. I like to get cool crops in the ground as soon as the ground can be worked in April, such as peas, spinach, early lettuce. But a late frost will wipe out plants such as tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, which have to be protected a bit longer.
Before starting seeds inside, I usually get a calendar and mark back the weeks on it from the date in which warm vegetable crops usually go into the ground in my area and frost has ended, the third weekend in May here in Zone 5.
Some plants take a lot longer to grow to maturity than others, like my geraniums, which need 14-16 weeks so I am a bit late getting them going on Feb 28th. But dwarf Marigolds only need about six weeks to germinate, grow and flower, so I will wait until April to start them.
Each plant has a natural maturity date, and knowing that gives us an idea when to begin the seed inside. That maturity date is usually marked on the front of a seed packet. How much growth do I want on the seedling before planting it outside? If I have to transplant it more than once, that make a lot of work. Do I have enough space and lights inside to support bigger plants? So the timing of when to germinate a seed is helped by a chart for reference .Most plants are started inside in March in this area, but are not mature when they are moved outside and into the garden in late May.
I am not referring to farmers, who have to get started as soon as the ground can be worked because they have so much land to plant.
When it gets physically harder to bend down, have someone raise the gardening beds or pots up to your waist level. Get a chair to sit on as you plant or weed. Always wear gloves when handling soil to prevent pin worms. Use this time to sit in the sunshine pouring in a window to prevent depression. Our bodies need sunlight as much as plants do.
The advanced gardener can add a lot of detail to this introduction, but there are plenty of U-tube videos and books to explain all that. Remember a few things when buying seeds. They may be too old to germinate or have gone dormant in the room temperature of a store. Check the package date to get fresh seed. Secondly, do you really want to start 100 seeds in a package? Why not choose a packet with fewer seeds, currently about 45, or 13 in a packet of geraniums I just got.
Put all the packages of seeds you have purchased into a glass jar with tight lid, cause you want to block out moisture. Put the filled jar into the crisper at the bottom of your fridge and store them there as you study or get busy seeding. I’d check the temp there, but the chill won’t hurt the seeds and may be the fresh stimulus they need to grow.
At this stage of life I am no longer starting flowering perennials, like Delphiniums, which I would have put in the freezer to break dormancy. The lettuce seed I bought in a strip, and just planted exposed on top of very damp mix in an aluminum pan, and sprayed daily to keep moist. They did well, and I have just transplanted them a few days ago.
I enjoyed watching a U-tube video of growing lettuce slips in large plastic cups, and alternating harvesting the leaves between the pots of fresh leaves for a salad. Shall give it a try. Miss my chickens, who used to enjoy handfuls of greens from long rows of lettuce, spinach. and swiss chard during the summer.
Leaf Lettuce at two weeks of age – March 12, 2021
I like to test germination by putting a few seeds of a packet in damp paper towels, then roll them up and put in a labelled, plastic bag. Keep warm and keep checking after a few days to see the seed response. Most seeds I usually soak for 24 hours before planting, but it isn’t necessary. Simply lift the white germinated seed carefully from the paper towel, plant and water it.
I need a planter box for my deck in which to grow lettuce, green onion sets for fresh salads all summer long. Two big pots will handle the cucumbers and tomatoes and two urns will be flowers. I am not a fan of vinyl siding on anything, and pricing is over $200 in major local stores for a planter box. In the old days, I would probably have just made one, but I gave away my skill saw and most tools, and am dependant on the market. Vesey Seeds in PEI have a nice one in a wheelbarrow shape with wheels, but a bit small. Wheels can be a real help in moving things for anyone whose strength is failing.
Aging seniors think about weight of everything when buying, and the distance you have to walk to get to and from the aisle of interest. I wish stores would put benches around their stores for us to rest on. We would shop longer, if they did. I used an electric shopping cart in my recent trip to get more gardening supplies and glad it was fully charged.
I love parsley not only to clip all summer long for the kitchen, but because it makes such a lovely, neat, edging plant. I prefer the curly version.
I’ll buy a mature tomato plant at the garden centre in May. I only need one plant now. It was started long before March. It should already be well staked.
I did decide to start cucumber seeds and will need a tower for them to grow on. I just learned there are all female flowering cucumbers that climb upwards, than other varieties that sprawl. I do not like Straight Eight cucumbers because they become bitter too easily. Since I don’t pickle, or can (preserve) anything anymore, I looked for slicing-type cucumber seeds with the shortest maturity date on the package. Maturity means cucumbers ready to eat.
I kept two, four-foot shop lights I can use for gardening. They each have their own power chord that I plugged into a new, outdoor timer in a power chord. The timer has two, three-prong slots. Really nice, instead of using two timers.
The expensive Grow Lights died awhile back, so I have alternating blue and pink florescent tubes, that seem to work well. It may not be the best system, but was certainly far cheaper. On a pension I have to think about that now. I lost my wooden blocks I had used with the lights, so I simply took some books or videos to put under the shop lights and the plant trays to raise or lower the distance between light and top of plants, as needed. Never hurts them.
Whatever works and is at hand, cause I rarely go out to the stores now, and often order online to have things delivered to my door. I thought I was done gardening. First time I have ever gardened on top of my fireplace mantel in front of a street-facing window, but that ensures my plants get lots of light. A simple lamp might work over a plant, but be very careful of the type of bulb used, cause the heat could kill the plant, or start a fire. You can buy a grow light for a single lamp.
You don’t have to have shop lights. There are better lights now available. But growing transplants on a window sill without supplemental lighting will tend to make plants spindly, as they stretch the stems to reach the limited light. You can still do this of course, as I have myself over the years but you will have greater success in plant growing if you provide a lot of extra light. Get to know which plants prefer less light naturally, and you will have greater success in your gardening.
Also remember your directions. South windows are naturally brighter and plants here will do better than on north window sills which are darker. Similarly east windows get more morning sun than west ones do, who get the afternoon light that is fading. I’m watching the shade pattern on my new deck, to know where to put my table and chair and the plants. Will I need a canopy? I prefer to sit in shade and there isn’t any in the evenings since my deck faces west.
Some plants are very finicky about being transplanted, so have some peat pots for them so you don’t disturb the roots when moving the plant to a bigger pot.
Even if you are lying in a bed helpless, someone can bring in a pot of bulbs just emerging from the soil, and you can enjoy watching the plant grow and bloom. Do you know someone who would be encouraged if you did that? It is a choice every day to enjoy life, or not. We only have this moment, so let’s enjoy it and quit worrying about dying. Life is to be lived and enjoyed. It is attitude and choice, wherever you are, whatever age. I had to give myself a hard talk like this, and one day I decided to garden again, and I am better for it.
Geranium seedlings at two weeks of age – March 12, 2021
I used the largest peat pots for the cucumbers who have been transplanted into big red, plastic cups one buys for picnics. How many years did I use white, styrofoam cups for many seedlings transplants. It is very important to punch holes in the bottom of these containers, so water drains freely. What haven’t I tried over the years. Got a little tray from the Dollar Store for these bigger peat pellets, which I have not used before. I used the smaller size for the parsley seed. I had two boxes of pellets and wanted to use them up.
So that’s it for this session. I may blog again in a few days. Took photos of my seedlings and will do this from time to time to record the growth of the seedlings I am starting. I enjoy keeping a record of things. I make charts to alert me when to expect certain things to happen or things I need to do. I record all stages of growth, and the flowering schedule all summer long.
The parsley seed still under the lights hasn’t germinated in 14 days, while all the other plants are leaping up in good growth. I have three geranium seeds which also have not yet woken up. I had to lift the parsley seed tray high up on blocks to be close to the lights, which I had raised above the lusher growth of lettuce and cucumber.
Flip this upside down and its a great seat. Glad I kept mine. If it is too hard, just put a pillow on top to soften it.
Was I happy this morning when I uncovered my urns on the deck and found little daffodils tips in sight coming up through the soil. I had planted these pots last fall not sure if they could handle the thaw/freeze that might occur, but looks like some made it. Spring. It’s coming!
Now that my indoor garden plants are doing well, I need to review how to raise these crops. After reading my notes, click on the green colour link to view a U-tube video that I found helpful.
This is an easy plant to grow. Once mature, you can snip it any time, but leave the inner core and a few leaves, so it will spring back in a few weeks so you can do it again. Have several of these plants for snipping in between times. The entire plant is edible. The seed of this plant is coriander. Once this plant does set seed, it begins to die. You can grow parsley all year round. Extend the life of a plant by cutting off the seed stems when they start to grow.
I didn’t use boiling water over the seed when it was planted, nor a heat mat under the seed tray to speed germinate, so it wasn’t until the third week that the little plant appeared. Half are up now. 21 days germination normal.
Do not plant parsley near alliums, onions especially, and also not near lettuce, because parsley may cause it to bolt early. I moved the lettuce and parsley plants apart on the growing shelf under lights to keep them separated, not that I noticed any negative reactions just yet. So many things are invisible in the plant world.
There are two types of geraniums, annual and perennial and most like to grow in full sun. I have loved perennial blue Cranesbill geranium in my flower beds for years. This year I am starting annual zonal geraniums, Bottom heat helped speed germination, and all but three of the plants are up and growing slowly within a week and a half. They do need a long growing period to get big, which is why I started mine in February. Whatever am I going to do with 10 plants in my little apartment, when I only need two for my deck? Give some away of course.
I must confess I have only grown cucumbers in my vegetable gardens, where they could either sprawl as they wanted to, or climb up a portable fence depending on the year. I did learn to keep picking cucumbers away from slicing types, but this growing season I will see how well I can train the shoots to go upwards on some form of strong support. The roots are shooting out the bottom of the red cups, so I am already wondering what to put the plants in before the final transplant into a big pot out on the deck. Or should I let the plants sprawl down the sides of the pot? I had thought of training them along the top railing on my deck. Maybe I will try both ways.
What is new? I read I should plant the cucumber seed on its side for germination. Haven’t done that before. I did wonder why one plant had a deformed leaf in its first growth. From somewhere I learned it may have been caused by soil too dry as it sprouted. That is a surprise cause the peat pot had been watered thoroughly before planting and the other two seeds came up fine. All other leaves except that one have grown fine and fully formed. But I cannot see inside that peat pot, which may have dried out faster than the surface revealed. The cucumbers are leaping in growth and I need to transplant them. It is Day 22 since they were started. They will produce fruit within two months.
Will I get pollination by bees this year as I am up off the ground? Or will I have to hand pollinate? Shall have to watch for that when flowers appear on the plant. I take a little paint brush and brush the inside of each flower, passing back and forth to distribute the pollen.
Lettuce is easy to grow, but I’ve tried germinating it in the vegetable garden covering the seed with a bit of soil with success, and uncovered indoor under lights, just keeping the seed damp. It responds best to exposure to light, in my opinion. There are many varieties, either mainly loose leaves or tightly bound heads. Lettuce grows in both sun and light shade, and does well intercropped with other plants.
I am growing more and more concerned about pesticides, cause several times over the last two years, lettuce was one of the crops here in Canada that was added to a danger list for Romaine types. It somehow got sammonella and was withdrawn from grocery shelves. I even asked Walmart employee one time about the situation, when the store had lettuce for sale while still under warning. “It’s quite safe, ” I was told, but didn’t trust the response.
So growing my own crop helps me feel safer. But do I really understand how lettuce can be contaminated? No I don’t. I figure it must be the soil, or the water used. But if you buy packaged soil, isn’t it okay? Water in city taps is full of fluoride to prevent bacteria growth. But I don’t want to drink all that chemical or pour it on my plants. So I put out a jug of tap water on a sunny window sill and the sun will kill the fluoride in 24 hours, from what I have read. Most of us like our water cold to drink, so that jug can go in the fridge and I’ll have another one in its place. Just trying something to do until I get a better set up with drinking water. Hauling home heavy jugs of water simply won’t work now.
Day 24, March 20, 2021
I just planted green bean seeds in the three peat pots that did not germinate geraniums. Didn’t soak them, and the seed is a year old, so I put two seeds in each unit. Beans are prolific, so I’ll see if I’m going to enjoy fresh beans all summer long on my deck this year. Hadn’t planned to do this, but didn’t want to waste those lovely peat pots. The biggest ones. These are bush beans, not the vine type. Now, I know this is way too early to do this cause they don’t need that long to grow fairly big and need to be transplanted. It will all work out.
I have seven parsley plants growing slowly now. Only about half germinated so that probably means it must have either been old or dead seed, because I had planted twice in those same peat pots. At least I have some. Gave them some light fertilizer with a spray and did the geraniums as well. That nutrition will be absorbed rapidly through the leaves.
The leaf lettuce and cucumbers are leaping up and I keep raising the lights over them and watering about every third day. Wish I could plant them out permanently, but need more potting soil for the big pot I plan for them. The garden centres will open by the end of the month so I can get some supplies.