In my opinion, the toughest part of pruning brambles that have primocanes and floricanes is figuring out which canes have gone through their two-year cycle and are dead. Second toughest is figuring out where the dead tops of everbearing raspberries start.
The solution to both of these puzzles is to wait and prune once the leaf buds have started expanding. At that point, it’s obvious at a glance which canes (or parts of canes) are alive or dead.
The bonus of pruning at this time of year is that it gives you an excuse to be out in the garden on stunning days without encouraging you to plant annual crops too early. (This is a case of do as I say, not as I do — we already have lettuce and peas and parsley and broccoli in the ground. Most of it is sitting there giving me the stinkeye for planting too soon!)
On an unrelated note, Mark and I just added half an hour of cover-crop content to our Soil-First Gardening course. If you already own a copy, you can simply log in and enjoy the new videos. If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, now’s a great time since you can use this coupon link to get 67% off through April 1. Enjoy!
If you have some broccoli seedlings maturing inside today is the day to set them free.
Broccoli is one of our biggest producers thanks to Anna’s careful planning and our new caterpillar protection method which blocks that seemingly harmless moth from making you nourish her young at the expense of beautiful broccoli plants.
Do you have friends jumping on the chicken bandwagon this spring? Then I hope you’ll point them toward my Getting Started With Your Working Chicken, entirely free in ebook form and dirt cheap even as a (brand new!) paperback. I think of this title as a bit like the bare-basics books at pet stores intended for folks impulse buying a new type of animal. The goal is to bring new chicken keepers up to speed in half an hour so they don’t get overwhelmed by the deluge of options right off the bat.
Meanwhile, we’ve been hard at work coming up with a new ebook in the Permaculture Chicken series. Building a DIY Chicken Waterer will launch next month, and you can preorder the ebook for a buck off. (There will be a paperback too, but I’m still working on it. As you can likely tell, the font size needs increased. Stay tuned for a preorder announcement soon!)
And, finally, the third chicken book on my plate this year is an update to Thrifty Chicken Breeds. Want to share your wisdom and win a free copy of the ebook? Just comment below with your favorite breed(s), a photo (which can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org if it’s hard to leave in the comment), and a short writeup of why you prefer the one(s) you prefer. If I use your info, you’ll get a free copy of the revised ebook once it’s ready to go.
(Oh, and in case you’re curious what Mark’s up to this photo, it has nothing to do with chickens. He’s adding a clear roof to his newest porch planter box to prevent roof runoff from swamping our crops. I’m hoping this will also make for an even lower-blight situation for tomatoes this summer. Stay tuned to find out if it works!)
I like to direct-seed leaf lettuce under a row-cover-coated caterpillar tunnel in early February, a holdover from gardening half a zone warmer than where we are now. Most years, those early lettuce either don’t sprout or sprout and perish. This year is the outlier that makes me keep jumping the gun. Lettuce planted on Valentine’s Day is well established now at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the more dependable way to get a jumpstart on the garden year in our climate is by starting seedlings inside. I usually go for all-in-one flats, but Mark bought me a bunch of smaller containers that fit into a flat and I’m getting a lot out of the mix-and-match approach. This way, I can start a flat of veggies that germinate at different rates, leaving the slow germinaters (like parsley) behind under cover while pulling out the fast germinaters (like broccoli). Then I can start more seedlings to fill in gaps atop that all-important heat pad.
I’ve even gotten into starting peas inside, but those I do in fifty-section flats because the seedlings have to be set out as soon as the tops are up. Here, I’m planting the first flat into Mark’s porch raised bed.
Seedlings are fun, but what about goodies we can eat right now? Most years are so cold up here that, even under cover, leafy greens perish before spring. This winter, in contrast was mild by our standards. A few kale plants are hanging on under the row covers while uncovered arugula is already growing and putting up flower heads. Looks like we’re having sauteed arugula for dinner!
If you have a solar pool cover lying around unused, it might be worth using to preheat your garden soil. We had the pleasure of seeing one in action this past weekend…
…and were impressed by the results. Under the pool cover, soil was 43 degrees on an overcast day. Outside, the soil in an otherwise-identical raised bed was 39 degrees.
Is that enough extra warmth to start your spring crops now? I’ve always tried to jump the gun using the absolutely minimum germination temperatures. Based on that, the soil under the pool cover is warm enough for most spring crops.
However, I generally get very spotty germination when I plant so early. No wonder since, I learned this week, peas planted at 42 degrees will take 36 days to germinate!
We’ve gotten into starting unconventional seedlings inside as a result, but more on that in a later post. For now, that old truism about planting peas on Valentine’s Day — we won’t.
Frost pockets are real (and so are anti-frost pockets)
Mark and I picked the last tomatoes and peppers today in preparation for what might be this fall’s first frost. But will it be?
Back when we lived at the bottom of a hill in Virginia, we could count on cold temperatures dropping least as low as the forecast, sometimes five degrees colder. Up here on a hilltop, in contrast, the opposite is true. A week and a half ago, with a forecast low of 33 F, we only got down to 38. Driving out that morning, however, I saw frost a mile and a half away as soon as I reached the bottom of the hill.
So will this week’s forecast low of 28 freeze our crops? Only time will tell.
Water — the downside of hilltop gardening
Of course, hilltop gardening has its downsides too, the primary one being water. In the summer, I can feel the groundwater dropping out from under us. No matter how much water I add to our garden beds, the soil is always thirsty. The ground cracks. Plants are slow to grow.
I used to say that you can always add more water, but you can’t take water away. While that’s true, I’ve yet to figure out how to add enough water to keep our garden happy without spiking our monthly bill out of sight. I’m hopeful that continuing to boost our organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity, but there’s a lot of truth in the saying “high and dry.”
This looks like our very first post, but it very much isn’t! We just hopped over from an old blog to a new blog to make our lives easier. If you’d like to enjoy old gardening posts, you can find hundreds (thousands?) here. If you’re an old faithful subscriber, be sure to update your RSS feed!