Early Spring Planting & Hardening Off Seedlings

The weather is warming starting today.  Yesterday’s updated forecast called for 65 on Tuesday, now it’s 64 on Monday and Tuesday, plus fifties for the rest of the week.

It’s time to think about the early spring direct-seeding schedule and garden clean-up plan.  There’s still lots of detritus from last year’s garden to be pulled down, pruned off, and composted.  I am going to move my longer cattle panel trellises again this year, and they have to be in place to get the sugar snap peas going.

I do have a few panels where I need them to be, so I can get peas going on those, but for the rest (nine sixteen-foot sections of panel), I’m going to have to remove the wire holding them to their t-posts, drag them to their new locations (not all of which are determined at this point), and pull the t-posts out of the ground from the old beds.

Spinach will go in before I do any of this.  It’s too susceptible to our fast warm-ups to wait on planting, but luckily I have a few clean beds in the mulched-down west side of the garden where I can sow that crop.  After spinach, there’s radishes, arugula, turnips, broccoli raab, salad mix, plus early carrots and beets.

Weeding is going to be a bit of a problem in some parts of the garden again this year–last year’s lack of labor help resulted in a lot more weeds going to seed than I care to admit, so some beds are going to need serious cleaning.  The worst areas will be hoed shallowly as soon as the first weeds start to sprout, then mulched down and used as transplant beds.

The stinging nettle had already started coming up before the past week’s cold snap, so I’m going to have to set up a rain barrel with a lid into which we can dump the clumps we dig out, so they can make a nice nettle tea for a micronutrient drench and spray for the garden plants.

Not sure how this will affect flea beetle infestations, since they like nettle (and other garden plants) so much–maybe the rotten nettle scent will be a repellent rather than an attractant?  We’ll see.  Most of the early crops (except peas and spinach) will go under row cover anyhow–to protect from the harsh elements and the early insects.

So much to think about!  I should probably start that broccoli and early cabbage today–it should be warm enough this week to start the hardening-off process with the leeks and onions, which is simply bringing the flats outside during the day when it’s above fifty degrees (it should be warmer for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant–above 60 for tomatoes and above 65 or 70 for peppers and eggplant).

When hardening off, keep the plants out of direct sunlight for the first few days (it’s much stronger than regular lights), and don’t bring them out if it’s super-windy.  Give them a few hours of outside weather at a time, bringing them in at night and on chilly mornings.

Some plants are more susceptible to chilly temperatures than others.  For celery and celery root (and a few other sensitive plants–check your seed catalogs), the hardening-off process should not be done by lowering the temperatures, but instead by reducing watering and setting the plants out when the weather outside settles into summer.


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