Written by Pablo Vimos – an Earthbites Facilitator
How do you know Spring has come? Everything is so green again!
Let’s look at some early plants you can get going in your garden to get a jump-start on the growing season. Spring Greens are an easy choice that do well in the cooler temperatures of Spring. They require little maintenance and are a great plant for beginning or expert gardeners alike.
What to plant:
Plant indoors early to mid-February for transplant to the garden in early to mid-March. Using organic potting soil and small transplant pots or peat pots, plant one seed in each pot. Water lightly with a spray bottle to not dislodge seeds or tender roots. Keep indoors in a sunny window so the soil stays warm and the nurslings have plenty of light. Keep soil damp at all times, but do not over-water or roots could rot.
Transplant outdoors in early to mid-March, once there is no risk of frost. As transplanting can shock the young plants, take your entire tray outdoors, in a dry but exposed area to “harden” them to their new climate. This will give them more time to adjust to their new environment with less risk of being damaged or dying during transplant.
Plant outdoors mid to late March.
Greens can be planted outdoors once the daytime temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius. This is the optimal temperature for the seeds to germinate. Plant seeds using square-foot garden method (video links above) to maximize the use of space in your garden. It is not necessary that spring greens are planted in a direct sunny location as they will thrive in only partial or even reflected sun.
Greens have shallow roots and like well drained, but moist soil. Your soil should feel slightly sandy or light. Take a handful of moist soil and squish it into a ball in your hand. If it stays in a ball, your soil likely has too much clay content in it. Mix in some sand and compost to increase drainage.
Prior to planting, aerate your soil well with a garden fork or trowel and tiller to break up chucks. Then mix in some organic compost so the greens have plenty of nutrients available. Remember that greens have shallow roots, so it is not necessary to mix in the compost too deep.
Watering: Greens like plenty of water, without being over-watered. Ensure the soil below the surface stays moist but that your plants are not sitting in standing water, as this will cause them to rot. The best strategy is to water lightly but regularly. Luckily the Spring often provides it’s own watering-a-plenty, but if the rains should abate for a few days be sure to get out there and check the moisture of your soil. It should feel damp at least the length of your finger, not muddy.
Weeds: As during any season of gardening, weeds will rob your plants of precious nutrients. While Spring weeds are not as plentiful as in the summer, they will still try to take hold as early as possible. Be sure to weed your beds regularly. Be mindful of weeds growing near your young plants. They may have intertwined their roots and so pulling them would dislodge your seedling. Instead take a pair of scissors and cut the young weed stem at the base.
Bugs: Spring Greens can usually go without much insect damage or infestation for quite some time, as the weather is often still too cool to allow most insect pests to flourish. However it is likely you will encounter some before you have moved on to other crops for the summer. While we can’t detail all the potential infestations in one short blog, Aphids are the most likely to come calling on your greens. Ladybugs are a natural predator for aphids, so be sure to not use any harsh insecticides that would hurt them. Instead, you can use a soap-based, organic insect spray on the leaves which will often deter them. You can also spray the aphids with a hose which will often dislodge them. If you do find an infestation, carefully remove the infested leaves and dispose of them in the municipal compost or somewhere far from your garden. Do not use your garden compost as they can migrate back to your garden too easily from there. Once the infested leaves are removed, treat the remaining leaves with insecticidal soap to get rid of any stragglers.
Stress: If at any point your plants become stressed, usually due to pests or lack of water or nutrients, they will likely “bolt”. This is when the plant begins to produce flowers and seeds. Because the plant will now be putting it’s energy into the next generation, it will sacrifice providing nutrients and energy to its own leaves. This makes the leaves go bitter and less tasty. If you see your plant beginning to bolt, you have two choices. First is to harvest the entire plant as soon as possible and make one last meal from it’s offerings. Second, let the plant flower and use the flowers instead of the leaves. Spring Greens’ flowers are wonderfully sweet and make a great addition to any salad.
Spring Greens can be harvested frequently and will regrow. For Spinach and Kale, harvest the biggest leaves as they grow and leave the smaller ones to fill out the space. Arugula and Mustard can also be harvested in this way, or you can wait until the leaves are mature and use the “cut and grow again” method. Cut the leaves down to 1″ in length and they will regrow in a matter of weeks, ready for another harvest (just like mowing the lawn).
Use your bounty of greens in our Mean Green Dip for a tasty, nutritious snack that your kids will love.
- Seedling Pots