What a busy year 2012 is turning out to be! Back in February, it seemed that between work and the DuPage Derby Dames, and my band Disorder, that I would not have any time at all for gardening this year. Mother Nature, however, refused to be underwhelming this March. The last time that I recall experiencing 80+ degree weather in March was in 2005. But I was in Austin, Texas not Chicago, Illinois, where the records have been tumbling, mosquitoes have been biting and trees have been budding while it was still technically WINTER.
But, I am getting ahead of myself....
When I last wrote about gardening in E2, I had made bold plans to start my plants from seed indoors. I am pleased to have made good on these plans! I started my cold-weather seeds indoors in the basement in the middle of February. I have a heated seat-starter flat which has 72 1" plugs divided into 6 trays. The flat has a cover which makes the flat into a mini-greenhouse of sorts.
I seeded broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli raab and bok choi and within a week each tray had a number of sprouts. These members of the Brassica family require soil temperature of at least 70 degrees for ideal germination. I filled each plug with moist potting soil and seeded each plug with a half-dozen seeds. Brassica seeds are tiny and should be covered by no more than 1/4" of soil.
At the same time I seeded a flat with romaine lettuce and another with eggplant seeds. Lettuce seeds are also tiny and I had the opportunity to buy pelleted seed of this cultivar to allow simpler seeding. Lettuce does not require warm soil to germinate and I left this flat outside the seed starter tray. I also started my eggplant at this time. Eggplant is a warm weather plant but is very slow growing requiring at least an eight week head start before planting outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
The Broccoli Raab was the first to sprout in the heated flat and the sprouts grew very thin and spindly. Once every flat had sprouted, I removed all of the flats from the heated tray leaving only the eggplant tray. After sprouting Brassica’s thrive at an idea temperature of 60 degrees. I have a small shop lamp with a pair of growth-spectrum flourescent tubes that I use as a grow lamp. Within a week all of the sprouts were growing alarmingly thin and weak so I lowered the lamp within inches of the seedlings. This seemed to help as the seedlings grew their first true leaves thereafter.
A majority of the lettuce sprouted about a week later and, to my disappointment, only two eggplant sprouts emerged within two weeks. While my sprouts sat under the grow light, I took care of a couple of other gardening projects. My first project was to build a cold frame to put my sprouts outside into when the weather would be mild enough. The winter had been so mild that the ground had not been consistently frozen. The first opportunity to rototill would come soon.
My rototiller needed some attention so I dropped it off with a small engine repair guy to get a new carburetor installed and tuned. He was happy for the work as his revenues this winter from plowing snow and repairing snow blowers and snowmobiles had been far below average.
By the first of March, my cold frame built and the weather continuing to be mild, I decided to transplant the sprouts into larger pots. I think that I waited too long to do this. Or, I should have thinned the sprouts to a couple per plug. They were not root bound buy the sprouts had tangled up together. The broccoli raab sprouts were too fragile to separate. So I decided to start these sprouts again from scratch. These grow so fast that next year I think I shall sow them directly into the garden. The other sprouts I separated successfully and put them into the cold-frame during the day to harden them off.
Within a few days the weather had gotten so warm that I was propping the polyethylene sheet cover up during the day so that sprouts would not get too hot. I also was very happy to find that the majority of eggplant seeds had sprouted by this time as well.
A week ago the weather went from being unseasonably mild to downright warm. After waiting for with increasing impatience for a few weeks, my rototiller was finally ready. I picked it up on a warm sunny Saturday and was very pleased that I did not die on me once as I tilled the garden into fine fluffy soil.
Up until this weekend, I have resisted the urge to plant my seedlings into the garden. They would be able to live through heavy frost and light freezing but it is still very early in the growing season. If the ground were to freeze solid, which statistically remains a real possibility, the seedlings could be killed. But the record warmth has continued into this weekend and is expected to continue through for foreseeable future. So, I decided to drink the Kool-Aid and plant!
On Friday, I sowed the remainder of my spring crop. I sowed three 9' rows each of spinach, carrots, looseleaf-lettuce and golden beetroot. I also sowed 24' of peas along the eastern fence. Yesterday, Saint Patrick's Day I planted all of my seedlings. To protect them from hungry slugs, I spread diatomaceous earth around each seedling.
And with that, the spring garden is entirely in the ground! I will continue to lay down diatomaceous earth when rain washes it away, and water when it does not. The rest is up to fate.