Putting in a Spring Garden

Reader Contribution by Becky And Andy
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It was the end of February. We were boiling maple sap and setting up our first-ever mini greenhouse. The seeds had arrived from our catalogs, and the starter soil sat beckoning me from the edge of the kitchen table. Surely we could plant some seeds now?

In our part of Wisconsin, the typical last frost date is around Mother’s Day.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

Fast forward to the end of April, and the greenhouse in our living room was bursting with enormous tomatoes, lively cabbages, and stretchy cauliflower. I began watching night-time lows like an addict. The weather was evening out, but not near what we needed. I decided to put the cabbages out to start hardening them off.

First, we had to prepare the garden for new plants. This always involves weeding the raised beds and top-filling with compost. This year, we had enough compost for five beds. Next, we began planting cold-hardy seeds. We put radishes, lettuce, peas, and carrots into the ground. Later we planted the little Chinese cabbages in a bed all their own. They looked so relieved to be out of the little cups!

We still needed to top fill and weed three more beds. Down the road from us is a nursery that sells composted topsoil for 30 dollars per yard. While not cheap, the soil is black and loamy. And, having few alternatives (my dad’s farm across the road only had hot manure available), we filled the back of the pickup three times.

Having all the beds filled and ready to plant was a good feeling.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a suitable row cover for the Chinese cabbages in time, and the flea beetles found them. Flea beetles love spicy greens in the springtime, most notably radish greens and Chinese cabbage. Once they find the plants, a row cover is useless. I concocted a homemade insecticidal soap from a recipe I found online and sprayed all the plants. It kept the bugs off very well! Unfortunately the combination burned the tender leaves, and we thought we’d lose the whole crop. I felt like a parent that accidentally hurt their child — just terrible! In the next week I watched the little plants slowly recover, only to have the flea beetles move right back in and riddle the remaining leaves with holes. ARGH!

In desperation, I went to a local garden center and bought some OMRI approved insecticides. I really hate resorting to this because often they kill the beneficial insects as well. However, I am not sure the plants will mature without some help, so I am going to apply the new spray tonight. Hopefully this does the trick.

In the last couple days, we filled the rest of the raised beds with seeds, transplants and several good waterings.

Yet, our tomatoes still hang out in their little root-bound cups, waiting for their turn in the garden. Last night we had a frost again. In the forecast, it looks like the last one for the year. I’m trusting that forecast, because they are starting to suffer.

Tomorrow, our gardening partners and a retired couple who also garden in our plot will come to build four or five brand new garden beds. It will be a long, lovely day of construction, topsoil hauling, and planting.

This year we have three families growing with us in our 5000-square-foot garden. In the previous years I was mowing most of that land because we hadn’t had the funds to build it larger (most everything needs to be in raised beds due to poor soil fertility and heavy clay that does not drain well). This year, however, the garden will pay for itself for the very first time. We have five people who asked to form a CSA from our little garden!

A CSA! I’m so excited! After gardening for my family for ten years, I feel like I might have the ability to plant for others as well. I will have the much needed help and support from our friends who lived with us/gardened with us last summer, which automatically gives a boost of confidence.

Suddenly, crop failure or poor yields become a big deal. There will be a great deal of additional research on my part, but it will only help me to become a better gardener. I’m excited for the challenge!

As I look onto the garden this morning, the carrots, radishes and peas are well up and growing strong. The transplanted cauliflowers have put out new leaves, and my perennial flowers are beginning to form flower buds. It’s really spring in Wisconsin, and I’m so pumped for the new gardening year!

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