In our high desert climate, April gardening is done indoors as much as outdoors. I typically start the vegetables that are not tolerant of the cold nights and occassional freezes indoors as seeds or seedlings in pots that I can transfer to the garden beds when we are past the danger of frost.
The garden beds planted with cool weather crops have sprouted, and the peas, kale, spinach, radishes and lettuce are up. I planted carrots, parsnips, beets, onions and potatoes in mid-April, but those have not yet emerged.
The perinnial herb beds are starting to come back, and we’ve had two cuttings of asparagus from the asparagus bed. The goats and donkeys are enjoying fresh chives from the garden and a little sage. The parsely is just starting to take off and the peas are showing promise.
As we end April, the potted plants indoors have sprouted and you can see growth daily.
Outdoors we see a little change, but more is going on underground than above ground.
You can buy Seed Tape versions of seed from many on-line catalog seed retailers and I now see it offered in local home improvement stores in the seed section each spring. The advantage of Seed Tape is that small seed types such as carrot, spinach and radish are properly spaced to reduce or avoid the amount of thinning you have to do when planting these tiny seeds straight from a packet. The downside of this approach is the expense. So I learned to make my own seed tape.
I’ve found this is great late winter, bad weather day activity. I can start “planting” my garden by planting the seeds in my seed tape substrate: Toilet Paper. Yep, that’s right, I plant my seeds in biodegradable toilet paper. I don’t want the expensive, extra layer, fluffy, quilted stuff for this job. I want that really thin, scratchy kind you’d find in a port-a-potty. It breaks down faster and saves money.
Later, when it is time to plant, all I have to do is bury the seed tape per the package directions with a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of fresh garden soil, water and wait for the perfectly spaced seedlings to emerge.
Seed Tape Supplies
Any kind of small seeds
Ziplock baggies or containers marked with type of seed tape to go in it.
1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
1 Cup Cold Water
Toilet paper – measured out in 2 foot lengths, very compostable type
Any Squeeze type bottle (you can wash out and use an empty mustard or ketchup bottle or find one in the travel container isle)
Funnel for pouring mixture into squeeze bottle.
Food coloring (optional)
Dissolve cornstarch in cold water and cook over medium heat until it boils and thickens. Mixture should look opaque and cling slightly to a fork before dripping off. This will be your “glue” for getting the seeds to stick to the toilet paper.
Let it cool and add a couple drops of food coloring if using. Adding the food coloring is actually optional, but it will make your “glue dots” easier to see. Pick a color that makes you happy.
Using the funnel, transfer your cornstarch glue to a squeeze bottle for easier application.
Using a 2 foot length of toilet paper, squeeze dots of cornstarch glue on the lower half of the strip. Space the glue dots as directed on seed packet for planting spacing. This is where reduction of thinning after planning is achieved.
Place a seed on top of each dot. Fold the toilet paper over and press seeds in. Let dry completely.
Store in a plastic bag or container until you are ready to plant along with the seed packet for planting directions and easy identification.
Notes: I typically use a plate and toothpick to handle the tiny seeds.. I put some of the seeds on the plate, and then dip the toothpick in a bit of glue to pick up a seed and then transfer it to a glue dot. Has always worked for me, but if you have better ideas or suggestions, please let me know.
The best dishes are made with the best ingredients. The freshest dairy, eggs, meat and produce create the most flavorful meals. Maintaining a fruit and vegetable garden is one of the best ways to obtain fresh ingredients. It’s a bit of a challenge to grow a garden where I live in the high desert. The growing season is shorter on “the hill” where we live vs. the valley of “in town.” The entire region is challenged with a shorter season than in warmer zones.
My garden is “at rest” in the winter, but the gardening never really stops. Over the winter, I add coffee grounds, homemade compost, trampled hay and shavings to the raised beds. I let this percolate under the snows of January and February. Organic matter is slowly breaking down on days when the sun allows a thaw. As soon as the snow melts off the beds and the ground thaws from its winter freeze the planting preparation can begin.
March is when the most active gardening really kicks off. First I start by removing all the dead leaves, pine needles and any other debris that has blown in with the March winds. If it is organic, I leave some of this material in the beds and turn it in. All the area round the beds is raked and kept tidy. This year, I had to wait until mid-March before the soil was soft enough to turn.
There is often still a layer of frost on the beds each morning, so I wait until evening and turn a bed or two each evening before the sun goes down. Once all the animals are fed and the barn yard is cleaned, I get out my pitch fork and take on the chore of turning in all the materials I have been feeding my beds over the winter. If I am diligent, at the end of a week, I will have all the beds turned and ready to add replacement soil. In the fall, I often lose soil to the harvesting and bed clearing as I put the garden to rest.
Next I haul in nice new bags of fresh organic compost and mulch and turn that into the beds. I smooth and level the soil in the beds, but leave it loose and ready to accept seed or seedlings as the case may be. Then onto repairing the irrigation system. Winter takes its toll on the above ground sprayer system I use. Generally a few connections or sprayers will spring a leak or get damaged from the frost. It typically takes me an hour or two with my repair kit to test the system, replace any damaged parts and get things functioning well again.
Then the fun can begin. I start gathering more materials for the now empty compost bin so it can begin to work as the days warm. Garden waste, manure and any trimmings from cooking that can’t be fed to the goats, donkeys or chickens go into the composter.
Next I get out my garden planner. I have a nifty sheet that I drew up and copied that is roughly the same layout of my beds. I keep a record each year of the date I planted items, how successful that was, and where the vegetable types were located in the beds. Each March, I plan a layout for my annual garden, always trying to improve on what I’ve done before. The notes from prior years really help, and are fun to keep and review. I have records back to 2009 now.
On March 31st I planted peas, Swiss chard, radishes, kale, spinach, and mesclun salad greens. After planting, I covered the beds with bird netting to keep our feathered friends from enjoying the tender young seedlings before they get a chance to mature.
The garden is fenced, but that doesn’t keep the birds, mice and lizards out. Our feral cats seem to keep the mice at bay, and the lizards don’t show up til it’s a bit warmer, but the birds are looking for those tender young shoots. A bit of bird netting allows things to mature nicely. I use irrigation tubing to form hoops over the beds and drape the bird netting over the hoops to keep it off the soil and emerging seedlings. Then I secure using landscape pins. This allows me to access the beds for weeding and irrigation adjustments.
As March draws to a close, and the early crops are planted, it truly feels as if the garden season is launched. I get excited about the April plantings and seeing those first seedlings emerge approximately 10 days to 2 weeks after the initial planting. Spring feels as if it has fully arrived, and even though the beds appear to be dormant, there is more going on than meets the eye.