Berkshire Garden Journal: To plant veggies, or not to plant?


This is waffle time. No, I’m not referring to breakfast or one of Eagle food columnist Maggy Button’s recipes. I’m referring to this column. With the wild swings in weather of late, I’m waffling about making recommendations on planting, especially in the vegetable garden. The best advice I can give right now is to plant when soil is workable. I know, you’re wondering, "What does that mean and when is soil workable?"

A workable soil is one that is thawed, well-drained, i.e. no standing water or puddles, and is a little dry. To test the workability of soil, scoop up a handful and squeeze it. If water drips from your hand, the soil is not workable. If upon releasing your grip, the soil remains in a clump, despite some gentle prodding with your thumb, it is not workable. If the soil crumbles with a little prodding, it is workable. As such, go ahead with sowing seeds of hardy crops including peas, onions, beets, carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, endive, arugula Š well, you get the message.

If soil is not workable, head for the kitchen and make yourself some waffles.


After a hearty breakfast of waffles:

n Divide over-crowded clumps of snowdrops (Galanthus) as soon as they have completed their bloom. While other spring flowering bulbs should only be divided after they have gone dormant -- as indicated by the browning of their leaves -- snowdrops are dug and divided while their leaves are still green. Replant the divided bulbs in groups of three to five, about 2 inches deep, in flower beds or woodland settings.

n Shop for seed potatoes. Although I won’t plant potatoes for another week or two, I like to buy them early since supplies at garden centers dwindle quickly.

n Cut back the stem tips of leggy houseplants or those that you want to make bushier. Houseplants are beginning to put on new growth now that they are getting more sun, more natural humidity and increased warmth.

n Give containers of seedlings growing on windowsills a quarter turn every few days. This will keep the seedlings growing straight. Don’t let the seedlings get too large before transplanting to flats or larger containers. Otherwise, their roots get seriously entangled and are at risk of being damaged when separated. I wait until the first set of true leaves form and then transplant the seedlings. I don’t transplant onions and leeks growing in flats, except to plant them directly into the garden.

n Apply a dilute fertilizer solution, such as fish emulsion, to seedlings started indoors. Most gardeners start seeds in a soilless mix consisting of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, milled sphagnum moss or some combination of these. Such seed starter mixes contain little or no nutrients and a fertilizer application every two weeks will be necessary.

n Buy and plant dormant trees, shrubs and perennials as soon as possible, that is, when soils are workable -- I’m waffling again. In the landscape, these plants will acclimate and break dormancy in response to spring temperatures. On the other hand, waiting and then buying plants that have already started to grow poses some risk. These plants will be more prone to damage from late spring frosts and will also have depleted some of their stored food reserves, making root establishment a little more difficult.

n Inspect trees for broken branches. Fierce winds, some heavy, wet snow and ice in many parts of the county this week left numerous twigs and branches strewn about over lawns, sidewalks, and driveways. This is indicative of the damage trees have suffered. Cut back branch stubs on affected trees to the trunk or side branches. If such pruning requires getting up into the canopy of a tree, contact a licensed and insured arborist to do the job. Such work can be extremely dangerous and should be left to the pros.


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