Spring, my goodness, she is a tease. In the south, she wakes up from her winter slumber with moody weather swings while releasing the fire ants from their hiding. But we praise our good Lord that the mosquitoes have not yet arrived, and we begin our garden work. For today, that means pre-spring garden prep and strawberry rhubarb jam bars.
At this point, our garden is a large hay covered pile of dirt with a few raised beds of garlic and onions, which help us hold that word garden loosely. Now the mudroom? It is a garden of seed starting trays making it very well known that they would’ve liked to be planted a week or two ago.
Early Spring Garden To Do List
For a warm weekend ahead, and at least two more wintery weeks between us and planting, we had a decent to-do list to tackle:
- Acquire load of topsoil/compost for all garden areas
- Plant new blackberry bushes from Grandpa’s
- Broadfork the potager garden
- Water nasturtiums, peas and yarrow
- Broadfork the vegetable garden
- Add amendments, now that soil testing results had arrived
- Add topsoil to vegetable garden
- Move hay to onions and garlic beds for next week’s cold weather
While we would’ve preferred to top our garden spaces with compost, our local provider’s compost tends to be hot, or unfinished. We lost multiple plantings last year before we finally purchased a soil thermometer and read into “finished compost”. We’ve purchased a tree and shrub mix that has a good combination of compost, topsoil and sandy loam. It seems to do the trick for our clay soil.
After filling the trailer, the first step was getting the blackberries into the ground that I brought back midweek from my parent’s farm. Years ago, they planted small blackberry bushes, and as blackberries do, they quickly and invasively spread. This was the year of reclaiming their garden area from the abundance of blackberry bushes that had spread – and it happened to be to my benefit! We’ve decided on a final resting place for our blackberry patch in our front yard, after moving the patch twice in one year due to 2021’s spring flooding. We picked an open, unused space in the front with sweet hopes of sharing spring berries with neighbors as they grow. Just another way the garden can grow community as well as food…
The Potager Garden
We quickly forked the potager garden and spread topsoil on our higher areas. The actual form for this garden is still in development as we let some existing grasses remain as fillers while newly planted perennials grow. If anything, it is more of a “walking garden” for now – just one I want to stroll through at the end of the day for last minute salad add-ins or herbs for dinner. It also takes the brunt of the barefoot walking and flower picking from our garden loving two year old. Little by little, I’ll add perennials here and leftover annuals from the veggie patch. It is that once space I want to dabble, but requires very little of me.
The rest of the to-do list would have to wait; it was most important to handle the addition of amendments to our vegetable garden. Our forecast showed a chance of rain followed by cold, which meant a perfect opportunity for soil amendments and motive to not be amending in thirty degree weather.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Midmorning, we took a break to come in for a snack – as most toddlers and pregnant mothers do. I have been trying to limit the amount of “crackery” snacks we eat from packaging after reading the ingredients disclosure on the back of one yellow fish cracker we once loved. Instead, I want to get us into the mantra of eating more of what you enjoy, as long as you’ve made it yourself. Luckily, I had bookmarked a post by @venisonfordinner for her “Use-What-You-Got Oatmeal Bars”. Her recipe called for a sheet pan portion of shortbread jam bars, but for our little fam of three, I knew a half batch would suffice on this spring afternoon.
I adapted the recipe to accommodate our small numbers, and the fact that the day before I found an abandoned bag of frozen rhubarb and had decided to make jam! Insert: “Strawberry Rhubarb Jam Bars”.
For the Strawberry Rhubarb Jam:
1 bag of frozen rhubarb
1 bag of frozen strawberries
¼ cup of honey
2 TB of lemon juice
- Place all the ingredients for the jam in a large pot without a lid.
- Allow the berries to melt, and stir to combine.
- Let the fruit mixture simmer, breaking up the large pieces of fruit with a spoon until smooth.
- Once most of the moisture has evaporated, the consistency has thickened and a spoon leaves a trail at the bottom of the pot when stirring, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Keep the jam in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
8X8 Sheet Pan Jam Bars
For the Bars:
2 cups of flour
1 cup of oats
1 cup of sugar
½ tsp of baking soda
1 cup of melted butter
A pinch of salt
¾ cup of jam
- Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, except the jam, and stir to combine.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper in a 9×11 pan (for many thin bars) or an 8×8 pan (for few thick bars).
- Spoon in all but ½ cup of cookie mixture into the pan and press into the bottom of the pan. For an 9×11 pan, you may want slightly more mixture reserved.
- Spread jam evenly. You want jam to the edges and very little cookie showing.
- Take the remaining ½ cup of cookie mixture, crumble slightly and sprinkle over the jam.
- Bake at 350F for 35-40 mins.
- Cool before slicing.
Note: I fully intend to make these with lemon curd in the summer, sliced cinnamon apples in the fall and leftover Thanksgiving cranberry sauce in the winter. The filling can easily be substituted for whatever spreadable loveliness you have on hand.
Pre-Spring Garden Suggestions
End of March is a great opportunity to add last minute changes to bed structure, soil texture or nutrient amendments before spring planting at the end of the month. Taking the time to do these last minute changes now means your garden will also have time to settle and absorb before planting time.
- Consider a soil testing: How to get an A&M Soil Test Step by Step
- Plan out seed starting: you don’t want your quick growing plants to become leggy, or your heat loving veggies to be too little!
- Look for spring perennials!
- Review our “Factors to Consider for a Zone 8a Garden” if you’re just getting started