Early Spring Zone 8a Garden Update
Follow along with our early spring garden journey as we establish our 1,000 square foot garden in Zone 8a!
We broke ground in the spring of 2021 on what we’d hoped to be our first established garden beds. However, the weather alone was enough to wipe out our plot in its entirety. There were other unknowns and mistakes that we made along the way, such as renting a skidsteer to clear our rye grass and not getting a border established before spring rains hit. In one week, 7 inches of rain rotted all plants. We had only planted two weeks prior. Our three raised beds of onions pulled through as one of our only crops of the year. The rest of the year was dedicated to land management and building up the garden for spring 2022.
2021 Fall Preparations for Spring
Over the fall, we added multiple yards of finished compost, goat manure, and a mulch of dried leaves and hay from a local farm. Luckily enough, there were ample border stones around our existing property to frame out our six rows into three beds. With a chipper, we shredded our fall tree trimmings and used the mulch in our walkways. We ordered a soil sample to our local agriculture office and made necessary amendments. With our dense clay soil, we had anticipated low nitrogen, but had hoped that incorporating manure would have helped some. Anticipating spring, we amended with bloodmeal forked into the top six inches of soil after additional compost was added.
Bed prep and first plantings
In March, it was time to rake back the hay, add it to the compost pile and begin our bed prep. For us, this would take several weeks. Not because there was extensive amounts of land to till, or steps to take. We are most limited by time and available hands. With a toddler in tow, there is a limited amount of time that tractors in the dirt pile allows me, and only the weekends and evenings with the additional muscle power of my husband. Slow going is putting it nicely. Since our ground was technically already broken (sigh), and dirt had been added in the fall, we started with broadforking. Do we have a broadfork? No, we have a 6 inch pitchfork. But it did the job, slowly. Broadforking is good for adding oxygen into the soil, as well as making the soil six inches down ready to receive nutrients. After forking, I added the bloodmeal, formed rows and topped them with some additional compost.
Onions were the first item to be planted, and three more raised bed boxes were added so crops could rotate and to make room for garlic and potatoes. We were slow to plant more with fluctuating temperatures.
Early Spring Frost Tolerant Plants
Our frost tolerant transplants of choice are:
We cover frost tender vegetables with caterpillar tunnels formed with rebar posts, pvc pipe arches and reusable plastic row cover. April, however, can be 75 F in the day (hot enough to bake plants) and 40 F at night (cold enough to damage heat loving plants). This year, we learned that hay mulch was sufficient for most 45 F degree evenings, especially for onions and garlic. Yarrow can tolerate -13 F degree temperatures, but will need more care once temperatures have reached the mid-80s. Lettuces, kale, peas and spinach were slow to grow during these colder temperatures but were not damaged.
Increase in Soil Temperature
While the outside temperatures continued to fluctuate into April, the soil temperature steadily increased. Once the soil reached 65 F degrees, noticeable plant growth began and additional nitrogen supplementation became part of our regular routine. (For more information on the nitrogen cycle and plants, watch this video!) We supplemented vegetables and flowers with fish emulsion, and our heavy nitrogen feeders like tomatoes, peppers and beans with additional bloodmeal.
Towards the end of April, the heat begins to increase and so does our amount of rain. It is a quick season of harvest for peas and lettuces, and a waiting game for all the other planted vegetables. Within the next two months, the whole garden should be in full swing.
Vegetables to Harvest in May:
- Garlic (end of May if planted in fall)
- Onions (if bulbing has begun end of April)
- Lettuces: making sure to harvest in the morning to prevent wilting
- Peas: a cool loving plant that will begin to fade as warm temperatures become steady
- Any additional overwintered spring cool loving vegetables
In this time of waiting, it is a sweet spot of enjoying fresh foods from the garden and a little bit of planning for preserving the summer crops. Mostly, we’ll enjoy as many iced coffees on the porch in these 60 F degree mornings… The waiting can be sweet.