Saturday, March 26, 2016

How to Have Earlier Harvests


Here in Utah spring garden chores are done in between an occasional spring snow storm.  But that's OK take advantage of the warm days spring does offer and you'll being eating fresh produce sooner than you anticipate. 

Plant Perennials

First if you want early spring harvest there are some perennials that give you early spring treats.



Rhubarb is a hardy perennial.  Today I harvested some stalks and will enjoy a rhubarb crisp. To harvest grab the stalks at the base and just twist.  Be sure to remove any flowering stalks. This dessert plant is one my favorites.  It's a beautiful lush plant.  For more info on planting check out this post:





Sorrel is the first crop ready in my garden.  It is a perennial green.  It does best in our zone with afternoon shade.  Sorrel can be added to salads but my favorite way is to use it in an omelet with Monterrey Jack or Swiss Cheese.  It has a lemony zesty flavor that I love. 



A sorrel, Monterrey Jack cheese omelet. 

Asparagus is another early spring crop.  Be sure to cut off all the winter kill from the previous season, weed the bed, put down a dry organic fertilizer, and put down a layer of compost.  Water any perennials in early spring on warm days if the soil has dried out.


Plant a Fall Garden

Planting a fall garden will ensure early spring harvests.  This lettuce was planted in the fall, it died back in the winter, and is already up this spring.  A couple more weeks and I can start harvesting off the plants.

Merlot lettuce

Butterhead lettuce

Bronze Arrowhead Lettuce

Kale is a perennial here.  I leave it in the ground through winter.  It dies back and starts new leaf growth in March.  I also replant new plants but you will have a very early crop of kale if you let it over winter.

Start Seeds Indoors

Getting an early start on spring crops by starting your own seeds indoors then transplanting out under a low tunnel gives you a two week or more head start.  You can then direct seed some of the same crops to lengthen the harvest.





Seeds I have started indoors include:  broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Pac Choi, Chinese cabbage, onions, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillas, dahlias, Impatients, and snap dragons.



Warm Your Soil

Soil temperature is what determines when seeds will germinate.  As the soil warms not only do seeds germinate but micro organisms awaken and the soil food web comes alive.  Critical to that food chain is compost.  These organisms are decomposers and compost and organic fertilizers are their food source.  

Other ways to warm your soil is to put a row cover or weed block on the surface of your bed.  You can plant seeds and then cover.  If you are using the weed block remove when the  seeds germinate.  A row cover can be left directly on the seedlings or you can construct a low tunnel. 


 
Plant in Raised Beds

Soil in a raised bed warms sooner than bare ground.  A sandy loam soil warms up sooner than a clay. I highly recommend using raised bed for most crops.  I do have a field garden that I plant in deep dug wide rows.  I use this for corn, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, melons, and grains.  



  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pruning Apples & Pears: Before and After Shots


Today we pruned our apples and pears.  Pruning can be intimidating for the beginning gardener.  I've done a few posts that I think are very beneficial to help you understand where fruit grows on apples and pears.  Understanding the fruiting habits of different fruit trees is essential before you prune because one of the goals of pruning is to increase fruiting not prune it all off.


After you understand where apples and pears bear fruit you are ready to prune.  I've written a post that I hope is simple yet includes enough information that you can confidently go out and prune with good results.



Here are the before and after shots of the apple and pear trees I pruned.

Before:

This is a Gala before pruning.

 After:  Notice how open the tree is after pruning allowing light in to develop the fruit.

The Gala after pruning
Before:


 After:




 Before: This is a Sungold with a very upright growth habit. It has lots of congestion in the center with crossing and rubbing branches. Half the tree suffered deer damage.



After:  I pruned this tree very heavily and opened up the center. I'm trying to encourage a more outward growth habit. The deer damage has left it lope-sided unfortunately.


Before:  
After: Once again opening up the center to allow light in.


Before: A pear with lots of growth that needs pruning.  Pears tend to grow tall and upright. The fruit will bend down some of the branches.


After: Taming the pear tree.  Lots of thinning.