Sunday, November 24, 2013

Visualizing Spring Garden Planting During a NH Winter

Winter is the time to dream of Spring in NH, and that for me means Spring plantings for my back yard garden.


Winter Gardening

It is, for lack of a more specific indicator of insanity, Winter in New Hampshire. The cold has arrived and the garden and patio furniture is rusting beneath the snow. That friggin' family of squirrels that showed up last Spring is busy gnawing away beneath the eaves of the front door. Uninsured Massachusetts drivers are causing havoc in our streets. Wipeout has moved to a more frosty theme.
What better time to begin planning next year's garden?
With all modesty, this past garden season's production was far from bountiful for NH. Though the seeds for the peppers and plum tomatoes sprouted well, there were pitiful results. From ten plum tomato plants, we picked seven fruit. From the three peppers in the garden, two.

 Spring Planting in NH
I refuse to blame the bees, as we were engulfed since Spring with budding fruit that just never seemed to grow past a diminutive state. Our raspberry and blackberry canes leafed up, with a harvested result of less than a pint from the garden. The grape vines along the back fence saw growth, but little else. Strawberries? From the raised bed of twenty plants, we picked perhaps four fruit. We had to PYO in Londonderry to brew the cordial.
Even our generally voracious herb plantings spread about as much as frozen butter. Had we decided to plant mint, it surely would have died from lack of crowding.
Not good.
And it wasn't just our efforts. Neighbor's gardens to the left and right of us were having the same results, and reports were coming in from the Seacoast that similar patterns were emerging. With no explanation and little discussion, the season passed with a depressive cornucopia.It might as well have stayed winter.
The journey to a thousand harvests begins with just one step in the garden. With such grand notions in mind, I decide right now that I shall put the memories of Mother Nature's wrath behind me and, forever more, dwell only in the future. For that, my friend, is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.

The Farmer's Almanac predicts the last Spring frost for Concord, NH to be May 20th, so we can look to start seedlings in late April. As a note, if you haven't picked your 2013 edition up yet, do so. The article on brewing beer at home alone is worth the price. 
Preparing for a Spring Garden in Winter

There are mixed schools of thought on this, but I prefer to plant seed trays with only the amount I plan to use in the Spring. There's something deep inside that cringes to destroy a perfectly grown seedling just because too many sprouted. Other folks recommend starting at least double your planned usage and thin out the weakest ones towards winter end. Ethically, I find this plain evil, conjuring images of Mendel reading Darwin/Mengele in a cold, damp monk's cell and cackling madly. Foul, I say! Conspiratorially, it's the seed company's fault for spreading such falsehoods. "Use them all at once," they cry. "Rot and wasted money," they prophesize. Oh, pooh. Once opened, a seed packet's contents won't become useless for years, with proper care. No need to spend that hard-earned $1.25 again next year. Simply fold over the edge, paperclip to close, and keep it in a cool, dry, and undisturbed place. I use the junk drawer in my kitchen.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For now, just remember where you placed last Spring's cache, and let's move on. What exactly is going to go where in the garden?
To assist in planning, I've doodled out a mock-up of the yard with available planting space. By no means is this to scale, or carved in stone. It's simply a starting place to visualize what my aging mind has trouble holding onto.

Off the top of my head, I'll place the tomato plants in the three plots in the front yard. There's another hour or so more of sun there than in the back, and my in-ground irrigation will help with watering. If I've learned anything, regular watering does wonders. If done sporadically, the fruit will only split faster than a pair of corduroy pants with a worn seat.
In the back, I'm thinking of putting peppers in the ground, with another attempt at pumpkins. I've never found success with these elusive ground crawlers, but this might just be the year. Cukes, peas and beans will also have a space in the back bed. The strawberry patch could some new blood, and I'm planting carrots in raised pots. Keeping soil loose in a planter is infinitely simpler than in the ground. Other pots will host various herb groupings and bee-titillating flowers. Then last but least for now, a few more blackberry canes in the deep corner to increase yields in a year or two.
This all will change as winter crawls by, but it's a start. Now, it's time to start leafing through the virtual seed catalogs. I think I'll start here, with Amishland Heirloom Seeds.
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