A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate


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Old Timey Planting Guides

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In years gone by people planted their crops according to the cycle of the moon, sun and other visual signs. Here are a few of the signs they observed when planting.

Corn and Beans.

Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.

Lettuce, spinach and cole crops.

Plant lettuce, spinach seeds in the garden and  broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pac choi, Chinese cabbage etc. seedlings  in the garden, when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.  See also post,  “Of Cabbages and Kings”.

Tomatoes, early corn, peppers.

Plant tomatoes and peppers plants and early corn, when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when day lilies start to bloom.  See also post, “Tomatoes and Peppers”, on page 2.

Cucumbers and squash.

Plant cucumbers and squash seedlings when lilac flowers fade. See also post, “Squash Anyone?”.

Potatoes

Plant potatoes when the first dandelion blooms. See also post, “One potato, Two Potato”.

Beets and carrots.

Plant beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming.

Peas.

Plant peas when the forsythia blooms, when daffodils begin to bloom or on Good Friday.  See also post, “Peas Please”.

This information gleaned from “The Old Farmers Almanac” and the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Beware,  sudden prolonged warmer than usual weather may cause apples, other fruits and plants to soften early so that they will blossom and then get caught by a frost, which could cause the above signs to be off by a few weeks or more.   Such a hot spell forced my apples and blueberries to bloom too soon last year and they produced little if  any fruit.

A truism in zone 3-4 is never plant your tomatoes or other tender crops before  May 30th, no matter how warm it has been.  More that a few neighbors have not heeded this warning and have lost their tomatoes and tender plants and had to start over again.


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Planting In The Greenhouse

Over Memorial Day weekend Linda came over with her two daughters, Theresa and Elaine, and Elaine’s husband Dan, to plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. It was a perfect day to work in the greenhouse, it was cloudy and cool. You don’t want to have to work in the greenhouse for very long on a sunny day. Linda had planted cucumber seeds in the greenhouse the week before. The cucumbers are just emerging now and will soon climb up on the netting we hung from the greenhouse roof. As the cucumbers grow, we thread them in and out of the netting so that the plants can get a good grip on the netting and won’t fall down due to the weight of the cucumber growing on them. We also put down black plastic mulch to keep the weeds down, yes we have weeds in the greenhouse, and to keep the moisture in the soil. In order to get a jump on the season we started our summer and winter squash in pots a few weeks ago. we keep the pots between the cucumber rows until we can safely put them outside in the garden.

We have been planting the tomatoes in red plastic mulch for many years now. The red-colored mulch actually reflects infrared light wavelength upward into your plants, stimulation more rapid growth and development, according to the US Dept. of Agriculture, which developed the red mulch. You can buy Red Tomato Mulch form Gardener’s Supply Company, A.M.Leonard’s Gardeners Edge and Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

Slugs and pill bugs are the two pests we have to deal with in our greenhouse. I put down diatomaceous earth and escar-Go and I also try to capture a big fat toad to put in the greenhouse for the season. Toads really enjoy the greenhouse once it gets growing good.

We haven’t had a problem with white flies for many years now. White flies live in greenhouse environments and to get them you have to bring them in from another greenhouse, at least here in the frozen north. The best way to get rid of them with Catch-It-Traps, you can get from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

We use drip irrigation to water everything growing in the greenhouse in order to saves time and water. I have found that watering twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday evening, for one hour works well for us. See a past post, “The Greenhouse“.

Peppers in the greenhouse

Cucumbers in the greenghouse




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The Greenhouse

Tomato and pepper seedlings on shelf in greenhouse.

Potting bench in greenhouse.

West view of greenhouse.

South west view of greenhouse.

South east view of greenhouse.

West view of greenhouse.

South facing view of greenhouse.

These are pictures of the greenhouse in spring. Our greenhouse is really a garden under glass as we plant tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers into the ground rather than on benches like traditional greenhouses. MY late husband John built a smaller version of the existing greenhouse about 35 years ago when we realized that the season was too short for tomatoes to ripen. It wasn’t long before the greenhouse grew to it’s present size. Last summer we had to put on a new roof and rebuild the supporting structure, so now the greenhouse should last another 35 years.

We plant the tomatoes and peppers in tomato cages. The cages keep the fruit off the ground and make it easier to harvest. It’s a lot of work to set up the cages and drip line but it’s well worth it.

All our tender seedlings go into the greenhouse until they can be planted outside in the garden or in the greenhouse. Depending on the season, we can keep the tomatoes and peppers going until Thanksgiving. The cucumbers usually don’t keep growing that long. They tend to get mildewed and then we have to pull them out.

We grow the cucumbers on strips old blasting nets John brought home from work, he worked in construction. John and I were into conservation long before Al Gore was in diapers. Nothing goes to waist around here and everything is recycled over and over again. It either gets fed to an animal, put in the compost bin, or a good use is found for it. The greenhouse itself was built out of old storm windows John found at the dump or on the curb. (See a more recent post, “Planting In The Greenhouse, on page 1.


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April Fool

It seems as though Mother Nature was playing an April Fool joke on us. April 1st was 60 degrees F, with a warm southern breeze that made it seem even warmer, even without the sun. This morning April 2nd it was 19 F and snowing, with an arctic wind that made it seem a lot colder, even in the sun. March was so cold that I was unable to take the tomato and pepper seedlings off of the germination stand for more that a few days. One morning the front porch was 45 F. That’s when I decided to put the seedlings back on the germination stand. And so, I could not start the herbs and impatience. Easter Sunday morning it was 10 F and the Sunday after that 2 F. We had many nights in the teens and very little sun during the day to warm the porch up.

Last week the 6:30 geese arrived. I call them that because for many years now at this time of year they come flying in at about 6:30 every morning honking loudly while circling the pond before landing in the water. They stay until fall. Usually it’s a pair sometimes it’s 2 pair and one time it was 3 geese, I guess one partner didn’t make the trip. This year I happened to be gazing out of my upstairs window when I heard them coming, I watched with glee as they landed on the ice covered pond, usually by now the ice is gone, an saw them skid along the ice as if they were wearing ice skates. They walked around a bit in the slush and then took left. I’ve seen them fly over a few times since then, I guess their waiting for the pond to thaw.

The weather in zone 3-4 really can be trying. You have to just bid your time and plan for the weather to go against you anytime. Knowing how many seeds to start and having a place to put them until they can be put out into the greenhouse or outside is very important and more than a little tricky.