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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One Potato Two Potato

Linda brought in the last two buckets of potatoes, one for her one for me last week. We stored them in the root cellar last fall and have been enjoying them up to now. We planted our new crop last week in the garden. You can either buy potato sets or eyes from a catalog (see the post “Ordering Seeds It’s A Joint Adventure”) or get whole potatoes from a feed store or farm supply store.  I received a new catalog in the mail called  “The Maine Potato Lady,”  they feature many kinds of potatoes, garlic and other crops and items. We also sometimes use leftover potatoes that have sprouted. The problem with using sprouted potatoes is that they have been cross pollinated and you never know what you’ll get. You can plant red potatoes and get white when you dig them up.

If you buy sets or eyes from a catalog, they will be ready for planting and only need to be stored in a cool dark place until then. When you buy the whole potatoes you have to divide them into eyes before you can plant them. First store them in a cool dark place for a few weeks so that the eyes develop, so you can see where to make the divisions. On the day you plan to plant them, cut the potatoes into as many divisions, each with at least one eye, as you can, making sure you have enough of the potato flesh to feed the developing plant. Then set the cut up potatoes cut side up in the sun to cure, it should take about a hour. When cured, the surface will be dry to the touch and will look as if it had healed over.

We bought thirty lbs. of potatoes to plant this year, ten lbs. of red, ten lbs. of white and ten lbs. of Yukon Gold. An easy way to plant a lot of potatoes is to make a trench with a hoe and then lay the potatoes cut side down, eyes up, then cover with a hoe. You can also use a trowel and plant each one in a hole down the row.  Mulch them heavily.

The longer the potato plants stay green the larger the potatoes will be and you will also have more of them.  In late summer the potatoes will start to die back.  You can leave them in the soil for a few weeks after the die off but, they need to be dug up before the soil gets cold and wet.  Potatoes left in cold wet soil will rot faster and will have bands of brown coloring in them.

Try to dig them up on the morning of a sunny day.  Put tarps on the grass then put the potatoes on them.  Let the potatoes dry in the sun for a couple of hours, then store them in plastic buckets, wooden baskets or what ever you have and then store in a root cellar or in a dark, consistently cool cellar or basement.  The potatoes will not turn green when treated this way.


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Of Cabbages and Kings

Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, pac choi, are all members of the cole crops, the cabbage family. These seeds can be started indoors in early to mid April. Plant them in six packs, two seeds to a cell in opposite corners. They will germinate faster if placed on a heat source. After they pop, immediately put them outdoors to grow, only bring them in if temperatures at night go into the 20’s. These plants are very frost hardy and will grow stronger stems if grown this way. You will have more robust and compact plants. If grown indoors and kept too hot, they will become very leggy and have weak stems.

Transplant into the garden as soon as they are big enough to handle. Make a row with a hoe, then lay the plants in the row, roots in the ditch with their heads laying out of the ditch. With the hoe cover the roots with soil, making sure the heads are not covered. Water well and watch them grow. This method makes for fast planting of many plants and is easy on the back and knees. Also works well with planting onions plants and potatoes.