A Gardener’s Year by Kris McCue

Someone recently suggested that I post a calendar of sorts, what should be done and when during the gardener’s year.  I found something of this sort at Rodale’s Organic Life, written by Amy Goldman in 2010,  which I am going to reproduce here as an edited version.  I am adding my own comments [in brackets with BFA first].  If you wish to see the original article go to http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/monthly-garden-calendar-northeastern-united-states

First, because it is March and we should be starting onions and cold-loving greens, here is a site where you can type in your zip code and it will calculate your customized planting/seed starting dates:  http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/what-to-plant-now-zl0z0903zalt

From Rodale’s Organic Life – An Almanac For Organic Gardeners In The Northeast with additions by me…

January

Devour Garden Seed Catalogs. Favor those that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge not to knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.  [BFA:  Source seeds from local growers so your seeds are already acclimatized to our region and will embrace the growing conditions here.    Look for growers who work at regenerative soil management – minerals and microbiology please!  If you get a chance to try some Biodynamically raised seeds, do so, and if you are not familiar with Biodynamic Farming do some research on it.  They take organic and regenerative to a whole other level.]

Stay Natural. Take the Safe Seed Pledge yourself, by deciding not to grow genetically engineered varieties in the garden.  [BFA:  Choose organic seeds whenever possible.  You do not need chemical residues enveloped in the genetics of your seed stock.]

Healthy Heirlooms. Grow heirloom and open pollinated varieties instead. [BFA:  This is very important so that you can save your own seeds!  You want to be able to save seeds to help preserve diversity, to save money by not having to buy as many seeds each year, because it’s fun to share seeds with friends and family, and to have seeds that will grow plants already programmed to like the conditions in your garden.]

Keep Track Of Your Garden. Buy a garden journal and a garden planner and make good use of them.  [BFA:  I like a desk-top calendar as a garden planner.  I like to see a long-term plan at a glance and not have to flip a lot of pages.]

February

Decide on Seeds. [BFA:  Do inventory of your seeds leftover from last year and that you saved from your own garden.]  Finish selecting this season’s seeds from mail-order seed catalogs.  [BFA:  Place seed orders early so you don’t miss out on varieties that you really wanted but maybe were in limited supply.  Good idea to order potatoes and sweet potatoes early too.  And don’t forget to order some Mycorrhizal Seed Inoculant!  Seed packages have too many seeds for your home-garden space?  Or maybe you want to grow 10 kinds of beans but don’t want to buy 10 packages?  Have a seed ordering party!  Get together with gardening friends and do a bulk order together.  If 4 of you want the same kind of beans you may be able to order a large size packet which you all split and get a better price than 4 of the small packets.  When your seeds arrive open up each packet and sprinkle in a pinch of the Myco Seed Inoculant so they are ready for planting come spring.  As long as the seeds stay dry the inoculant will not activate and will stay viable.  Store your seeds in a cool dry place as usual until you are ready to plant.]

Who Doesn’t Love Lettuce? Start some lettuces and leafy greens [BFA: like kale, spinach and arugula] indoors under lights for an early taste of spring. Start onions and leeks indoors, too, as well as slow-growing flowers that need 10 to 12 weeks before transplanting outdoors.  [BFA:  Soak your seeds right before planting in lactobacillus inoculant for an added microbial boost to your plants.  If the seeds are too small to handle you can water them into their trays with the inoculant.  When choosing flowers try to choose some that attract beneficial native insects and pollinators.]

Pruning Party. Prune raspberry canes and fruit trees while they are still dormant.  [BFA:  For a great winter read and advice on orchard management I recommend any of Michael Phillips’ books on holistic orchard care.]

Here Comes Spring. Spring is not too far away now. Make final decisions about what to grow in this year’s garden.

Sketch It Out. Do preliminary sketches of your garden. Take into account adequate spacing, crop rotation, and succession planting.  [BFA:  Make sure to include the most diversity within each bed as you can.  Do companion planting – they will benefit each other above and below ground.  For suggestions on pairings:  Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte, and Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte.  I have heard it recommended that you aim for at least 5 different plants as companions within each planting space.  You can mix them up or you can do rows, whatever suits your style.  If you can add a perennial into each planting space that is very beneficial as well.  Strawberries or herbs or perennial flowers are great additions because they keep something that is living in your soil at all times which is very important to the biology living in the soil.]

[BFA:  Don’t miss the Fedco Depot order which is shipped the first week of March.  You can go in on a bulk order to get pallet-rate shipping which is a fraction of what you’d pay to have items shipped to your home.  Ordering heavy items like bagged soil amendments and seed-starting soil is affordable with the bulk shipping rate.  Depot orders from Fedco Organic Growers Supply Catalog only, does not include seeds.  Website:  https://fedcoseeds.com/ogs/  You will need to create a Log in, then when you check out you are given the option to participate in the Depot.  The CT Depot is at the George Hall Farm in Simsbury.]

March

Cool Crucifers. Start seeds of cool season vegetables such as cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli indoors under grow lights.  [BFA:  Remember to soak your seeds in a lactobacillus inoculant before planting, or water them in with the inoculant.]

Starting Seasonal Veggies and Flowers. Towards the end of March or early April, you can also start peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes from seed.  [BFA:  Be sure to soak your seeds in a lactobacillus inoculant before planting.  David Forster, head agronomist for the BFA recommends you cut  seed-starting times on the seed packets in half.  Better that you start seeds a little closer to their planting out date and put them out a little on the small side rather than start them early and have them get leggy or root-bound.  No where in nature are plants subjected to transplanting.  When you start seeds in pots you run the risk of the roots growing to where they touch the walls of the pot which is a signal to the plant to slow down growth as it’s hit an obstacle.  You do not want to create a condition where the plant will slow down growth as you’ve now lessened it’s ability to reach its full natural potential.]  You’ve got the go-ahead to start seeds of cool season flowers such as larkspur, snapdragons, coleus, statice, and verbenas indoors under grow lights. Cool season vegetables like peas, radishes, mustard greens and spinach can be planted in cold or warm frames (cold frames with heat cables or another heat source).

Prepare Your Beds. If the soil is dry enough, and only under that condition, prepare garden beds for planting. [BFA:  If you have not tested your soil before, or you forgot to do it in the Fall, now is a good time to take a sample and send it to a lab that tests for a wide range of macro-, micro- and trace-minerals such as Logan Labs in Ohio.  You can download the form at http://bionutrient.org/soil-test.  There is a local source (Harrington’s Organic Landcare in Bloomfield, CT) of soil testing as well, and along with minerals they do tests for the living elements/microbiology in your soil:  http://harringtonsorganic.com/organic-land-care-services-hartford-county-connecticut/soil-testing/] Does the soil crumble in your hand? Turn under winter cover crops and add compost.  [BFA:  We do not recommend tilling but if you must, only disturb the top inch or two in depth.  Cover crops can also be killed by solarizing with clear plastic played on top, weighted with rocks or sand-bags, and left for a day or two, just long enough to sun-bake and smother the plants on the surface; do not leave it long enough to kill your soil biology down below.]

Herb Garden.  Many herbs—including parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme—can be started from seed now.  [BFA:  Try to choose ones that are particularly good at attracting native pollinators.]

[BFA:  Late in the month when the soil is dry enough to be worked is a good time to add minerals, especially the water-soluble ones, before planting begins.]

April

Seed Starting. Start seeds of warm-season vegetables like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes the first week in April. These will be ready for transplant into the garden in late May. [BFA:  Remember, David Forster of the BFA recommends starting your seeds a little closer to planting out time than most seed packages recommend.  David starts them ahead in half the number of weeks stated on a seed packet.]  Start seeds of herbs, such as dill, parsley and basil, inside through the end of the month, as well as flowers like zinnias and marigolds.

Save Your Soil. Prepare your garden soil once it has dried out and crumbles easily in your hand. Till in green manure crops that have wintered over.  [BFA:  No till is best but if you have to till keep it shallow – only disturb the top inch or two of soil.  Add your minerals and rock dust powders now if you have not already done so.]

Seed Savvy. Direct seed into the garden cool season vegetables and flowers including carrotsbeets, peas, parsnips, foxgloves, and hollyhocks. Set out hardy seedlings such as onions, cabbage, leafy greens, pansies and snapdragons. Harden them off for a day or two by leaving them out in a protected area.

Potato Preparation. Pre-sprout potatoes two weeks in advance of setting them out in the garden to give them a head start.  [BFA:  Unsure about “chitting” or pre-sprouting your taxies?  Go here:  http://www.groworganic.com/media/pdfs/potatoes-l.pdf]

Dig In. Dig, divide and transplant perennials, like asters, that bloom in summer or fall.

May

Seeding Time. Direct seed beets, plant potatoes, and cabbage seedlings. [BFA:  Unless you are going to direct seed outside,] warm-season vegetables, like melon, cucumbers and squash, need a jump-start inside three weeks before planting out around Memorial Day.

Tender Annuals Tip. Memorial Day is also the safe planting out date for tender annuals, dahlias, and tomatoespeppers, and eggplants.

Spring Cleaning. Finish the spring cleanup, topdress garden beds with compost, [BFA: and seaweed!  Be sure to mulch your beds so as not to have much bare soil.  Use shredded leaves, straw, seaweed].

Projects For Your Garden. Begin garden construction projects like pergolas and retaining walls or erect fencing and trellises.

Reminders of Winter. Assess the deer and frost damage, and replace affected trees and shrubs with hardier stock.

Flower Power. Enjoy spring flowers like peonies and early roses. Lilacs always signal Mother’s Day in my garden, and make a fragrant bouquet for Mom.

Asparagus Action. Pick those long-awaited first asparagus spears.

Move your house-plants outside for the summer.

June

Finish What You Started In May. Keep busy planting annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees.  [BFA:  Be sure to top all your bare soil with some mulch to keep the moisture trapped in and also to keep it dark and damp for the biology in the soil to be happy and thriving.]

Keep Your Garden In Shape. Do routine maintenance: water, *weed, *feed, thin, and *cultivate. [***BFA:  Rather than yank out weeds, make note of what kinds of weeds you have and learn from them with a guide like When Weeds Talk by Jay McCaman, or Weeds:  Control Without Poisons by Charles Walters, or Weeds and What They Tell Us by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer.  Weeds are actually telling you something about your soil – specifically what minerals are lacking as those weeds are mining them from the depths for you.  To remove weeds, chop and drop!  Cut them at ground level but leave the roots in the soil because they will feed the biology there as well as make channels for them to travel, and they will break down and leave channels to aerate and allow rain to get deeper into your soil.  Regarding feeding your garden, do not “fertilize” your garden – that is the job of the biology in the soil and they will have all they need from the rock powders and minerals you’ve added.  You may want to foliar feed your plants on a regular basis however, especially until you get your soil balanced and the biology there really activated.  Foliar feeding is misting the foliage of your plants.  Use liquid mineral blends from natural sources, such as organic molasses for a good carbon source as well as minerals, organic raw milk, water that you’ve soaked healthy weeds and other plant trimmings in, etc…  Regarding cultivating, remember that if you have a healthy, active soil biology they will do any tilling and cultivating that is needed.  Keep your soil covered so the worms and other insects and various other microbes will cultivate your soil and feed your plants a steady diet of exactly what they need.]

Don’t Forget To Deadhead. Deadhead spent flowers, and pinch back eggplants and chrysanthemums to encourage branching.

Vine Borer Battle. Keep vine borers away from vining crops by wrapping aluminum foil around the base of the stems, at soil level.  [BFA:  As your soil becomes more activated with biology and your minerals get balanced, your crop plants will have what they need to produce their full potential of nutrition which will include proteins and lipids that insects cannot digest so insects will not attack your plants.  Healthy plants give off a different signal than sickly plants, and the frequency of sickly plants is what attracts insects.]

Harvest Time. Harvest peas, strawberries, leafy vegetables, and radishes.

July

Pest Prevention. Be vigilant about pests and intervene early. Handpick or use organic sprays, as needed.  [BFA:  Remember that pests only attack sickly plants so keep up with the foliar spraying including milk to help repel insects.  If you practice companion planting you may notice that certain plants and ‘weeds’ or wild plants are trap crops.  Last year the Lamb’s Quarters that nature provided for us attracted the aphids that would otherwise have attacked my crop plants.]

Daffodil Cutting. Now is the time to cut down unsightly daffodil foliage.

Plant One More Round. Plant another round of fast-maturing string beans and lettuces, and sow seeds for fall harvests such as cole crops, peas and carrots.

Harvest A Bonanza of Berries. Pick gooseberries, blueberries and raspberries. Make jam or freeze for winter use.

Pull ‘Em Up. By month’s end, pull mature onions, garlic, and potatoes. I cure mine a few weeks on screens in a well ventilated garage.

Seed Saving. To learn more about seed saving techniques, contact the Seed Savers Exchange at (563) 382-5990 or visit their website: www.seedsavers.org. Come to their annual Camp Out Convention in Decorah, IA, the third weekend in July.

August

Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Stop Pushing Zucchini. DON’T visit zucchini and summer squash on your friends and neighbors — it’s worse than giving away ice in winter. Far better to pull the plants out and compost them if you’ve had your fill.

Harvest Time. Harvest frequently to keep plants productive.

Order Up. Order bulbs and trees for fall planting.

Go Green. There’s still time to sow a green manure crop of buckwheat and till it in before frost.

Support local agriculture. Patronize a farmers’ market near you for items that you don’t grow yourself, or for value-added products such as cheeses, wine, honey, jams and jellies.

[BFA:  Under-sow cover crops under your large plants like tomatoes and eggplants and others that have clear ground space underneath.]

September

Make haste and bring in the goods. Pick warm-season vegetables such as squash, melons, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers before frost. Handle them gingerly to avoid damage and subsequent spoilage.

Herb Preserving. To preserve the volatile oils in herbs, harvest them on cool mornings after the dew has dried. Put them in a dehydrator or spread them out on a screen to dry until they’re brittle. Store them in moisture-proof containers.

Squashes and Pumpkins and Gourds—Oh My! Clean and cure pumpkins, gourds, and winter squashes in a cool, airy place sheltered from the sun for a month or so. Bathe them with a weak bleach solution to prevent molds from forming, and take care not to damage stems or they may rot.  [BFA:  I would personally never use chlorine bleach on food.  Just clean them well and dry them well before storing.]

Compost Tip. Remove spent plants from garden beds and compost them. Do not compost weeds gone to seed or any diseased plants.  [BFA:  When you remove spent plants cut them at ground level, leaving the roots in the ground for the biology there and to keep open the channels for air and water.]

Go Green. Plant a green manure crop in your vegetable beds to replenish the soil. I use winter rye and hairy vetch, but you can choose from many different kinds of legumes and/or grasses.  [BFA:  As with planting crops we recommend diversity in all your plantings.  Do a “cocktail cover crop” which means mix a blend of at least 4-5 different cover crop seeds.]

Herb Tip. Pot up herbs (such as dill, thyme and basil) to grow on a sunny windowsill and eat during the winter.

Happy Houseplants. Bring in any houseplants that have been outside during the summer and give them a good bath to remove any pests that may have hitched a ride in with them.

Bulb Storage. Dig up tender bulbs such as cannas and dahlias and store them in a box full of peat moss or sand in a cool, dry place.

Spring Flowers. Plant spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, crocus, and hyacinths.

Planting Plans. Plant roses, trees and shrubs.

October

Soil Savvy. Leaf mold is a cheap source of organic matter for your SOIL. Gather up leaves and stockpile them for future use. I just let the piles sit a few years until the leaves turn into rich brown humus.  [BFA:  You can also make rings with chicken-wire or hardware cloth and pack them full of leaves you shredded with your lawn mower.  This helps speed up their breakdown and keeps them from blowing around.]

[BFA:  As you close up your gardens for the season be sure to send out a soil sample if you have not already done so.  You do not need to do a soil test every year, do it once and add the recommended amendments and keep up good regenerative soil practices.  You should see your garden plants improve in quality as time goes by.  You can retest your soil on an as needed basis or every few years if you want reassuring.]

Frost Buster. Extend your season and protect tender plants against frost with cold frames, hot caps, cloches and floating row covers.

Tasty Tip. Process and can any remaining crops.

Veggie Delight. Enjoy cool-season vegetables such as cress, sorrel, collards, kale and swiss chard.

Planting and Transplanting. Plant garlic and shallots before the ground freezes. Transplant or divide perennials such as daylilies and hostas.

November

Operation Bulb Rescue. Get the last bulbs and garlic in before the ground freezes.

Mucho Mulch. Mulch perennial beds and new plantings after the ground freezes to prevent frost heaves that might damage crowns and rootstocks.

Harvest Time. Harvest all those fallen leaves and shred or compost them. Leaf mold makes a great soil amendment.

Time to Mow On. Mow the lawn one last time.

Prepare Tools. Clean, sharpen, and oil garden tools and implements before storing them for the winter.

December

Bring Breakables Inside. Bring in clay pots and other fragile garden ornaments to prevent cracking.

Water Away. Keep watering fall-planted trees and shrubs.

Check It Out. Here we go again — the first seed catalogues arrive and need to be perused.

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