2010-04-29 / News

This is what island gardeners have been waiting for all winter

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

It’s time to plant out.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see a frost again this spring, so you can plant hardier plants such as cabbage, broccoli, leeks, onions and many herbs. Hold off on tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for a couple more weeks – unless you protect them. It’s still a little cool for them right now.

If you’ve grown your own seeds under lights, remember to harden them off before planting. “Hardening off” means putting your plants in a location where they can get some sunshine and gradually get acclimated to being outdoors.

It is best to harden off under glass, such as in a cold frame or in a cloche to protect your plants against wind that might dry them out. If you put your plants directly outdoors without hardening them, you might find that plant leaves get burned by the sun and drop off, or the plant might get dried out and simply die. Even if the plant survives, it will be slow to start growing and will be later than a plant that you have acclimated properly.

When choosing a day to set your plants out, opt for an overcast rainy day, rather than a bright sunny day. In fact, when planting, try to do so on a rainy overcast day. It’s not good for the gardener doing the work, but it is optimum for seeds and plants.

Putting your plants outdoors when it is bright and sunny will often cause them to wilt and droop as they transpire faster than their disturbed roots can take up moisture. If you set plants out on a rainy day, the ground is wet, the plants get wet and do not need to transpire, and they grow faster.

Before planting, make sure that you have prepared the ground thoroughly. I like to add compost to each growing bed before putting any plants into it. Dig the compost in to bring nutrients and micronutrients to the plants. I also add a little lime to beds where I plan on growing brassicas (cabbage family), and add a little high-nitrogen blood meal to areas where I plan to put plants that have leafy green foliage, such as lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. I also add bone meal and potash to beds that will grow tomatoes and peppers.

If your beds already have some weeds, make sure you remove the weeds before planting. Weeds tend to grow faster than the plants you really want and if you are not careful, they can crowd out the good plants.

Weeding is best done on a hot day with a hoe. Simply cut the weeds off below the surface and let the tops wither and dry in the sun. Don’t try hoeing on a rainy day. All you are doing is moving weeds around.

When starting seeds outdoors, try to sow the day before rain is expected. The first step in seed growth is to suck up water and expand. If you sow seeds before it rains, the ground will stay moist and help the seed to quickly fill with moisture. If temperatures are right, the seed will germinate and start to grow.

After seeding, I like to put spun fleece over the beds to keep birds from eating the seeds. Not only does the spun fleece keep birds away, it also helps to raise temperatures by a few degrees to help speed germination.

When planting, make sure you put plants that like each other together. For example, put basil next to tomatoes and put onions next to leeks, but keep them away from cabbage and broccoli. Marigolds enjoy being next to carrots and lettuce – the strong aroma of marigolds keeps rabbits away from the lettuce.

Have fun and keeping on growing!

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