2010-05-13 / News

Plenty to do in the garden now

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

One of the problems with a warm spring – like the one we have had – is that fruit trees come into bloom early, often before many insects are ready to pollinate them. So, pollination can be poor and if we get a late frost, it will kill off many of the newly hatched insects, increasing the likelihood that fruit trees will see poor pollination.

Hopefully, this year, the weather won’t get too cold again and bees and other pollinators will survive.

Many of you have mentioned to me that you have already planted vegetables in your garden. Unfortunately, in spite of the nice weather we’ve had lately, we can still get a frost, as almost happened a few nights ago.

Even if we do not get a frost, plants perceive low night-time temperatures as wintertime if they are set out too early and instead of growing larger and ready to eat, they begin to set seed, as they would do if they had been let in the ground over the entire winter. If you find that your onions, leeks, parsley, beets, carrots and other plants are going to seed, you probably set them out too early.

Around here, the earliest to safely set plants out is the middle of May.

One of the plants you can set out now is artichoke. Ideally, your plants should have six to eight weeks of cool weather to help them set artichokes by late June or early July. Artichokes are actually the immature seed heads of the plant so you really want to plant them out early.

In France, sorrel is a very common herb, mostly because it is one of the first to come up after a cold winter. It is ready to be harvested right now – if you grow it, that is.

Sorrel is an early herb that makes a delicious lemony-flavored soup, or you can use it for a sauce to go with salmon and other fish. If you grow plants to freeze for winter, chives can be harvested already, chopped and frozen for use as a garnish on potatoes, in soups, and on fish dishes. Just remember to cut out the seed heads.

Peas are another early plant that can tolerate some cold weather. If you have already planted peas, you’ll need to stake them so the peas have something to grow on. I use sticks that were cut off the apple trees when I pruned them, but you can grow peas – sugar or edible podded, snap, snow or regular peas – up a trellis, a wire mesh or on stakes.

It’s not difficult. Simply pour the peas into a plastic bag and cover them with water. Leave them for at least 24 hours to get them to swell up, and then plant. If you leave them for 48 or more hours, the peas will usually start to sprout and you might break the sprouts when you plant them.

About the only other plant that can easily survive cold weather is the humble potato. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to get them in the ground. Set a sprouted tuber about four to six inches deep in an unmanured trench. If you add manure, the potatoes will get scab. Bury them about two inches deep and let them sprout. When the sprouts are higher than the surrounding ground, cover the remainder of the trench to ensure that any potatoes stay beneath the soil surface.

That said, it will soon be time to set plants out when soil temperatures have warmed up to around 50 to 55 degrees. It is also time to start lettuce, spinach, peas and other fast-growing plants if you haven’t already done so. Lettuce should be harvestable in about 30 days.

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