Early-Garden Thoughts

The garden sat gray and glum throughout much of March, although Mother Nature would, from time to time, allow us a brief glimpse of the promise of springtime’s rebirth. With these fleeting moments aside, the reality remained, and blustery, damp, cold weather was the burden we endured.

Now that April is here and the warming days harken us into the garden, we look forward to the age-old process of renewal, underscored by the promise that each seed we sow will come to a fruitful harvest, a faith that is shared by all who till the soil.

Within my own garden, I have gotten an early start with the help of a few hired hands to assist with pruning and trimming the hedge and shrubs, cleaning up the flower and herb beds, and applying wood mulch to keep the weeds at bay throughout the coming season.

I also have had much success this past year with the winter garden in the cold frames, which are filled with spinach, mache, leaf lettuce, kale, and a few heads of romaine that have provided me with fresh greens throughout the darkest days of winter.

I base my winter garden on the Parisian market gardens of the 1800s that provided a varied and sustainable supply of fresh vegetables to the residents of Paris through the four seasons of the year. The success of these early urban gardeners was based on the cultivation of one- to two-acre farms within the city limits and was driven by an interesting relationship—the gardeners would return from the weekly markets with their carts and wagons filled with horse dung. This dung, a product of the city’s transportation system of the time, not only provided for enhanced soil fertility but heated the hotbeds that were used to grow vegetables throughout the coldest times of the year. For those of you who are interested in this subject, I would suggest you turn to Author Eliot Coleman here in the United States, a well-known expert on the subject.

In addition to spring cleanup within the garden itself, I am tidying up the potting bench on the back screened-in porch. This involves both maintaining the tools and cleaning the pots and planters. I find that a good wash with a stiff scrub brush, along with hot soapy water and perhaps a drop or two of chlorine laundry bleach, brings the clay pots and ceramic planters back to life while providing a clean start to this year’s planting activity. Clay pots that are cracked or broken I smash into quarter to half-dollar sized pieces and keep on the bench to place in the bottom of pots and planters to promote good drainage before adding soil mix.

When it comes to tools, a good scrub is a great place to start before sharpening the digging and pruning tools. The cutting edge of hoes, shovels, and spades can be sharpened with a flat file while pruning shears and loopers will require a water or oil stone to provide you with a razor edge. All metal tool parts should be oiled with a light machine oil or even WD40 after cleaning and sharpening, and wooden handles require a good coat of boiled linseed oil to maintain a lifetime of hard garden use. Please remember a note of caution when using linseed oil, as rags saturated with this oil can spontaneously combust and start a fire when stored or disposed of without a thorough soaking in water.

With the preseason work completed at the potting bench, I have just one more large chore to do before the start of the planting season and that is spring-cleaning the garage that serves me as both workshop and garden shed. I will leave that for a future post and let you get back to your own garden preparations. Although before I go, let us consider the following quote from one of this country’s founding fathers.

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.
Thomas Jefferson

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