Yesterday afternoon the sun called me up to the garden to see what could be done. With my seed box, planting plan drawn up in dreary January and trusty rake and shovel under my arm, I trekked up to the Civic Garden Center’s Backyard Vegetable Garden.
A few remnants of last season’s growth remained: four foot tall dry fennel stalks towering above light green feathers of new growth, a leaning kale tower stripped clean by deer, brown rotting tops of swiss chard encircling one bed and hardy turnips, leeks, carrots and daikon radish determined to nourish someone in the heart of winter. I selected a few of the biennial leeks and daikon to complete their life cycle and go to seed, but pulled everything else to create a clean canvas on which to arrange the spring planting.
As I dug out rainbow chard roots (thick like cousin beet but gnarlier), the pink, yellow and magenta tentacles clinging to soil reminded me of the tiny chard seedlings just sprouting inside – their colors showing through from their first peek out of the soil. Swiss chard’s undying commitment to color and resilience through the heat of summer and the cold of late fall make them one of the most rewarding vegetables to grow.
Obstacles removed, I was ready to renovate my french mound beds. Pulling soil up from the edges, I reshaped each bed into three foot wide, flat topped mounds. I saw the constantly moving rake of my former farm mentor as I worked to create an even, lump-free planting surface. I shoveled and raked smooth a layer of leaf compost and then sat down to refine my planting plan.
This year I am turning to the square foot gardening method to guide my planting practices and am already impressed by how easy it makes the work of planting. In one 3′ x 6′ bed, I divided the bed into 1′ x 2′ rectangles reminiscent of a quilt block pattern and planted a variety of spring salad fixings: carrots, lettuce, spinach, tiny choy, radish and kohlrabi. I select varieties that not only grow well here but have an aesthetic appeal as well, playing with contrasting colors, leaf shape and texture. I stepped back to admire my work and felt the pure satisfaction of a new growing season under way.
To see the salad quilts for yourself (there is one on the roof of the Green Learning Station in addition to the one mentioned above), stop by the Civic Garden Center in early April. To learn more about square foot gardening or organic vegetable gardening, check out our classes of the same name taking place this April and May. Happy planting!
– Ryan Mooney-Bullock, Green Learning Station Program Manager