Monday, March 9, 2009

Midwest Gardening:

Spring Starter Chores

We had a wonderful Spring weekend here in the Midwest.

It was typical -- a little sun, some gentle rain, and by the end of the weekend, 50 mph winds with tornadoes and power outages.

Ahh, the Midwest! Isn't it grand?

This was the weekend when my garden clean-up chores began. It was muddy and wonderful to get out with my spade to start moving perennials. This was the weekend when garden plans started to become garden reality. But, there is a lot to do! It was hard not to feel daunted by the sheer volume of work.

After a long Winter, the sun and warm temperatures made the work worth it. (Maybe I'm part plant.)

My spring clean-up chores were few, but significant. I have decided to devote our entire side garden to vegetables this year. I will be setting aside some space on the south slope of our yard for vegetables as well. To make the most of both planting zones, I will build raised beds this week.

But first, I had to get started moving perennials. I started digging up Brown-eyed Susans and peppermint from the herb garden. I moved them back to the sunny edge of our wildflower garden. All it will take is a few plugs of each to make a beautiful border back there.

When moving vigorous perennials, try to cut them from their bed with a large spade. Lift the entire plant with at least 5 inches of accompanying soil. Keeping the roots intact will reduce stress on the plant and increase the chances of survival in its new location. Dig a deeper hole than you need, and backfill it loosely with soil. I usually put water into the hole before inserting the plug of rooted perennials into the moist soil. Try to keep the level of soil even with the earth around it and press firmly to ensure good contact between the roots and the soil. Water again thoroughly.

Another chore I started to tackle this weekend was moving the compost pile. We use a 2-bay compost system, where we fill one bay each year. In the Spring, I move material that is not completely broken down from the full bay to the empty bay. It is a long process. But my philosophy of Spring chores is Slow and Steady Wins the Race. If the Earth can take it's time getting ready for growing, so can I.

I will work on the compost over the course of the next month. I combine moving it over with other clean-up jobs, so that I am layering older material with newer. We mulch our beds with leaves in the Fall. When the time comes to remove that mulch (not yet) each bed will provide a nicely broken-down layer for the new compost bay. If you're moving the compost at your house, be sure to make the outside edge of each layer a little thicker than the middle. A compost pile that is lower in the center than the outside funnels rain into the pile and breaks down faster. If you build your pile like a haystack, the rain will sheet off and the center of the pile will remain dry.

With steady work over the next few weeks, the compost will be completely moved and the lowest layer of soil, rich in nutrients, will be ready to work into my vegetable garden. There is no better fertilizer than fresh compost. It is my garden's "secret ingredient".

The final "chore" of the weekend was to complete my seed purchase with Johnny's Selected Seeds. I cannot say how clearly superior I find the seeds from Johnny's as compared to hardware store packeted seed. Their varieties are specifically designed for disease-resistance and many are tailored for Northern growers. They also have a wide variety of organic seed. They have a place on their website for gardeners to make a 'garden wish-list'. I love that I can shop for seed, choose a few varieties, and save them until I'm ready to buy. This weekend, I finalized my list. As soon as my seeds arrive, I'll post directions for home seed-starting.

As expected, our lovely Midwest Spring weekend is transforming into a chilly week. Rain today and tomorrow will help those perennials I moved to take root. But our trusty weather channel tells me that night-time lows will be well below freezing after Wednesday, so the layer of protective mulch I have on the flower beds must stay in place for now -- even if the daffodils and day-lilies are poking through the leaves to find the sunlight.

I'd love to hear about your gardens. Are you going to try to plant more vegetables this year? What chores are your biggest challenges of the Spring?

- Midwest Mom


  1. Most of my garden was still covered in snow until the weekend warm temperatures melted it - but today we're getting more snow/sleet/slush/freezing rain! I probably won't be able to do anything in the garden for a few more weeks, and nothing is coming up yet (though I did see a few crocuses - the first of the season - when I was out walking in a nearby neighborhood yesterday).

  2. Every time I think I'm ready to get out there and start working, we get more snow. I'm itching to sink my hands in the dirt!!!

  3. Ah the Midwest LOL today is really nice at least on this side :)

    I can't wait, same as you I started doing some work in the garden, but not nearly as much as you :)

    I also can't wait for my apple trees to start blooming those beautiful flowers :) So exciting :)

  4. When the sun's up, I totally love to putter in my garden. I know a lot of us do that. I wish you well on yours. :)

  5. We have had every sort of weather this week here in Cheshire UK - rain, snow, hail and finally sun today! Alas, when the weather is fine for gardening a busy mum can't always get out there. I was thwarted by taking child to orthodontist, then helping 90 yr old mother and listening to endless complaints about school. How do other mums sneak out there without being found?


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