Yellows, purples, pinks, shades of white . . . the palette of spring is outside our windows. I love this time of year. The earth is awakening and the age-old cycle starts again. It is a busy time for those who live with the land, as it is the beginning of a new growing cycle. The techniques we use and the plants we grow affect our individual space— and, cumulatively, our earth.
Each growing season is an opportunity to contribute to our ecosystem, to be in balance with the earth. As serious as that sounds, gardening is an expression of self, filled with adventure and a celebration of life. The life of the plant is indeed a benefit to humans. So celebrate life and plant something unusual and fun as well as the standard plants. Experiment a little and have fun.
The Middle Tennessee area is in the Zone 7 area for planting. As such, we are in the midst of the time to plant spring vegetables. As you are planting the spring garden, do it in a way that starts the garden plan for the year. As an alternate to the straight-row planting technique, try companion planting or square-foot planting. Square-foot planting concentrates on a high yield from a small area. It divides up a small area into a grid, rotating plants in each grid. Local gardening expert Richard Lee has this technique, also called intensive gardening, well analyzed. The recording of his presentation at the Boro Garden Show is uploaded to both the Rutherford County Farmers Market Education Series and the Boro Garden Party YouTube channels.
I started companion planting as an attempt to baffle and confuse attacking insects. Of course, the little buggers always find their favorite plants, but I think the technique does cut down on the numbers attacking and also delays their discovery. I liberally sprinkle marigold seeds throughout the garden as an insect deterrent as well.
April is the time to amend the soil, adding mature compost directly to the soil. One of my favorite amendments is vermiculite. It lightens the soil. I use it in the root vegetable beds, and I think it is one of the reasons I have such great success with carrots.
If you have not had a soil test in several years, please do so. Take a sample of soil from several areas of your garden to the Extension Service. For a minimal fee, you will get a response that directs you to what nutrients and supplements are needed to balance and enhance your soil.
You can direct-seed some flowering annuals and vegetables. Flowers that are easily grown from seed include marigold, zinnia, sunflowers and cosmos. Beans, peas, corn and okra are some easy direct-sow vegetables. Dill, basil and cilantro are some easy direct-sow herbs. When planting seeds, select not only for the yield of the plant but also as a plan for seed harvest. Are you interested in collecting the seeds of the plant for the following year’s garden? If so, do not buy hybrid seeds. You will be looking for heirloom seeds. Hybrids have been designed to resist problems to that plant. As wonderful as it is to have help in battling a plant’s susceptibility, it does not allow a second generation to come from its seeds. You will have to buy the hybrid again.
So, starting plants from seeds is not for you? Thankfully, our local nurseries will have some options for an instant garden. When purchasing the plants, you may want to look for labels indicating if the plants have or have not been treated with neonicotinoids. Recent studies have linked this chemical with the strong decline in the pollinator population. What good is it if we grow plants that destroy the colonies of pollinators that are needed to produce food. It would be pretty hard to have a productive garden without pollinators.
Finally, the Farmers Market will open at the Lane Agri-Park Community Center on John R. Rice Boulevard on Friday, May 13. This market is a producer-only market, so come meet the people who produce what you are buying. It will be open from 7 a.m. until noon on both Tuesdays and Fridays. At 9 a.m. on each open-market day there is a free class—look for that schedule in the next Pulse edition.