Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.-Joel Salatin
Oh, it is all taking shape! We are behind around here by a couple of weeks because my Mister was laid up but he is better now and back outside with the rest of the muddy, calloused family.
As spring unfurls, we watch the sky and the weather forecast for signs that the cold is over and it is safe for our warm weather crops to go out into the big (all being relative) world of our gardens. We have been enjoying the growth of the starts in their trays and, as the days have grown longer and warmer, moving them outdoors to harden off.
And so the time has come to transplant and direct sow. This is a continual process through the year here, since we can grow year round in the southern US but the spring brings the largest mass planting of the year and thus the most satisfying period of garden development when we see our hope for another year go from paper to tangible in a few weeks.
So, let’s talk about transplanting those precious little seedlings and giving them the best possible start.
After hardening your plants off outdoors for at least a week, double check your forecast. I mention it again because we just had to postpone the transplanting of our tomatoes because of a cold snap that took our temps down into the 40’s at night. Tomatoes are less productive if they experience temperatures under 50F (10C).
Once you have the all clear from the meteorologist, frame your next decisions with this old adage in mind:
It is better to put a 50 cent plant in a 50 dollar hole than a 50 dollar plant in a 50 cent hole.
There is more to this than dropping them in.
You started addressing soil quality already, and that is important. You’ve also mapped your garden based on sunlight and drainage. You have made sure to plan plenty of space between varieties that may cross pollinate and negatively affect your crops. (Keep those cucurbits apart!)
If you really want to give everyone a great start, now is the time to consider a boost at transplant. My favorite method here is to use worm castings, about a quarter cup, under each large plant. I use less under small seedlings. Then I come back in a few weeks and give them a shot of manure or compost tea. There are several organic transplant fertilizers on the market. If you want to use those, follow the directions on the bag. The goal here is to get the roots stimulated and to make sure there isn’t a deficiency that is going to weaken the plant from the get go.
For seeds directly sown, you can sprinkle worm castings, or treatment of your choice, in the furrow prior to placing your seeds or top dress after you have sown them.
If you have rich, composted, humus dense soil, you can skip this boost but for most of us, it is an insurance policy.
Now, spacing matters. If you didn’t figure out your spacing when you were mapping your garden and deciding how many seeds to buy and start, you can wait no longer. Use those handy books you’ve bought or the power of the internet to look up spacing for each variety. Yes, it gives a rather loose range and there is a lot of variation from source to source. Use these recommendations as general guidelines.
If you are using a weed suppression medium, like wood chip or fabric, you can leave more space between plants but remember that bare soil doesn’t stay bare so I plant my plants very close together. You do not want them to compete with each other for nutrients but you also don’t want to fight weeds when you could just be growing something you want in that same space.
In hot climates you can use tighter spacing and companion planting to shade plants who feel the stress and slow the drying of your soil.
In a tomato bed, we plant 20 to 24 inches apart and then fill in the bed with carrots, defender marigolds and basil. The plants shade each other, help protect against intolerable insect populations and protect the soil from the effects of exposure, all while leaving less space for weeds.
We do the classic three-sister combo of corn, beans and a squash. Our corn has suffered when we have planted it alone.
Lettuce, nasturtiums and radishes can be used to fill in many otherwise blank spaces in bare earth beds and will appreciate the shade of larger plants in the summer.
Marigolds and basil can be put almost anywhere and the pollinators LOVE them.
In the beds we have wood chipped, the spacing doesn’t take into account needing to cover the ground but everything else still matters. There is little point to being less productive than your space allows.
For more companion planting information, Mother Earth News has a guide online, Urban Farmer has a chart, and Rodale’s is a simple to follow guide, if scant, in my opinion The gist is stock up on marigolds, radish, and nasturtium seed. Keep fennel on the other side of the property from everything else. Fennel is like the family member who shows up and causes all your friends to leave.
Make sure you water your transplants and seeds in nicely and, if need be, protect them from whatever birds or critters may be a threat.
Whatever you do while you plant, sing, chatter, listen to something, meditate in silence…do it with a smile in your heart. This is a beautiful time. Get your hands dirty, mess up the knees of your pants. Take time at the end of the work to look at the area with hope in your heart. Be proud of your dirty nails and sweaty brow.
The period of anticipation after planting is fantastic. If we could comprehend what is happening when those seeds germinate, spread their roots and take up nutrients, spread their little green arms and take in sunlight and then turn it into plant material that allows us to ingest and use the energy of the sun in synthesis with the nutrients from the soil…I think we’d be able to live in a state of perpetual gratitude. But most people just eat mindlessly.
So take this time as a tender of nature as a gift and think about it a bit.
I’m off to the garden.
Happy eating, Katy