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5 posts from March 2011


Chasing the Lamb's Tail

The blustery, roaring lionhood of March is proverbially balanced by some lamb-like gentleness at the tail end.  This year March in Michigan deviated very little in terms of temperature and precipitation difference from historical averages.  So, even though this is a fairly chilly close to the month that inaugurates spring, we were spared some of the harsher weather for which early March is so notorious.

While the soil is still very cold and wet in most places, it's not to early to start sampling soil temperature.  Use an inexpensive meat thermometer and check the temp about 3 inches under the surface of your garden.  Its a good idea to check a couple locations, once each in the morning and late afternoon or evening.  3 inches below the surface is deeper than most seeds would be planted, but not as deep as most roots go--it will give you a good ballpark figure to work with.  Note your temperature readings in a notebook or file. 

When soil temperatures are generally at or above 45F, you are A-OK to plant many cool-season crops directly outside in the garden with seed.  This includes broccoli, cabbage, peas, and other crops that can also be started from seed indoors and then transplanted out later.  If you're doing the transplant method, make sure to harden-off your plants before finally setting them out into the garden.  How do you harden-off your transplants?  Start leaving them outside during the day when air temps are steadily above 40F.  As nights warm up and as plants get used to the outdoors, start to leave them out at night, but shelter them as necessary.  These crops will take a light frost, but NOT a hard freeze.

Other crops are best to start out in the garden from seed, and skip the transplant process.  Carrots, beets, radishes and other root crops and greens like spinach may be seeded in the garden as soon as soil temp is steady at a 45F.

Crops like these onions growing in a local community garden can handle some cooler temperatures.

Then what?  The next major milestone for soil temperature is 60F (again, a meat thermometer is crucial as soil temp differs from the daily air temps--it is slower to change).  When soil has warmed to 60F, that's when transplants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can go out into the garden.  But note, if you were starting these warm-weather plants indoors from seed, you would want the soil temp closer to 70F or even 80F for peppers.  The difference is that the SEEDS need really warm or hot soil to germinate, whereas the PLANTS can handle more moderately warm, 60F soil for growing.

 Again, keep in mind that air temps may still dip significantly in mid-spring when soil is stabilizing at 60F. Protect your plants, or wait a little longer to set them out.

When soil temp is steady at 70F or higher, that's when you'll get really good results planting seeds like melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, corn, and other heat-loving seeds like okra.  Starting melons, squash, or cukes inside can help give a jump on the season but is not always necessary. 

Healthy sunflowers result from healthy soil.  Wait to plant seeds until soil is really warm.  Noel (6`3") provides a sense of scale for this beaut at Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit.

There are lots of other, more experiential ways people know when to plant.  The moon is one factor, as are environmental cues.  One common piece of folk wisdom that has adapted multiple interpretations revolves around when to plant corn.  Native Michigan people learned to wait until nearby oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear.

As mentioned at the start of this article, weather can be quite different year to year, month to month and day to day.  Whether you use soil temperature, folk wisdom or both, the clues provided by our surroundings NOW help to adjust for the vagaries of daily and seasonal weather.


Hello. "Moon!"

My first word was 'moon.'  While you read, look at these pictures of a close full moon.  Not just any, but Saturday's.  Like, it's springtime.  Get hip.


Continue reading "Hello. "Moon!"" »


Of Nukes and Nerds


In the words of Gyptian, "These Are Some Serious Times."  Warm weather may lighten the mood, but...

It was especially poignant to see the inscription on the statue of former Michigan "War Governor" Austin Blair in front of the Capitol amidst protesters against Gov. "Rick" Snyder's bogus agenda.  To wit, the passage below underscoring the shared nature of power in our state government.

Not a dictstorship

Michigan has multiple nuclear reactors, one of which is the same model as the facility currently causing mayhem in Japan.  Meanwhile, Michigan's governor is making a power grab to blight local governance.

On the hill
Critical mass

Humanity and our ecological underpinnings cannot pay the cost of either fossil or nuclear fuel except with our own extinction.  Renewable energy sources may not have the most powerful lobbies, but we don't need a tsunami for a reactor to blow right here in the Great Lakes state.  


Our current governor (for how long?) is unashamedly selling out the working class for the benefit of the rich.  No surprise there, that's been Republican's M.O. for my whole life.  Spineless Democrats with no fight in them are no less pathetic or reprehensible, but the outright exploitation perpetrated by the GOP surely is more focused, debased form of political scumbaggery.  Sigh.  I guess the signs say it better.


Steak vs. spam
Dick Snyder
A quick glance at the nearby newspaper boxes outside city hall underscored some of the crowd's concerns:



Protest or not, carrots a common ground for real wealth

Carrots.  While chekcing in with a fellow gardener, she reminded me that these mid-March thaws are great for harvesting super sweet carrots left from last year's garden.  So I tromped out to the carrot patch, recycling-bin-in-hand, and here's what came of it:



When I got home, Nikii was off to help fellow educators make signs for Wednesday's gathering at Michigan's state capitol.  That's the building with the big crowd in front of it.  So if you're a politician, or a person, you know something is up.  All rights are human rights, and together we can wrest them from greedy leaders who are further concentrating our gross inequalities of wealth.  

In the last twenty-five years, the richest one-tenth of one percent have gone from controlling a fifth of national wealth to nearly a third.  That means everybody else, including you, me and all the richest people we personally know are splitting the rest. Grow your own carrots, yo.


Early March Activities = Get Off Your Butt

Trying to turn cabin fever into spring fever?  Here are five things you can dig in to now, from seed starting to fun events and more.

1)  Ready?  Get set, grow!

The following garden veggies can be started from seed right now, even if you don't have a greenhouse.  Plant seeds in a loose mix of compost or potting soil if you don't want to spring for specialized seed starting mix.  

PLANT NOW:  Peppers (hot and sweet), broccoli, cabbage, peas

Keep your newly planted seeds warm and moist until they sprout (cover with a shopping bag or anything to slow evaporation).  Pepper seeds actually prefer it hot--70-80 F is not too hot.  Broccoli and cabbage as well as peas will germinate fine around 45 F, so your house should do the trick.  Once sprouted the plants and soil can be cooler and uncovered, but don't start setting them out until days are warmer.

2)  Mix it up.

The Gardeners Roundtable at the Hunter Park GardenHouse is Sunday, March 13, 12:30 – 1:30pm (map).  Come to ANC's GardenHouse to swap ideas, tips, and occasionally seeds and plants. Wander on over for an relaxed and informal conversation, leaf through seed catalogues, and enjoy a cup of tea.  Lots more upcoming garden-related events, classes and workshops from ANC and many other organizations including MSU Extension are at Let's Garden Lansing.

3)  Fun shopping...

Speaking of seed catalogues, don't forget to put in your orders for other things than seeds now for the best selection of variety.  This means seed potatoes, sweet potato slips, or anything else you plan to plant.  If you've got your own potatoes or sweets that you plan to plant from saved from last year, you still have some time before they need to be prepared for planting.  And while potatoes can be planted quite early, multiple, staggered plantings are a good hedge against common pests like the Colorado potato bug.  Search for Seed Savers, Johnny's or other seed providers as a starting point.  Choose varieties adapted for our climate.

4)  Sign up for a community garden.

There are so many beautiful, fun community gardens in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties--darn near a hundred of 'em.   My day job is to facilitate this network of food production gardens, grow-your-own cooperatives, small farms, youth development gardens, community spaces and more for The Garden Project of the Greater Lansing Food Bank.  You can sign up for gardening resources and community garden opportunities here.

5)  More growing opportunities...

Besides traditional seeds starting indoors, "winter sowing" techniques can add a fun DIY side to your early season extension.  Whether with re-used plastic wrap or milk jugs, old windows or other materials, non-standard "mini-greenhouses" are created so seeds can be started 'outdoors' but in a more sheltered environment.  Search for more winter sowing techniques--the options are limitless, from converting a kiddie-pool into a hoop-house to simple small containers that are easy and usually already on hand in the recycling bin.


For experienced gardeners, this is the time to plan your gardening for the year to come--lavender by the side door, tomatoes out back, and perhaps a carrot or watermelon patch at a community garden?  The possibilities are mouth-watering...

Gabriel Biber

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