seedlings vegetable starts for the spring gardenColumn: Josh Reilly Columns Gardening 

Spring and a Fresh Start in the Garden

By Josh Reilly

The Spring Equinox was a major garden holy day and worth a bit of reflection. On March 19, the hours of daylight equaled the hours of night. The path of the sun crossed the Earth’s equator and now for the next 6 months it will spend more time above than below the horizon. I attribute no special, magical significance to this event. If our pagan garden predecessors did, it was because they had no better explanation for it, even though they understood exactly when it was going to happen. My neolithic Irish ancestors were very good at plotting the annual paths of heavenly bodies, especially the Sun, the light of which pours in the door of the 3200-year-old Newgrange “passage tomb” in County Meath, Ireland, for three days around December 21, the Winter Solstice. The builders may have believed that this light illuminated an interior chamber through which the dead would complete their journey to the next world. Here on the Central Coast I’ll settle for the days getting warmer and longer.

Nature is full of wonder which does not require supernatural explanations. For instance, a great many biological phenomena are determined by exposure to “degree-days,” an agricultural term meaning time spent at temperatures above a biologically significant minimum so that crops develop as expected. The accumulation of these hours can be measured and, right on time, we see eggs hatching, seeds germinating, plants leafing, and a proliferation of floral buds. The Spring Equinox is a kind of mental and emotional gateway through which one steps into a world where all these phenomena become observable or otherwise available to the senses (and sets a handy date in your planting and garden maintenance schedule).

What to Plant

In fact, you’re running out of time for a summer root vegetable crop unless you plant many of these now. And it’s too late to start seeds for summer vegetables, so you’ll be starting from seedlings. Head over to Plant Works on Highway 9 across from that venerable Ben Lomond institution, Massoud’s, or to Mountain Feed and Farm Supply, right up Highway 9, just north of Glen Arbor for an abundance of seedlings, almost all suitable for planting now. Most retailers have a wide selection of seedlings in 6-packs, or 4-inch sized singles. Some people swear that you should start your root crops in the dirt from seed and thus be rewarded for your trouble with bigger, better produce. If you started any of the following in your beds, a hearty high-five to you! If the moment came and went, however, you can still start beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, shallots, and turnips from seedlings now. Same goes for your leafy crops like spinach, lettuce, cilantro, arugula, chard, and green onions. And there is still time to plant summer brassicas, kale, broccoli, broccolini, broccoli rabe, cabbage, and collards. Annual flowers like zinnia, marigolds, Clarkia, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, portulaca, and poppies (Eschscholzia and Papaver) are fine in April. Your inner Frida Kahlo would love a generous spread of Dahlias. Try for an exhaustive list of California native annuals you can start right now.

Josh Reilly, aka Uncle Skip, writes about seasonal gardening from his home in beautiful Ben Lomond, California.

Featured photos: Vegetable seedlings by Judy Morris.


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