The calendar says it’s Spring at EARF (or it is???) – just when we think it might warm up a bit – it gets cold again
and we have to recover all the new seedlings in the garden for a night or two. Then it warms up again and the
cabbages and greens and onions start growing again. The reality is we go through this pretty much every year
here in middle Tennessee – usually getting a warm spell in March – the Star Magnolia blooms beautifully – then
blasts with the next freeze down into the low 20’s or high teens – the Hellebores (Lenten Roses) normally begin
blooming in February – even if there is snow on the ground – and they surely cheer us up and suggest that
spring is not too far behind. Then the early daffodils begin – even with freezes, they simply bow their heads and
when it warms up – perk back up to show their shining bright faces. We feel blessed to have the cheery bright
yellow flowers on Cornus officionalis (one of the edible-fruited dogwoods). This year they began their show in
mid-February – normally is mid-March but it looks like we will still have a fruit year. We keep hoping that the fruit
trees will hold back on their bloom so we might actually get fruit each year – and some years we do. Although
mid-April is our last average frost date – we always wait until the end of April to plant out our tomatoes.
We were able to overwinter lots of greens like turnips, spinach, some kohlrabi and chard – although they needed
covering when the temps went below the mid-20’s, ditto Chinese cabbage and regular cabbage, Ragged Jack
Kale, collards and even some broccoli. I kept finding cilantro that had self-seeded itself in the paths around
some of the beds – so I dug them up and transplanted them into a bed – and we have harvested them all winter
long – parsley overwinters well here too although, of course, the second year it goes to seed.
This spring so far – it looks like we might get fruit. Everything is holding back – even the early shooting
bamboos in the ground haven’t even begun to show new growth on their leaf buds – precursor to shoots
starting to come out of the ground and usually in mid-March for the earliest shooting varieties – Phyllostachys
elegans, P. violascens are normally the earliest followed by P. bissetii and P. aureosulcata (yellow-groove).
Over the winter during warmer days – we’ve been preparing our beds for this year’s crops – weeding, adding
compost where needed & mulching beds in the vegetable garden proper where we have all raised beds. We also
dig in compost, horse manure, leaf mold, charcoal, etc. in the long rows in the “Milpas” (one of our fenced in field
crop gardens used mostly for long season crops like winter squash, beans and corn, etc.) – and spring is when
we get our onion starts planted – early this year (end of January into mid-February) – an experiment. We always
run out of onions by December so we are trying some new things year – early planting of starts we buy in from
Dixondale Farms in Texas, seedling starts of our own a bit later, sets we get from the local farmer’s coop, and we’
re also trying some of the perennial leeks (more on them later) and spreading out our Egyptian onions so they
produce more. We’ve tried Potato onions several times but they don’t seem to do well here. Bunching onions
do well although I tend to eat them all up and our Garlic Chives are a mainstay in every recipe. We can harvest
them in late summer and freeze fresh – and use them all winter long. The garlic, of course, was planted in the
fall and it is beautiful this time of year – all green and growing strongly right through the winter.
The perennial leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) – we originally got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.
SouthernExposure.com) in Virginia die back in the summer and then re-sprout in the fall and overwinter very
nicely here – even 12 degrees didn’t even turn their tips brown. They don’t get as big for us as regular leeks,
but then – regular leeks don’t overwinter well here. Since they multiply, we dig and divide them before planting
them back in the fall. And as always – at least for me (Sue) – it is difficult to know just when the optimum time is
for starting various seedlings in the greenhouse – both for us and for our market customers to whom we sell the
seedlings to put out in their own gardens. We seem to have it down with the Chinese greens such as Pac Choy,
Chinese Cabbage, Mizuna (both green and red streaked), also Ragged Jack Kale and Perpetual Spinach (which
is really a Chard) – but I always seem to be a bit late in planting lettuce – last year some of it self-seeded and is
sprouting and growing well in and around the garden – earlier than I would put it out – mmm – maybe I should
pay more attention to that??!! The mints all seemed to start earlier this spring than I remember in the past –
divided and potted up a bunch of Blue Balsam (one of our favorite peppermint types) for the market and they
are looking really good. We use a lot of mint tea during the winter – usually we get three to four cuttings over
the summer which we dry in our home-made solar dehydrator.
As of the first week in April – I’ve up-potted our tomato seedlings and they should be just about the right size with
the roots just beginning to show in the pots by the time we set them out late in April. Chilies are just beginning to
sprout this week – have to keep the greenhouse much warmer to sprout them. In the past we kept trying new
and different varieties – but this year I’m going with the tried and true for us and our conditions: Jalapenos,
Serranos, Peach Habeneros, Anchos/Poblanos, Trinidad Perfume, Big Bomb (a hybrid but well worth it), Numex
Big Jim, Naga Jolokia – purportedly the hottest chile on the planet, Pasilla Bajio – used in moles, and our newest
favorite – Pimento de Padron – Tapas chilies used in Spain. If you harvest them when they are small and sauté
them in oil until lightly brown on all sides, drain them and sprinkle with kosher salt – they are a delicious treat – if
you miss some – which of course you always will – and they get big (up to three inches and kind of fat) – you can
pickle them and use them all winter long. We always grow way too many chilies for our own daily use during the
season – so to extend their use – I string and dry some – once dry I crumble them up to be added to winter
stews/soups etc. or I de-seed them fresh, chop them a bit, then put them in a food processor and pulse into
small chunks – after that I can freeze them in a week long’s serving size – when thawed, we add lemon juice and
salt using it as a condiment on rice, vegetables, etc. Yes, we like chilies.
Two of our Royal Palm Turkey hens are laying eggs now – one actually in a nest box attached to the turkey
sunporch – the other, our senior hen – Ms. Ma’am has chosen a spot amidst cactus plants under the eaves of
the house – smart bird – stay dry and in a place where raccoons and other predators are not likely to bother her
while she is setting. Once we realized she was actually setting – we moved her to the other nest box attached to
the turkey sunporch and she seems content to me there. Several of our older chicken hens succumbed to who
knows what this past winter – sad – but part of life. We get almost 2 dozen eggs a day from our younger hens.
Currently we have two hens setting. Miss Polka Dottie one of our female rabbits just kindled – don’t even know
how many babies yet – can just feel squiggly warm bodies in their nest.
Of course, the main economic event of spring is our bamboo sales and we’ve spent several weeks trying to get
caught up on orders – digging and stabilizing the clumps for about 30 days before they go off to customers.
The holding yard is currently full!!!! And the first order went out last week – we load another truck this week and
one more next week.
We’ve got several kinds of rabbit-eye blueberries available this spring, tree quince, goumis, Thorny hardy
orange trees (‘Flying Dragon’ cultivar) horseradish plants, chestnuts (hybrid crosses), pecans, figs,
pomegranates, hazelnuts, herbs, and veggie plant starts just to name a few of the things available – we sell on
Saturday mornings at the Franklin Farmer’s Market (on Liberty Pike in Franklin) – so if you are local or want a
nice day trip and want to visit one of the best Markets around – come see us and all the other vendors there. It
is a grower’s market with some crafts, compost, great coffee, etc. in the mix. You’ll get to meet the people who
grow the food or bake the bread/cookies, etc. We really enjoy visiting with the other vendors during slower
periods and helping customers when it is busy. Come see us. Summer market begins the first weekend in May
– 8 am – 1 pm every Saturday.
We also had a booth at the Earth Day Celebration in Nashville – lots of interest in our plants and what we are
doing – especially the Poncirus (thorny hardy orange) and the Pomegranates and also the cactus.
The calendar says Spring is here, it is raining and all the plants (and we) are happy – and busy!