For a gardener living in Colorado, April must be the hardest month of the year. Every article I see, every post on the gardening blogs I read celebrates the arrival of spring. Photos of germinating peas, lettuce, and other greens decorate my friends’ Facebook pages.
And me? Here’s the weather from last Tuesday:
North winds 25 to 45 mph…. Gusts up to 60 mph. Periods of snow showers until late afternoon… then numerous snow showers late in the afternoon. Blowing snow through the day. Snow accumulation of 4 to 5 inches. Highs in the teens. Chance of precipitation 80 percent. Wind chill readings 1 below to 11 below zero..
It was 3° when I woke up the following morning. Not exactly planting weather.
Still, there are some gardening chores I can do even now. Five days ago I started chard, bok choy, tomatoes, and tons of lettuce indoors under lights. Now their tiny cotyledons are poking above the planting mix, the first green of the coming growing season.
I’m trying lots of butterhead lettuce varieties this year. Butterhead is by far my favorite lettuce to eat, and it’s always so darned expensive in the market. That makes it a prime candidate for grow-your-own. Yet the seed catalogs carry so few varieties. I don’t understand it.
Since I try hard to consolidate my seed order (who wants to pay shipping charges from more than one or two places?), I didn’t have a lot of flexibility. Pinetree Seeds offers over 20 loose leaf lettuce varieties but only five butterheads: Buttercrunch (very popular, but I don’t want a crunchy butterhead) and Tom Thumb (both inexplicably listed under “loose leaf lettuce”), May Queen, All Year Round, and Merveille de Quatre Saisons (which is gourmet-speak for “Four Seasons” aka “Continuity”—an heirloom I’ve had poor luck with). I ordered Tom Thumb, May Queen, and All Year Round (hoping it’s different from Four Seasons).
Then I conned my daughter into ordering two more butterhead varieties from Territorial Seed, along with her own order. Optima and Victoria both promise the large, heavy butterheads I crave, and I’ve had good results from Optima in the past.
I also started Pinetree’s lettuce mix, a combination of every loose leaf variety in their catalog, Simpson Elite, my best performer to date, and Nevada, an unusual French Batavian lettuce (think of a cross between a vitamin-rich green loose leaf and Iceberg) that also came from Territorial Seed.
Wanting to keep my garden small this year, with only two of us to feed, I decided to eliminate many of the crops I’ve grown in the past. For example, I’m not growing peppers this year. I’m finally admitting that the colorful bells in the market are better than the ones that struggle to maturity in my garden.
And although my cabbages are far superior to the long-keepers I can buy, I’m not growing those either. Last time the bunnies ate them to nubs and the cabbage loopers then polished them off. I could resort to row covers and chicken-wire cages, but I’ll just buy the five to six cabbages we eat every year. Ditto the broccoli—it’s available year round at the market and theirs tastes just fine.
I did sow some baby bok choy, something I rarely see for sale unless I drive to the Asian grocery at the other end of town. We love bok choy. I’ll start some more next week, hopefully spacing out the plants’ maturity so we aren’t faced with a glut of greens.
And finally, I started six tomato plants: three Ultimate Opener (an improved version of Early girl by the same breeder) and three Early Goliath (another large, very early tomato that usually manages to ripen in our climate). Those will go outside, while a few more seedlings I pick up at the nursery will go into my little solar greenhouse as insurance.
Finally, I decided that this will be the year of the chard. Being allergic to spinach, chard is my preferred substitute, and it produces all summer to boot. I’ve started Bright Lights, Sea Foam (a white-ribbed chard touted as being extra delicious), Prima Rosa (an improvement over the old red Rhubarb Chard), and Perpetual (it’s only perpetual in mild-winter climates, but I’ve overwintered it in my greenhouse several times). Some will go into the garden, some into the greenhouse. Hopefully we’ll get a harvest from at least one planting!
So here we are, with high hopes and no garden disasters—yet. Who will benefit most from this year’s crops—the gardener? Or will the pocket gophers and rabbits prevail? will anything survive the inevitable hail storm? Will a late frost wipe out my squash and tomatoes? Only time will tell. Stay tuned for further episodes in the 2013 thriller, My Veggie Garden.