Two questions to ask when planning your back yard farm’s spring crops
As we enter the middle of winter, many people are already thinking about and looking forward to thawing out in the spring months. Once spring hits and the days start to get noticeable longer, we have the urge to spend more time outside of the cubicle, hold off on the Netflix marathons, and just unplug from all things not outdoorsy. The backyard can be one of the easiest accessible oases when you’re feeling a bout of cabin fever. The good news is there are things that you can do now to plan for harvests in the spring and summer. The bad news and you already know this is; the most epic gardens require epic about of time and energy to maintain.
Most folks whether working full time or retired, don’t have the time to spend hours gardening every week, but don’t take that in consideration when making their spring and summer gardening plan. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when planning your spring and summer crops.
How much time to I have to contribute to my crops weekly?
At every stage of growth your crops will need attention. In the earlier stage, directly after transplanting, the time requirements are minimal and mostly observation. Taking 5 minutes once or twice a week to check to make sure all of your crops are being irrigated and that there are no new nibbles on your leaves will save you heartache later in the growing season. As the season progresses the time requirements will change. Warmer temperatures mean more vegetative growth and more pests looking to feed on the new plant growth. At this stage, expect to do a little pruning. For example if you are growing kale, this would be the time to trim back leaves that have turned yellow or are making contact with your soil or growing medium. If done regularly and depending on the size of your backyard farm this is about a 5 to 10 minute task. You should also plan a little time for pest management. Using the kale example, as the crop matures, expect to see an influx of aphids. Aphids are one of the most common garden pests they are resilient and prolific reproducers that feed on the plants nutrients and inhibit its growth. Fact: Aphids are born pregnant and each one will multiply by 800 in a week. Regular pest management is a must! Bean crops are particularly susceptible to powdery mildew. Once it is present, it will only get worse and spread if not regularly treated with horticultural oil-water solution.
What vegetable does my family like to eat?
Summer squash is an exciting crop to grow because once it starts producing fruit it doesn’t stop until the season is over. If not planned properly, you and your family will be squashed out and your neighbors will awkwardly avoid speaking to you out of fear you’ll present them with another batch of squash pasta, squash casserole or squash soup. An equally prolific producer is the cucumber plant. Once the first fruit appear expect to harvest cucumbers a few times a week. This encourages the plant to produce more cucumbers. Some of my clients prefer the smaller Persian variety because they have a stronger flavor profile and offer an easy fresh snack that the grand kids can pick themselves. Tomatoes are another fun crop to produce, however they do require some upkeep in the form of pruning and staking. I recommend limiting heirloom varieties as they tend to be more finicky in their growing needs (soil quality, nutrients, water) and leave little room for error on the farmer side. Save these for when you’ve mastered the main organic varieties. Choosing crops that you regularly consume will create an incentive to spend more time with your plants making your backyard farm a delight instead of an overgrown eyesore.
Here are is my spring starting lineup:
Kale – There are several kale varieties to choose from like Russian Red, Ribor and Lacinato it’s possible to regularly have a kaleidoscope of kale on the dinner table. Simply harvest the maturing leaves and wait about a week, there will be more.
Swiss Chard – Chard is another go-to crop and staple in many of my client’s backyard farms. It requires little to no maintenance, adds a nice pop of color, and is chock full of vitamin K. “One cup of cooked Swiss chard provides approximately 716% if vitamin K needs” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284103.php
Cucumbers – Cucumbers come in two main varieties, slicing and pickling. The pickling varieties are not good for fresh consumption. When growing cucumbers some opt to train their plants to trellis. This is a great idea if your growing space is limited.
Tomatoes – If this is your first rodeo, limit planting heirloom varieties. Cherry tomatoes are a fun treat for all. Sweet 100s are a good choice if like small tomatoes with a ton of flavor. Note: When grown in the right conditions, tomato plants will grow in excess of 10 feet. Plan accordingly.
Peppers – My family comes from Central America and the South, having fresh super-spicy peppers are a must! Pay attention to Scoville units. If you’re heat sensitive, this will help you choose milder peppers. If you’re like me, you‘ll look at the Scoville units and say “bring it!” Know the heat index difference between a Serrano (5000 SHU) and a Trinidad Scorpion 1,000,000 SHU
Keep growing…Keep learning!