Winter lingers, but I’m way past caring because I’m busy opening seed packets and poking them into as many containers as I can find. Embarrassingly, I have over 400 little seeds sprouting in all types of containers around my home and studio. Yesterday I opened a cupboard and found a pot of chives I’d stashed there last week. They liked their warm, dark hiding spot and sprouted. Joy. Seeds sprouting is the joy of gardeners across the land.
But no matter how many seeds I start indoors, I’m still itching to sow some outside. In the north, direct sow can still be several weeks away unless you have a raised bed with a hoop tunnel or ……a keyhole garden with a hoop tunnel. I feel like shouting a big, “Hooray for hoop tunnels and keyholes!” Sure, it takes a little time and planning to get the soil warmed and protective covers installed, but in a few short weeks my early greens will be sprouting. Summer, not just spring spring, will be on its way….if only on my dinner table.
The Direct Sow Keyhole Plan
The most time-intensive part of this endeavor is deciding which seeds to grow in my 6 x 6 foot space. Every seed comes with a story and people love to share their stories with other gardeners. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of stories and a lot of seeds. Sometimes gardeners haves special heirloom varieties they love to pass on, other times garden centers host giveaways of new seeds, occasionally a breeder or grower is so excited about seeds that they’ll send me some. So when it comes to planning a garden, I have to focus. Which seed is best at this particular moment?
The Garden Plan
It’s still hard to chose! So I went with simple. The simplest way is to design a garden around veggies that require the same lowest temperature to germinate. Here’s my little hand-illustrated garden plan based on veggies that have a minimum germination temperature of 40° F.
You might plan your’s differently, but I like to ensure as much success as possible and still try new varieties of the veggies I like most. Growing in a USDA hardiness 4b zone means the weather will be cooler and rainy with fluctuating temps. I looked for varieties from seed distributors I’ve used in the past and/or varieties that have been selected for tougher environments. We eat a lot of greens so my spring garden is full of those, but beets, carrots and radish are also high on my list. I had excellent luck growing fall carrots and radish last season. Hopefully, they’ll do well this spring, too.
When it comes to growing, my philosophy is why grow something in my garden that’s readily available in the average supermarket? I’d rather try something different. Here’s the list of what I”ll be growing. I’m excited. Most are either new for the 2016 growing season or introduced last year. Where possible I’ve provided links (non-affiliate) in case you’re interested in finding out more. The others can be found through your own internet search or by inquiring at your local IGC.
- Cosmic Purple Carrot – Colorful carrots continue to be all the rage. I grew rainbow carrots last season with great success. This cosmic variety is purple on the outside and orange on the inside. The purple remains even when cooked, but you don’t have to cook these sweet gems. They have a smooth skin, sweet taste and crunchy texture when eaten raw. I’m thinking many of these won’t make it inside. I may just rinse and eat while I’m working outside.
- Five Color Rainbow Gourmet Beet, Renee’s Garden – Beets. Last year was my first year growing beets and now I’m hooked. This colorful variety is giving the rainbow carrots a little competition. These beets are deep purple (inside and out), rose with candy-cane stripes, orange with yellow insides, pink, and white. Writing that makes me think of Easter eggs. What a delight!
- Watermelon Radish – This is a cold weather growers dream come true. Watermelon’s aren’t impossible here, but varieties are limited. Growing a tiny little watermelon type radish is just plain fun. They promise to be sweet and crisp. I can’t wait.
- Matilda, Gourmet Bibb Lettuce, Renee’s Garden It doesn’t get much better than harvesting your own lettuce in early spring. This variety thrives on being well-watered and properly thinned. Crunchy heads of lettuce will be the reward for due diligence in the garden.
- Gourmet Salad Blend Lettuce – This is a colorful blend of five different types of lettuce. I love growing this type. When I grow a variety of lettuce together they all seem to perform better. Plus, the various shades of greens and purples will make a gorgeous salad.
- Corvair F1 Spinach, Seeds of Change This is one of the few repeats in my garden. It’s delicious, slow to bolt, and a prolific grower.
- Corn Salad Bistro Lettuce, Burpee I couldn’t resist this one. I was drawn in by the beautiful picture of sweet green leaves on the package and it’s supposed to do very well in containers. It’s cold-hardy, easy to harvest and promises buttery leaves. I’ll let you know how it does.
- Swiss Giant Pansy Mix – These gorgeous flowers will brighten my keyhole bed and can be added to harvested greens for a great looking salad. Some pansies taste sweet and others minty. I’ll let you know about this one, too.
Readying The Keyhole Garden
Now that I’ve decided what I’ll be planting, I’ll begin readying the keyhole. The low hoops are still in place from my autumn keyhole garden, but the level of growing medium is almost 6 inches from the top ( too low to plant in) and frozen. I’ve debated about what to use to replenish the garden. Last spring when I set up the keyhole I used a combination of soil and organic compost (horse manure/shredded bark) for the brown layers. (In case you’re wondering….Keyhole gardens are set-up via alternating layers of green and brown organic material. You can read more about the process in posts I wrote earlier here and here.) This past fall, I added 2 inches of just the manure/shredded bark compost and the results were fabulous. The whole premise of the keyhole is to grow in an organic, nutrient rich medium that retains adequate moisture without becoming too dry or too soggy. The mixture of soil and compost was a bit heavy during the summer when we received weekly rains of an inch or more. During the fall season, the bed seemed to retain enough moisture but not get bogged down with the rain.
Here are the steps I’ll be following to get my keyhole ready for growing:
- Add organic compost to within 2 inches of the top.
- Cover with a quilted frost protective covering to promote soil warm-up.
- Measure the temperature of the soil with a quick-read soil thermometer.
- Once the soil reaches the minimum temperature of 40° F, directly sow seeds in the keyhole garden, water, and re-cover the garden with the quilted frost protective covering.
- Once seeds have sprouted, fear of frost is past, and outdoors temps increase to 55° and above, switch the quilted frost protective covering to a general protective covering that lets in more light.
That’s the plan. I’ll be taking lot of photos and sharing the growing progress here and on social media. I hope you’ll join me. If we’re not already connected, please find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Also, if you’re a northern grower and enjoy Twitter there is a newer chat called #GrowingNorth on Thursday at 9 pm led by Pam of @GrowingNorth. We’d love to have you join us!
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