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Bill's Lenten/Spring Gardening Advice, Week 2

As I sit here on March 10th, when normally I would be expecting the spring thaw to be underway, I am looking out my dining room window at snow falling and all my raised beds under snow cover!  Mother Nature is not cooperating with gardeners this year!
Here in zone 6 in Southeastern Massachusetts, our last expected frost date is ar0ound April 20th, which is about six weeks away.  Now is a good time to start tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and cauliflower, leeks and parsley from seed.  I have found particularly with eggplant that if you can provide bottom heat to the seed flat, it will improve your germination rate.
When the ground finally thaws out, and the daytime temperatures stay above 45 degrees, you can plant directly seed peas, radishes, spinach and turnips. Be careful to make sure you the soil is ready.  When you grab a handful of soil and squeeze it, if it stays in a moist ball, it is too moist to work.  It should crumble like chocolate cake if it is ready to work.  Working wet soil can compact it and ruin the soil structure. 
We have all raised beds here which drain very well, and are covered with a year round mulch of straw, so I haven’t had a problem with wet soil, but if you have a conventional garden plot and till it in the spring to work in fertilizer and soil amendments, be sure it is ready to be worked.
This week, I will start tomatoes and eggplant and also some marigolds. Marigolds are a good bug deterrent so if you plant them along borders, you may have less trouble with insects.  Normally, I would start my sweet peppers, but there was a good deal on pepper plants this year  – 16 (4 each of 4 different varieties) for $19.00 – of which I took advantage of this year.  They will ship them to me in May, and I will keep them in the greenhouse for a few weeks before I put them in the beds.  Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant like warmer weather.
If the weather cooperates, I will clean off the straw mulch on the beds this week.  In preparing to put in the cabbage and broccoli in this year, I am putting a layer of compost and goat gleanings (manure, shavings and dirt from the goat yard) about 1 to 2 inches thick on the bed, and then recovering it with the straw.  The broccoli and cabbage that I started last month are doing very well, and if Mother Nature cooperates, they should be transplanted into the ground the last week of March.
There is something miraculous about putting a tiny seed in soil, nurturing it and watching it develop into a vegetable plant, a tree, a beautiful flower.  As a science major, I am always fascinated and amazed at the genetic continuity that allows us to replicate a tomato, a peach, a rose, year after year.  The wonder of it is to me one of the most powerful proofs of the existence of our God who evidently this year believes we need an abundance of the “poor man’s fertilizer – snow”!!  Who said God doesn’t have a sense of humor??!!  

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