A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate


Spring Planted Bulbs, Shrubs and Trees

garedning-a-z-058 crocus-1 We are all familiar with the bulbs that come up in the spring, like daffodils and crocus, that have to be planted in the fall in order to have blooms in the spring.  There are bulbs and other plants that can be planted in the spring that will bloom in the summer such as lilies, dahlias, Host, astilbe and many many other flowering plants.

Spring is the best time to plant fruit trees, shrubs, berry bushes, strawberries and landscape plants because you find out almost immediately whether or not they have survived or need to be replaced.

Here is a list of catalogs that sell spring planted bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees.

Michigan Bulb Co. McClure & Zimmerman High Country Gardens, Select Seeds K.Van Bourgondien & sons, inc. whole sale catalog,   Van BourgondienFarmer Seed and Nursery Stark Bro’s.

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Rhubarb, the first fruit of spring

A few weeks ago we moved our rhubarb bed to a new location, next to the herb garden. Each plant made many divisions, some only partial roots. Rhubarb is one of those plants that you can do just about anything to and it will still grow and produce. We decided to leave a few plants in place at the old location so we would have rhubarb to make into pies, crisps or just to eat raw or stewed, while the new bed takes hold.

The remnants of the old rhubarb bed

The leaves of this plant are highly poisonous and should never be fed to any animal or bird. It’s best to cut off the leaves while in the rhubarb bed and tuck them under the mulch to decompose and compost. The stalk is what is used for eating, canning or freezing. You can freeze the cut up stalk without blanching, it keeps very well this way. I have found that the best way to harvest it is to simply grab on to a stalk and pull. If it wont come out just cut it off with a knife as close to the plant as possible. You can substitute rhubarb for tart apples in most recipes.

Some people think that rhubarb should only be eaten in spring, however, Linda and I harvest it right up to the fall frost. If kept heavily mulched with straw, it will keep producing all summer long. Quality usually remains consistent if kept well watered in a dry summer.

Catalogs that sell rhubarb seeds or plants. Jung Quality Seeds, Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Co., Miller Nurseries, Johnny’s Slected Seeds, The Cook’s Garden, Henry Field’s, Burpee, Michigan Bulb Co..

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It’s Official!

Tim bringing back the tiller from a spring tune up at his house.

Spring has arrived in zone 3-4, the tree frogs have started peeping. I really enjoy laying in bed at night listening to the peepers, it’s music to my ears. This is my favorite time of year. I know that spring has arrived and that soon we will be planting the garden. We may still have at least two more snow events before May. On occasion we have had significant snow in May. I’ve gone to bed when the temperature was in the 50’s and woke up to 6″ of snow on the ground on May 16 th. We had to jump out of bed and run outside to shake the snow off the fruit trees in order to keep the damage to a minimum. Snow in May usually melts by the afternoon although I remember one time it staying on the ground for about 2 days.

Linda came over on April 7 th and we planted the peas and lettuce in the garden. We usually plant peas on Good Friday, however, this Good Friday was on March 21st, and the garden was covered with ice and snow. We also started our herbs, leeks and bunching onions. We will transplant the leeks and bunching onions when they get big enough. They are frost hardy so it doesn’t matter when you transplant them into the garden. The herbs were put on the germination stand until they come up and then will go on the front porch until they can go into the greenhouse.

The daffodils are peeking up out of the ground and the crocus are blooming. Thank goodness for crocus, it’s so nice to have such bright and deep colors when everything is so drab. Last fall I planted 80 crocus in my front yard flower bed, it’s 5’x10′. That bed also has daffodils and is planted with annuals in June for summer color.

It’s also time to prune the apple trees, blueberry bushes and ornamentals. From here on out, life gets very busy.

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The Garden In Winter

January: Sleeping under the snow are carrots, parsnips, garlic, asparagus and potatoes.

Time to get out the seed catalogs and plan the garden for next spring. Last fall, my friend Linda and I, planted some some of our potato crop to see if we could get a jump on our spring planting. Every year we get volunteer potato sprouts from the potatoes we missed when harvesting. Since potatoes are native to the Andes mountains, we thought we would give it a try.

If you are new to gardening, it’s time to do some really serious planning to get the most out of your efforts, to get the soil ready for planting, and to decide what you are going to plant. It can be a challenge to garden in a short season but with a little planning you can have a really good vegetable, fruit harvest, or flower garden. You won’t be able to grow everything you want. Don’t believe those seed catalogs that tempt you with things like sub-zero peaches or other plants that normally grow in zone 5 or higher. In my 40 years of gardening in the short season, zone 3-4, I have found that they are not worth the time, hard work or energy. If you live in a river valley or near a lake you will have 6 weeks more season, 3 in spring and 3 in fall, and you could try to grow some of those sub-zero plants. The closer you are to a lake the more protection you will have from a frost.