A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate


Old Timey Planting Guides


In years gone by people planted their crops according to the cycle of the moon, sun and other visual signs. Here are a few of the signs they observed when planting.

Corn and Beans.

Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.

Lettuce, spinach and cole crops.

Plant lettuce, spinach seeds in the garden and  broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pac choi, Chinese cabbage etc. seedlings  in the garden, when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.  See also post,  “Of Cabbages and Kings”.

Tomatoes, early corn, peppers.

Plant tomatoes and peppers plants and early corn, when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when day lilies start to bloom.  See also post, “Tomatoes and Peppers”, on page 2.

Cucumbers and squash.

Plant cucumbers and squash seedlings when lilac flowers fade. See also post, “Squash Anyone?”.


Plant potatoes when the first dandelion blooms. See also post, “One potato, Two Potato”.

Beets and carrots.

Plant beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming.


Plant peas when the forsythia blooms, when daffodils begin to bloom or on Good Friday.  See also post, “Peas Please”.

This information gleaned from “The Old Farmers Almanac” and the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Beware,  sudden prolonged warmer than usual weather may cause apples, other fruits and plants to soften early so that they will blossom and then get caught by a frost, which could cause the above signs to be off by a few weeks or more.   Such a hot spell forced my apples and blueberries to bloom too soon last year and they produced little if  any fruit.

A truism in zone 3-4 is never plant your tomatoes or other tender crops before  May 30th, no matter how warm it has been.  More that a few neighbors have not heeded this warning and have lost their tomatoes and tender plants and had to start over again.

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Peas, Please

Since the jute string is hard to see, I have drawn a line underneath the string to make it easier to find.

I know that it’s a little late in the season to be talking about peas. It occured to me that maybe someone else might like to know about some of the pea culture ideas we have put into practice here in our garden. Since I’m a tall person and getting on in years I don’t like to bend down to do anything. That’s why I weed sitting on a step 2 garden scoot and sew peas onto a chicken wire fence.

Peas need to be planted as early in the spring as possible. We usually try to plant them on Good Friday. This year Good Friday was so early, March 21st, that the garden was still covered with snow so we had to wait until the ground thawed out to plant them. Peas like it cool and if it gets too hot for too long they will just turn yellow, stop producing and die.

There are three kinds of peas, snap or edible podded, snow or sugar peas and shelling. Snap or edible podded peas look like shelling peas when they are ripe, they are round and look full of peas. Snow peas are flat and should be picked then they are small to medium size and very flat. With both snow and sugar snap peas you eat the pod and all. Before cooking or eating raw it is a good idea to pull off the string, just grasp the stem end and pull down and it should come off easily. Shelling peas need to be removed from their pods before eating or processing. Shelling and snap or edible podded peas come in many varieties and are either short or tall. I prefer the tall variety because I don’t like to bend over to pick them, tall peas also don’t get dirty laying in the dirt.

We sew both the short and tall varieties of peas onto 48 inch high, 1 inch grid chicken wire fences when the peas begin to flower. We do this because when the pods mature the tendrils are not strong enough to hold the peas onto the fence because of the weight of the pods. We use a dowel with a rounded head and drill a hole large enough to thread jute twine through it. Jute twine last only one season which makes clean up easy next spring. I takes two people to sew the peas onto the fence, one on either side to pass the needle, the dowel, back and forth through the fence to secure the pea plants. The best and fastest way to do this is to sew one side then the other, skipping over some of the peas and picking them up on the next pass.

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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.