Gardening To-Do List, Late April

I’m working hard at waiting for paint to dry right now.  Our lovely little barn has gotten quite the facelift for 2011, but unfortunately paint just doesn’t dry the way that I want to…. which is instantly. Until then, there’s a bed frame in the driveway, mattresses in the kitchen, boxes and other junk strewn basically everywhere. The second that paint is dry, the project is finished; all we have to do is move the furniture back in.

With every second that ticks by, a surge of “holy shit I have so much work to do” is welling up in the corners of my brain. It is that time of year, after all. So, while I wait for paint to dry, I think a to-do list is probably in order.  This list is inspired by the Garden Chore posts from Margaret Roach’s blog, A Way To Garden, which I have found to be very helpful in the past. Every gardener’s to-do list is going to be a little bit different, though, and mine is more centered around growing food and less around perennials and ornamental plants.

When I was just starting to grow vegetables and flowers, a seasoned farmer told me that the goal is  to plant and harvest constantly, with some sections of the garden in the earliest stages of growth, others ready for harvest, others growing, and others waiting to be planted.  “A good farmer is always planting,” she said. It was a lightbulb moment. I used to try to have my garden be completely planted at the beginning of every season, but I’ve realized that having everything is a state of organized chaos and disarray means that it is a more productive farm. There are always flowers and vegetables to harvest and there are always new plants to replace them with.

alcosa cabbage, ready for harvest

MAINTENANCE WORK AND SPRING CLEANING:

  • Weedwack all of the borders in the gardens before the spring weeds go to seed.
  • Inspect fences for holes and repair as needed.
  • Inspect irrigation system and repair as needed.
  • Clean out foliar sprayers, watering cans, and barrels used for mixing compost tea- a mild bleach solution and elbow grease seems to work well.
mustard greens

VEGETABLES:

  • Harvest winter vegetables now (cabbages, greens, carrots, beets, etc.). Cook, preserve, barter or sell to clear the way for summer planting.
  • Fertilize growing spring vegetables that are a month or so away from harvest (peas, lettuces, more carrots, beets and greens). I use an organic liquid seaweed fertilizer (any brand will do) or make compost tea.
  • Inventory starts for summer vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer and winter squash).  We grow some from seed in the greenhouse and I fill in the gaps with starts that I get from friends or buy at the farmers market.  Cucumbers and squash can also be direct sown in the garden after the frost date.
  • Fertilize plants in the greenhouse- they are usually getting quite large by this point, and may not be able to get enough nutrients from the soil in their little containers.  I foliar spray with a high-nitrogen fertilizer if the leaves on my starts look too yellow or pale.
  • Plant carrots, beets, and lettuce in the garden before the weather gets too hot.
summer squash start in the greenhouse
sweet peas, ready to go to the market in bouquets

FLOWERS:

  • Spring flowers which may have overwintered are blooming, which is fantastic (calendula, sweet william, sweet peas, pansies). The sweet peas smell divine and will go to the market on opening day.
  • Early season flowers that were seeded in weeks ago should be popping up by now (bells of ireland, poppies, calendula, love-in-a-mist, etc). Weed beds to keep the space open for the delicate seedlings and fertilize if needed.
  • Flower starts in the greenhouse will probably need some fertilizer, just like the vegetables do.  Varieties will vary greatly from one garden to another, but in our greenhouse I have marigolds, zinnias, celosia, and much, much more.
sweet william
celosia starts in the greenhouse

HERBS:

  • Tender spring growth is perfect for rooting cuttings from plants like rosemary, lavender and sage. Never taken cuttings before? Here’s how. 
  • Overwintered herbs (mint, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, etc.) should be growing nicely by now. Use the abundance of fresh growth for pestos, as filler in flower bouquets, mix into quiches, toss into pasta dishes, mix into jellies.
thyme

FRUIT TREES:

  • By this time of the year, trees should already be pruned.
  • Clear weeds from the base of the trees.
  • Inspect irrigation and repair any leaks.
  • Plant any remaining bare-root trees before the weather gets too hot (it’s late by now, they will need extra water to make sure they get established properly).
  • In a few weeks when the weather starts to really stabilize and get warm, plant out any citrus trees.
Cara Cara Pink Navel in the greenhouse

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…. THE COMPOST PILE:

  • In these last few weeks before planting time, I turn the compost pile several times to try and really get everything going in there. The composting process often slows down significantly during the winter (since it’s cold outside), but once the temperatures warm, everything should return to normal. Before you planting date, break down the pile and pull out finished compost to till into beds.
  • If you have particularly hot compost, you may want to spread and till the compost into garden beds now so you can water it a few times and let it sit for a week or two before planting time.  (“Hot” means high in nitrogen; anyone using lots of chicken manure will have this issue. Or blessing, depending how you look at it).
  • Have questions about composting? Martha has a really good slideshow here (big surprise.)
butter lettuce in the garden
wildflower
calendula
bleeding heart in the greenhouse

… and in case anyone forgot, since that was a long to-do list:

  • Enjoy the spring, and the sunshine, and the wildflowers. Try not to work too hard. Don’t worry about perfection, just have fun.
parrot tulips
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4 thoughts on “Gardening To-Do List, Late April

  1. Awesome post, Caroline! Lots of eye candy and good info. I am so busy with our backyard “redo” but then there’s all that other garden stuff to do as well-must remember to stop and enjoy the Spring, I agree!

  2. Hey Caroline, could you give me the recipe for that compost tea? I’ve been looking for a good organic/ natural fertilizer.
    Also, my tomatoes seem better and my cucumbers are getting pretty big in their peet pots (with yellow flowers!). Should I plant them outside now or wait? Not sure what to do. Could I use small protectors for the night temps if I plat them outside now?
    Thanks again for your great posts!

    1. ok, question 1: “compost tea” can be a whole slew of things and I should probably write a whole post about this. In a nutshell, my system is this: I have a big plastic garbage can (that has never been used for garbage) – it is 45 gallons and the perfect size for my garden, and cheaper than a water tank. You’ll need 3-5 gallons of finished compost and a pair of old pants that you don’t care about anymore…. lol (this is the cheap way!)…. Tie off the bottom of each pant leg, put the compost in the pants, tie off the top of the pants so no compost falls out, and then put the pant-compost bag into the garbage bucket of water. Let it sit for around 24 hours. that is just ONE version of compost tea (you can throw a fish tank bubbler in the bottom of the garbage pail to make it into super-aerated tea, which is even more exciting). I usually add liquid seaweed to my compost tea at the dosage rate on the bottle. If you can find seaweed, it is organic and really wonderful and rich without being so strong you’ll burn your seedlings. Note: other people may have totally different recipes or methods for tea, usually not involving pants.
      Question 2: If you had to, you could probably plant out your tomatoes and cukes and then cover them at night. What I would do is find out your frost date though (the garden store people will know) and wait until after that. It would be a bummer to have your little ones get snowed on or something. Glad to hear your tomatoes are doing better!

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