Notes from Windward: #69


Garden Notes for April

April 2:

Transplanting Wild Dill

     We live on an alpine plateau, about 1200 feet above the Klickitat River Valley, so spring comes a little later for us (and winter a little earlier) than it does for our downhill neighbors. This means that just four miles down the hill plants are in bloom that won’t bloom up here for a few more weeks. On a recent trip into town, we got to see some of the fruit trees blossoming and wild flowers blooming along the side of the road.

our first spring crocus

     One of the most prolific flowers were those of the wild dill plant (Grays Desert Parsley, Lomatium grayi), growing on the slopes that rise up out of both the Klickitat and Columbia River valleys. Since the plants were so abundant, we figured it would be fine to gather some to bring home.

wild dill ready to plant

     We happened to have a shovel with us so we dug up a small plant, whose tap root was several feet long, and transplanted it into the herb garden. It is not ideal to transplant when the plant is in bloom, but the plants were growing in a few centimeters of topsoil between basalt outcrops, so they are probably pretty hardy.We’ll find out soon enough if the plant takes a liking to its new home. And if not, we could always gather some next winter when they are dormant.

dill takes a place in the Spiral Garden

April 6:

Planting Potatoes

     Now that the upper terrace is so wonderfully level, it is time to start planting in it. In the past, since the rotatiller has been used to till the garden bed, the garden has been dug later in April so the soil moisture is low enough that the rotatiller doesn’t compact the soil too much. However, since this year we dug it by hand, which compacts the soil less, we are able to plant in it a few weeks earlier.

seed potatoes saved from last year

     We have had great success with potatoes in the past as a crop that yields well in our soil and climate. So we will continue with potatoes this year as one of the main staple and storage crops in the garden. A few days ago, Oana and I dug the trenches for the potatoes. Since water retention is a key part of the successful development of the potatoes, we want to minimize runoff and the need for watering and do so by planting the potatoes in trenches.

Oana planting potatoes

     We have gotten to the point where we can produce enough potatoes to use some of the previous years harvest as seed potatoes in the spring. So I set aside some potatoes earlier this year as seed potatoes. When Oana and I decided to prepare the potatoes for planting, many of them had already begun to sprout. The potato shoot develops from the “eyes” that are scattered throughout the potato and show up as little indentations on the potato skin. As the sprout grows, it uses the energy stored in the potato, so each piece you plant needs to have a few eyes from which to send up sprouts (at least four for good measure) and a large enough energy reserve (about golf ball sized) from which to grow. This means that most potatoes can be cut up so that we can grow multiple plants from a single potato. We tried to avoid splitting any eyes and endeavored to cut parallel to the existing veination, which you can determine by locating the place on the potato where the stem once attached (thats the top) and cut downwards.

a cut potato showing veination

     Then we planted prepared potatoes about 12 inches apart in the trench and covered them with soil and watered them. When the potatoes come up, we will layer some hay mulch on top of the irrigation lines to keep the moisture in and protect the young plants from cool nights. When potatoes are still below the ground they are frost tolerant, but once they emerge above ground (in about 2 weeks time) they will be sensitive to frost damage, so we will have to be on frost watch and cover them on the cold nights.

April 11:

First Spring Transplants

sprouting garlic

     Some of the greens and herbs planted in February and March are ready for transplanting. When the plants have developed about two sets of true leaves they are hardy enough to be transplanted. Before transplanting, they spend at least a week outside or in prop-house (which has similar night-time temperatures as outside) to “harden off” the plants. The first transplants are greens and herbs that are tolerant of light frosts—such as parsley, cilantro, lettuces, chard and kale. Adding a nice layer of hay mulch around the young transplants creates a buffer from the cooler nights, slows weed growth and reduces moisture evaporation from the soil. In the herb garden, I laid down a soaker hose before adding the mulch on top to maximize water retention.

parsley in the Spiral Garden

     As more plants are transplanted, space opens up in the kitchen and prop-house for more seedings, so I have continued to seed cooking and salad greens. Also, I have started seeding flowers that act as natural insect repellents (such as marigolds and pyrethrum/painted daisy) so we can plant them around the vegetables to reduce insect damage.

the garden's flower terrace

     The other day Oana and I built a small terrace to reduce runoff in the beneficial flower bed. The flower bed used to slope steeply downhill, encouraging the water to drain off the bed instead of seep into the soil. So we gathered some rocks to build up the southern edge of the bed, making it more level. This space of the garden was developed last year as a place to plant flowers that attract pollinators and herbs/flowers that we can use to make insect repellents.

the rhubarb says that spring is here

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69