April Edible Garden Tasks
It’s April and edible gardening is in full swing. The air and ground are warming, buds are fattening and if you did some cool weather vegetable planting in March, you may be enjoying the first early harvest of 2021. If you haven’t gotten started yet, fear not. There is plenty of time to get things going and enjoy a productive gardening season.
As we’ve mentioned many times, deep tilling is not a recommended practice any longer, except maybe for new beds where integrating organic matter into unimproved soils can make sense.
If you grew a cover crop over the winter, cut it as close to flush with the soil as possible, with a string trimmer or stirrup hoe. Use the cuttings as mulch or add them to the compost heap. If you are not planning to plant for a few weeks, cover the roots with a black plastic tarp or landscape fabric and let the roots rot in the soil. If you want to plant immediately, work the soil just deep enough to loosen the roots, rake them off and compost them. Add a couple of inches of compost to the beds and work it into the top 3-4 inches of soil. Let the soil organisms take it deeper.
To loosen compacted soil, drive a digging or broadfork as deeply into the soil as possible and rock it back and forth to loosen without destroying soil structure. Work your way across your rows or beds in 6-12 inch steps.
Rake the surface smooth, and you are ready to plant.
If starting from seed, follow seed packet directions. For intensive or square foot gardening arrangements, use recommended seed packet spacing in both directions. Goal is to space plants so that mature plants will just touch each other, helping reduce moisture and weed pressure while maximizing production for a given garden space.
Fertilization is important for best results. For guidance on what products to use and how and when to apply them, review the article A Fertilization Primer in this month’s Garden Shed.
According to Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide, in Hardiness Zone 7a:
- There is still time to plant cool weather crops, including: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, greens and lettuces, spinach, radishes and turnips. They like it cool, however, so get them in soon.
- Late April is the time to plant bush and pole beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, squash and tomatoes. These guys are harmed by frost, however, so check the longer term weather forecast before setting them out or planting. Or be prepared to protect them if a late frost sneaks into the region. I believe global warming is real, but variability seems more obvious than warming in our area, so some caution makes sense.
A Few Tips
- When deciding what to plant where, remember to rotate your crops, preferably on a 3-4 year cycle to minimize pressure from soil borne diseases and pests.
- Maintain a journal for recording crop locations, varieties planted, pest and disease issues, and growing success. You will be thankful when you plant next year.
- Plant seeds at a depth of about 2 times the seed width (not length). Moisten when planting and keep moist until germination.
- Trellises are a great way to save space and keep plants off the ground. VCE publication Vertical Gardening Using Trellises, Stakes and Cages offers guidance for a variety of space-saving plant supports.
- If you started seeds indoors, remember to harden the plants off by progressively exposing them to more sun and wind over 1-2 weeks when outside temperatures are above 50 degrees, prior to transplanting.
- It is best to transplant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce shock to young plants.
- If transplanting peat pots, tear off the top of the pot to a point below the soil line to avoid wicking water away from plant roots.
- Mulching plants after transplanting or germination is a good thing, but give the soil a chance to warm up before mulching to avoid slowing plant growth.
- When laying out plant locations, remember that leafy greens typically require 6 hours of sun per day while fruiting vegetables want at least 8 hours.
- Consider intercropping. Mixing different plant varieties uses space well, adds diversity to the garden environment, mixes scents that can confuse pests, and attracts a broader array of beneficial predators, helping reduce pest damage.
- If you would like to extend the harvest season for your greens, consider chard. Chards have a lower tendency to bolt and can withstand summer heat longer than most other greens. In addition, rainbow chard makes a pretty presentation in the garden.
- Should a surprise late frost threaten your warm weather crops, a row cover can save the day. Review the Garden Shed article: Row Covers: A Garden Season Extender with Benefits for materials and techniques for their use.
- It isn’t too late to plant asparagus or strawberry patches. For guidance on starting asparagus refer to the Spear into Spring with Asparagus in the March 2015 issue of The Garden Shed, and the VCE publication Asparagus, which specifies recommended cultivars for Virginia. For strawberries and other small fruits check out the VCE publication Small Fruit in the Home Garden.
- If you are planning a home orchard, check out the VCE publication Tree Fruit in the Home Garden for help in site selection, tree selection and care for many popular fruits.
- If you are curious about the particular weeds you are finding in the garden or its surroundings, either for elimination or edibility, VCE’s Weed Identification guide is a good reference resource.
I hope you find this information helpful. Comments on content are welcome. In any case, enjoy your garden and please come back for another visit next month.
Cover photo: Compost: Photo: Ralph Morini
Weed identification: https://weedid.cals.vt.edu/