On The Farm

Plan Your Spring Garden

At Blackberry Farm, our Garden team starts planning the Spring garden in the Fall. We plant cover crops, think about quantities needed for the kitchens and start discussing what new we’d like to grow for the next growing season. Garden Manager Mike Washburn shares some insight on the process at the Farm as well as how to prepare and begin a Spring garden at home.

When do you start planning the Spring garden?

Mike Washburn: Ideally you start thinking about your Spring garden in the Fall. That’s when you prepare the land.

How do you decide what you want to grow in the Spring?

MW: We look at the quantities of things the chefs wanted. Did we have enough of this? Did we grow too much of that? Then we also look at how well things were timed. If we were late putting out broccoli in the previous year, we need to start it two weeks earlier in the coming yearIf a certain flower didn’t get enough time to bloom, we need to start them earlier. Or maybe we started something a little early, so we know we bump it back a week.

Also, there may be a new crop in the seed catalog that we haven’t seen before. Let’s try that! So part of it is collaborative with the kitchen – what do the chefs want this year, what are they interested in? Secondly, what did we not have enough of and what did we have too much of? Then the final factor is what’s cool! What do we want to grow; what haven’t we grown before; is there something we want to experiment with trying to work in Spring?

What’s the first thing you’re planting?

MW: The first thing that has to go in coming into Spring are kales and broccoli – things in the brassica or cabbage family of plants. We’ll actually start those in January.

Do you have to do anything to the soil to prep?

MW: In the Fall, we plant cover crops. That feeds our soil. You wouldn’t want to just till everything in the Fall because then all the Winter rains would wash away the soil and nutrients. So cover crops are a way to hold soil in place as well as add nutrients to it. You always wants roots holding the soil down. We also compost a lot in the Fall.

When we get ready to plant in the Spring, we’ll knock down the cover crops. We’ll knock them down a couple weeks before we’re ready to plant so that the plants have died. That creates a mulch for us. A lot of Spring crops – like lettuces, broccolis, cabbages and kales – like a lot of water. So if you have some type of mulch, it will keep water in the soil better. As you get into the hotter days, that mulch also helps keep your soil cool.

Thinking about gardening at home, what is a good go-to for the new growing season?

MW: Leaf lettuce and radishes. Radishes are a good, easy one. They only need 30 to 40 days to harvest, so it’s something that you get pretty quick. Wait until probably the end of February to plant radishes. You can also plant potatoes as early as February.

When I talk about planting cabbages and those things in January, we’re still putting them in the hoop house where there’s heat. So if you’re a home gardener, a good idea is to do trays of kale, cabbages and broccoli and place them in a sunny window. Find a good south-facing window and start them inside. Then they can transfer outside in late February.

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