Water + Sun = Food : The Garden Season Begins by Stephen Rose

Stephen Rose is a garden member with a remarkably green thumb. He’s chronicling the year in his own lush backyard. We are following along for tips for our own plots, decks and sills.

Spring training is underway. The garden season begins.


From what I could gather online, the last frost date in Brooklyn falls around the first week of April. That is the last night temperatures generally go down into the lower 30’s. Plants that cannot tolerate serious cold weather should be kept inside until the risk of frost has passed in early May. However, there is plenty of action in my yard by the beginning of March. My crocuses and hellebores are blooming. Tulips and daffodils are starting to poke out their heads. Rhubarb and garlic survived and look ready to grow. The hens at the garden are even laying more eggs. I have been weeding, pruning and raking the beds to clean up a winter’s worth of assorted detritus: flying plastic bags, leaves, pieces of roof?, rocks.

On Tuesday I went outside with a shovel and was surprised to discover that my beds were not frozen. I dug up about 5 pounds of buried sunchokes, which have sweetened nicely during the winter. I probably have 15 more pounds to harvest. Sunchokes can be elusive and finding big ones is super satisfying. My father discovered through years of trial and error that a used electric toothbrush doubles as an efficient sunchoke cleaner. Clean, dry sunchokes can last for months in the fridge. We like them best roasted like potatoes. Some people like the crunchy texture raw in salads. They are excellent pureed in soup.


This weekend I am going to start planting seeds that are very tolerant to the cold. Lettuce (including arugula, mache, kale, chervil, mesclun) and snow peas will be my first crop. I think we will also try our luck with carrots this year. My soil is in good condition. Last fall, before we had a hard freeze, I turned over the soil in the beds and amended it for early spring planting. I use organic compost in my garden, and I amend the soil with fertilizer at least once every year. The essential food for plants is N (Nitrogen), P (Potassium) and K (Phosphorus). I use a balanced fertilizer blend (something around the 6-6-6 range). I have outstanding soil in my raised beds because I know everything that went into it, and because I amend it every year. Please don’t rely solely on my gross oversimplification. Soil is important stuff: http://abt.cm/1U1eqxD

I am not worried about my lettuce seeds, even if they go in early. They will germinate when they are ready, and they are very tolerant to the cold nights. A little hay, or some agro fabric would help keep the soil moist and warmer at night. I love having an early lettuce crop for a lot of reasons. Lettuce is renewable: if properly harvested with scissors, lettuce will rejuvenate in a matter of days. Lettuce can also grow in the cold and in containers, which many other pickier plants cannot. Lettuce is a fairly quick grower that will bolt (or go to seed and become bitter) by mid May, so I get to have an early crop in my raised beds before the days get too hot, then grow tomatoes, peppers or eggplant in the exact same real estate.

For snow peas, I like to germinate the seeds indoors by wrapping them in a wet paper towel for a couple of days. Once I can see their sprouts, I dig furrows and put them in the soil. Peas are climbers, so be sure to plant them strategically where they can find a trellis or a pole. Peas are beautiful when they are growing, especially if they have colored flowers. The bonus with peas, as opposed to carrots or radishes, is that when you thin out the plants after a couple weeks, the tender pea shoots you harvest are perfect raw in salads or sautéed.

If your soil is thawed, you could also plant potatoes, radishes, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and other cold tolerant crops. With warm days come bugs, so I will spray my apple trees soon with an organocide. I will also turn on the water soon, since you can’t grow much food without water.

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