Spring Gardening Tips on Early Planting

Here are some spring gardening tips for the impatient gardener. Do you rush out and plant seeds when you really should not because the temperature of the soil has not warmed up enough and frosts are still possible? Late winter and early spring are hard times for the impatient spring gardener. However, there are ways in which you can start your spring gardens early with a little bit of planning and forethought.

Spring Gardening Tips for Solar Gardening

One of the ways of doing this, even with cold-sensitive melons and cucumber is through effective solar gardening. Now, there is not much new about using the sun.

Gardeners have known for centuries that the greenhouse effect, the trapping of solar heat, can be used to extend the growing season – starting earlier in the spring and gardening longer into the fall.

But some solar garden applications don’t have to involve an expensive greenhouse that not many people have. One could just use simple plastic sheeting however it is messy and not nearly as versatile as other solar options.

Spring Gardening Tips using a Cloche

Cloches are an excellent alternative. They are portable, mini-greenhouses where you can use jars, jugs, cones or transparent boxes over seeds or seedling and removed or ventilated when their interior becomes too intense. Even a simple cloche can help you plant 3-4 weeks earlier than usual or help protect the cold-sensitive seedlings of tomatoes and peppers.

You can make your own cloches by cutting out the bottoms of plastic milk jugs or by using inverted gallon-sized glass or plastic jars. Delicatessens often sell or discard their used gallon pickle jars. So if you have a delicatessen in your area, and you are looking for cloches for your spring planting, now is the time to ask, before someone beats you to it!

Spring Gardening Tips using Tent Cloches

Large cloches shaped like a tent or barn may also be homemade. The advantages of having this type of cloche is that it can be extended to cover an entire area, rather than fiddling around with individual plants. This is when your sheet of plastic can come in handy. Drape it over wire hoops, or stakes, and weight it down in position with a few strategically placed stones or bricks.

None of these solutions will make your vegetable garden aesthetically pleasing, but it will be temporary, and the rewards will be well worth it when you will be harvesting weeks before your neighbors. And let me say, that yes, plastic is non-biodegradable, and a curse to the environment.

I am well aware of that, before someone writes in to remind me of that fact. I had one such letter this week from a reader asking me why I had advocated the use of polystyrene in the soil for aerating pot plants, and did I not know what a curse it was to the environment too. Yes, it is, but like plastic, it has its uses and by using plastic in this way we are recycling its original use.

Spring Gardening Tips for Polytunnels

When you drape your plastic over hoops, effectively you are building a polytunnel. These are much cheaper than a full-scale greenhouse, and easy to put together for your solar gardening.

So how do you build a polytunnel? Insert 10 gage steel rods, about as thick as a drinking straw along the edge of where you want to protect. The rods are then bent over the bed and forced into the ground. This forms a series of hoops about 14 inches high at their centers.

Cover the hoops with clear polyethylene sheeting, thinner than the standard 4 mil sheeting as it is too heavy and will sag between the hoops. You now have an oversized plastic caterpillar structure in your vegetable patch. However, you really have to be vigilant with polytunnels once the sun hits the tunnel.

Make sure that you have cut vent holes in your plastic sheeting to ensure that you don’t cook your crops.  Or, if you buy the 1.5 mil slit polytunnel plastic that is specifically sold for tunnels, then you won’t have to bother. You can also get complete kits now that come with plastic, wire rods, black plastic weed mulch and instructions on how to put it all together.

Spring Gardening Tips using Cold and Hot Frames

a diagram showing dimensions for the construction of a hot frame

A hotbed or hot frame showing dimensions and plans for construction

Of course you could also raise your seedlings in cold frames. These are just large boxes with a hinged glass lid. They work well during the day, and can also be propped open to allow the heat to escape during the day. However, the downside to cold frames is that they lose their heat overnight.

Hot frames can solve this problem by including a heat source. Manure is usually used for this purpose. It is dug in several feet below the frame.

As the manure ferments it produces a gentle bottom heat that is ideal for early spring seed germination and developing seedlings. However, if you live in urban areas you may not be able to do this due to zoning laws or problems with neighbors who may object to having a load of the smelly stuff delivered next door.

If you are going to build a hot or cold frame make sure that they have a southern exposure if you live in the northern hemisphere, and preferably should be located in a sheltered area where drainage is good.

Whatever method you use, you will be sure that your plants will benefit from the protection and as long as you make sure that they don’t cook and overheat in their protective surroundings.

The 5 Worst Things about Spring Gardening

spring field flowers and a butterfly
1) Slug invasions

2) Packed Garden Centers

3) Late Frosts

4) Back-Breaking Work for a few Months

5) Realizing in the early summer that you have forgotten to sow or set particular plants and now it's too late!

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