Vermont chard, spinach, broccoli, onions, patatoes...yum! You could be enjoying them fresh from your backyard garden in just a few short months. It's hard to imagine with those stubborn snow piles still hanging on, but there some things you can begin doing in just a few weeks to get that garden bountiful come July.
1. Raised beds. Vermont's growing season is short, but putting in raised beds can really change that. Building a simple, four-sided frame can really help your soil warm up faster so you can begin planting those rows of spinach as soon as early May. The lumber doesn't need to be fancy-- a local salvage yard could be just the place to find some wide, untreated wood for your frames. Once you have a few good frames built, the fun part is finding a sweet spot to nestle them into your yard or garden space. Keep an eye on your backyard for a few days and notice which spots get good light. Especially if you are planning to grow tomatoes-- you will need a lot of warm afternoon sun to get them juicy and red by late August.
2. The "fill." Why go to all the trouble to build those frames if you are just gonna mindlessly fill them with the top soil from your yard? While you may have some nice, rich soil, it is always a good idea to give it a little something extra. Some folks use their homemade vegetable compost, others seek out compost from local farmers. Goat, chicken and cow-composted manure will really give your soil that extra kick it will need to encourage those broccoli florets and garlic bulbs. So find a friend with a pickup truck and fill it up.
3. Start indoors. You don't even need your boots or gloves (or a sunny day) for this part. Many vegetables can be started inside weeks before the last frost date (in Vermont it is typically around Memorial Day). Lettuces, onions, herbs, peas, and squash all will grow easily inside and transplant nicely into your beds when it is safe. The leafy greens can even be put in the ground before late May because they are bit more frost-hearty. Giving the little baby sprouts some love and warmth inside will only help give them them strength to thrive outside in the fickle spring conditions.
4. Think like a weed. Most of us have spent a week at the beach only to arrive home to a jungle that resembles what used to be our garden. While some are content bent low to the ground all day pulling wild violets, others throw their hands in the air and let the whole thing run wild. There are a couple of little things you can do before those pesky weeds begin their decent upon your precious snow peas. Before filling your beds with soil, put down a barrier-- it can be newspaper, cardboard boxes, or landscape cloth. All will work to block the growth of any little seeds that were unearth when you turned the soil. Also, pulling the weeds that do make it through as soon as you see them will help them from spreading to the point of no return. Take your morning cup of coffee out to the garden this spring and pluck those weeds as soon as they begin to poke above the soil and you will likely avoid the "take-over" come summer.
5. Be realistic. It can be so alluring, when you stand among the hundreds of seed packets at the garden store, to just start grabbing for everything. But it is important to be realistic about where we are and what will have the most success in our climate. While it is not impossible to grow and ripe, red, juicy tomato in Vermont, it needs some serious consideration before the seed hits the soil. If you have a shady, cool yard your tomatoes will likely fruit but never become red and juicy. So, unless you love fried green tomatoes, think carefully about if it is a viable venture for you. Leafy greens, squash, hearty herbs and broccoli loves this climate so stock up on these instead for a more bountiful harvest.
Just like a great meal, with a garden, it's all about the prep work. Starting early, thinking ahead and being smart can allow you to really enjoy each bud, sprout and blossom to come. Then imagine bringing that fresh green salad with heirloom cucumbers and edible flowers to the next bbq... score.