The unpredictability of spring greens

Spring has given us the usual roller coaster of temperatures and conditions, though on the whole chilly and wet has been winning out over hot and dry. One result of this has been a big difference in the success rate of various spring crops, seemingly due to when they were planted and how much protection from weather they’ve received (as well as to multiple other factors, as is always the case with gardening!).

We’ve started our harvests in the demo garden, mostly due to the intrepid 100-square-foot garden team, who got their transplants into the ground at the beginning of April, and kept them under a floating row cover. Here’s one of the beds this Tuesday:

photo by Darlene Nicholson

Across the path in larger veggie garden territory, a selection of brassica crops transplanted a couple of weeks later, and covered with the same row cover, is nowhere near harvest size – and farther behind the others than the difference in planting date should account for. And a third planting, under the lighter Micromesh row cover, is even smaller.

However, the mustard, collard, and kale plants in my community garden plot, also under Micromesh and planted a few days before the demo garden plots, are lush and happy. Is the difference in the manure I dug into the soil, as opposed to the compost used at the demo garden? Does the position of my plot make a difference? It’s actually in a chilly valley microclimate, but somewhat protected from wind, which the demo garden is not. Did the demo garden plants stay in their pots too long before transplanting? Did I subconsciously snare all the best plants for myself? 🙂

Potatoes took forever to sprout, probably due to cold soil, and direct-seeded beets and carrots are consistently tiny and unpromising. I suspect we’re going to be clearing a lot of beds for summer crops in June without much to show for April and May.

The 100-square-foot gardeners did fail with one crop: broccoli raab or rapini, which I’ve never had luck with in the spring either. It is very sensitive to changes in temperature, and bolts on a whim, leaving the gardener with just a skinny stalk, a few leaves, and lots of yellow flowers. Chinese broccoli or gai lan, a somewhat similar plant in concept (an entirely edible branching brassica, with small flower heads), has been a bit more reliable for me in spring (though better in fall). It bolts, but there’s more substance left to consume, and you can cut off the top of the plant and let it grow back several times. Here’s some of mine that I harvested this week:

It’s got a nice flavor, bitter but not overwhelmingly so, and made a delicious frittata – flowers and all.

How are your spring vegetables coming along?

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