April in the Vegetable Garden

Take a tour of my vegetable garden! Starting with this post, I'll photograph it during the first week of each month, and describe what's growing. Keep in mind that I'm in Tennessee, USDA gardening zone 7, with an average last frost date of April 15th, and a frost-free growing season of nearly 200 days. My "birdseed view" is taken from my east porch.

This year I'm starting all my vegetable plants from seeds, either indoors to get a jump on the season or directly in the garden. Indoors, they move from the south-facing windows in our dining area to the south window in the walk-out basement, which is at about 55 degrees this time of year. From there they move into the cold frame to harden off with cooler nighttime temperatures.

The garden is about 20' x 40', running east-west. Big poplar logs hold the soil and I dig walking paths between raised beds which are about 3-4' wide. The garden is on a slight downhill slope.

Here is the April tour:
  1. A thin red plastic mulch warms the soil and cuts down on weeds. I laid this down in mid-March, burying the ends with soil. I planted 3 tomato plants yesterday, cutting a 5" slot into the plastic, inserting the plant, and placing 4 rocks around the hole opening, to keep the wind from getting under the plastic. The south end has one tomato plant in a "Kozy Koat" - a red plastic sleeve with pockets filled with water to permit solar heating for the plant. I'll remove the Koat when the weather warms. (The other Kozy Koat shown with a white feed bag for mulching was planted in mid-March, to attempt a headstart on tomato harvests). The mulch is one of my attempts to prevent tomato blight.
  2. The yellow flowers are on my Chinese cabbage, planted last fall along with the kale in this row. As soon as we got some early warm days, the cabbage set flowers. I've left them growing for several reasons: the flowers are pretty and attract bees; the flowers are edible, tasting like raw broccoli; the flowers produce tiny edible seed pods, which I have cooked in a stirfry. I just need to remove them before the pods ripen and drop hundreds of seeds into my soft garden soil!
  3. Eight rows of snap peas were planted as soon as I could work the soil in February. This east end of the garden is where I have grown my sweet potatoes for the past 2 years, allowing the long vines to grow out the back end of the garden. I am growing the peas here not only to harvest their delicious pods, but also to utilize their ability to add nitrogen to the soil. I grow "bush" varieties, which grown only about 24" tall, and I push branches into the ground for the tendrils to wind up. By June, when it is warm enough to plant the sweet potatoes, the peas will be harvested.
  4. My June-bearing strawberry bed runs along the north wall of the garden, and the plants are flowering profusely now. The big mass of greenery above the word "north" is an area where last year's strawberry babies congregated! I'll dig these up after my harvest; strawberries produce best when not too crowded. If anyone nearby wants to start a strawberry bed, please let me know and I'll provide loads of healthy plants. I think the variety was "Tennessee Beauty".
  5. Next to the strawberry crowd I sowed seed beds in this row in March for black seeded simpson lettuce, kale, bok choy, and spinach - all cold-hardy plants. They have all sprouted and are growing slowly.
  6. Nine brussel sprout plants, started indoors in January, are growing here. I have sprayed a few times with garlic spray, fighting an insect which is eating holes in the leaves. Otherwise the plants look good - this is my first try at growing this veggie. I never really liked it, but a friend prepares it in a very tasty way. I figured if I liked his store-bought brussel sprouts, I'd love home grown! The brussel sprouts are bordered by romaine lettuce and yellow onions (I put in about 150 onion sets in Feb). Along the south border are loads of spinach plants which I started directly in the garden by seed last fall. The little spinach plants didn't grown much in the winter, but they survived two snow storms and lots of freezes and are now growing strong… great raw and cooked!
  7. Garden fresh carrots taste so good, that I am giving them another try this year. I planted 5 close rows and covered them with the tall grass I cut from my blue flax in the flower gardens - there were no seeds in the grass and it is fine and lightweight, so it has kept the carrot seeds moist and encouraged good germination. I started another 4 rows next the the first planting, and hand raked the grass clippings over them. Next to that tan mass are some garlic, planted last fall, with a row of Amish Deer Tongue lettuce. Along one side of the carrot bed is a late winter planting of Chinese cabbage, and along the opposite side is pak choy, a mini bok choy.
  8. The front of the garden has been planted with loads of garlic since last fall, which will be harvested in June-July, in addition to more onion sets, Chioggia beet seeds set out for harvesting the greens as well as the roots (they are pink and white inside), flat and curly parsley, and fennel
  9. My Juwel cold frame is permanently set in the corner, where I can easily adjust the lids according to the weather, harvest the red romaine and spinach that grew in it all winter, and move pots of seedlings in and out. Behind the cold frame I've planted some cilantro, hoping the shade will keep it cool enough so it won't bolt (cilantro likes cold weather, but I like it when the tomatoes are ripe for salsa!)

Have fun in your garden on these gorgeous days of spring.