April showers bring May flowers! Or rather, April brings the onset of spring and the excitement of gardening! April just so happens to be National Gardening Month, and in honor of the occasion, we’ve got a few seriously helpful gardening tips and tricks.
When it comes to planting and gardening, there’s so much to know. When to begin? What to plant? Where to plant? How to keep bugs away? And much, much more. Some are blessed with natural green thumbs, but what about those of us who haven’t been so lucky? Who should we turn to?!
We’ve turned to the incredibly talented and insightful Jessica McClellan, the Grounds and Garden Manager at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa, located in Essex, Vermont. To ensure this spring’s gardening season goes smashingly well, we’ve asked Jessica a few questions to help us get started, we think you’ll find her responses extremely useful.
Early Spring Garden Tips
Now that it’s April, should we start planting immediately? When is the best time to plant?
Jessica: Every region differs, as it all depends on the temperature and weather of where you reside. Essex, Vermont, for example, is zone 4B which makes the official last frost date Memorial Day weekend. This means any plants that cannot withstand a frost should not be planted in the garden before this date unless you intend to cover them in in-climate weather. Cold hardy plants such as lettuce, carrots, kale, beets, peas, etc don’t mind cool soil and some varieties will germinate in soil as cool as 50 degrees.
In my experience you don’t get ahead much by planting too early, though, as plants grow slowly, germination is spotty, and if it’s wet seeds will rot in the ground – sometimes. It’s also not advised to try to work the soil too early because clumping may occur and clumps are difficult to break up and make for poor growing conditions the rest of the season.
At The Essex…
I starting planting seeds in late March in the grow room at The Essex. Most vegetables you start about 8 weeks before transplanting but a few I start earlier…tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, etc. We grow organic, non-GMO, mostly heirloom varieties.
Seed Tip: My favorite seed company is High Mowing Seeds located here in Vermont.
How can we know which seeds and plants will thrive?
Jessica: This is a tricky one. My first suggestion is to simply read the seed packets and plant description, which should give an indication of which conditions the seeds and/or plants need to survive. Especially look for the sun and soil requirements. For example, lettuce doesn’t mind a shady area, especially in the heat of summer, but tomatoes need full sun exposure.
When buying perennial plants, I recommend buying from your local nursery as that is probably where the plant was “born and raised” and it will be accustomed to the local growing conditions. Buying from Lowes or Homedepot is less ideal because the plants are trucked in from other states and can be under stress.
At The Essex…
High Mowing is a Vermont company and only sells seeds that will grow well in Vermont.
What is your advice on keeping the bugs at bay?
Jessica: This depends on your preferences and ideals. I am an organic gardener and therefore don’t use any pesticides. As a result, I mostly hand pick and kill bugs… I know GROSS! But I always wear gloves.
Depending on which bugs plague your garden, you can try using fabric to protect the young plants. There are a few organic sprays on the market that I have used in my home garden, you can look these up online.
In the past, I’ve brought in lady bugs to help eat the aphids.
At the Essex…
We don’t use any pesticides, and generally, we don’t do a lot of organic spraying in the gardens because they’re large and I don’t want guests to think we are spraying pesticides.
Which garden tools do you recommend or find most useful?
Jessica: Always, always, always a good pair of gloves, a five-gallon bucket (to sit on and to collect weeds), a good kneeling pad, WATER (for yourself and the plants), a hoe, clippers, and a shovel.
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What are some of your final thoughts regarding the gardening season?
Jessica: One of the most important steps to a successful garden season is proper soil preparation.
Get your soil tested. In Vermont, UVM will do it for you as well as many local garden centers too. Once you receive your soil results, make amendments dependent on results. Some soils will be more alkaline based or acidic based.
Also, add PLENTY of compost or manure. We use organic compost at The Essex that we have brought in by the truckload. I top dress the garden with compost in the spring and fall. Whenever I dig a hole to transplant my young plants, I also put compost in the hole.
Grow what you enjoy eating! But don’t be afraid to try different varieties.
At The Essex…
We grow carrots in orange, yellow, white, pink, purple, and black. We grow summer squash and harvest the squash blossoms for stuffing. We grow string beans in green, gold, and burgundy.
In your opinion, why is home gardening important or beneficial? Why do you do it?
Jessica: This seems like a rather complex question! I garden at home for the health of it, the enjoyment of being in the dirt, the enjoyment of seeing a plant go from seed to table, knowing that no chemicals have been used.
I also garden to lower my carbon footprint. Most organic produce at the grocery store is coming from California or even further away. Are we really helping the environment by buying organic foods from thousands of miles away? A thought worth digesting.
At The Essex…
We garden at The Essex to have access to unusual varieties of vegetables and to have them SUPER fresh for the best guest experience.
Now it’s time for us all to get out there and start prepping! If you live somewhere with a warmer climate, it’s likely you can start planting immediately! If you live somewhere with a cooler climate, you can focus on gathering all the necessary tools and strategizing what you want to plant where!
Want to see and/or taste Jessica’s incredible work? Plan a getaway to The Essex! You can take a tour of the gardens, dine on the fresh produce produced in the gardens, and be immersed in the natural beauty surrounding the resort.