Monthly Archives: March 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is My Cue


Cari, ortolani,

Every year, on St. Patrick Day, while scores are watching parades or indulging in their favorite activity, I begin my spring planting. It’s my yearly ritual embraced for a long time to make sure that I start on schedule and harvest my three crops during the growing season, other than my winter cold frame goodies. People often ask why start so early, and if you’re a gardener, you know exactly why I do it. Once the garden gets ahead of you, catching up is next to impossible.

I already had turned over my winter rye two weeks beforehand and fertilized it at the same time, however, spot fertilization is very important, and one needs to implement it to grow healthy plants and a bumper crop. Plan ahead. Perhaps during the previous fall is the best time to start figuring out where to plant your spring crop and make sure the pH level in your soil is adjusted so the particular crop can extract the necessary nutrients. When the pH is right for the crop that you’re growing in that particular spot, it will greatly increase your chances of mastering your garden; test it yourself or send a sample to your nearest County Extension Service. For instance, if you need lime to raise the pH, first you must know which lime to use, calcitic or dolomitic, and it depends on what nutrients your soil is lacking. Calcitic lime has about 40% calcium and very little magnesium, whereas dolomitic lime has 11% magnesium and 21% calcium, and when planting a crop that needs great amounts of calcium, you must know which to use. In case you need to lower the pH there are two options. You can use sulfur or aluminum sulfate, depending on the time table. Sulfur will render the same benefits but needs more time to be effective than aluminum sulfate.

All my cold weather crops have already germinated and are doing well, although tonight we may need to cover them up – and we all thought that summer had arrived.

My apricots and peach trees are in bloom and I’m on my way out to spray them.

Ci risentiamo,

 Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian








Dealing With Winter Rye

Cari ortolani,

One of my reader asked: “In terms of winter rye, we just dug it and turned it over, should it still be in clumps or should that be all broken up and not visible at all? Does it need to die off before planting cold weather crops on top, or can we plant in about a week?”

My answer: It’s best to break up the clumps, look for grubs and cutworms in the meantime (dispose of them), and make the soil airy and fluffy. This project should be done at least a couple of weeks before planting so the little roots of the winter rye will have a chance to decay and supply nutrients to the seedlings.

I like to de-clump mine so it’s nice and neat, other than for removing stones, grubs, cutworms, or any undesirable pest that may attack the roots of new seedlings. I also cover my raised beds afterwards to keep the soil warm, which aids decomposition and keeps it moist before planting. Another helpful suggestion is to cover your soil so weed seeds will sprout and can be removed prior to planting your vegetables – as the old proverb goes: one year of seeds, seven years of weeds.

After sowing your cold weather crops such as beets, carrots, turnips, onions, scallions, spinach, lettuce etc. (not pre sprouted items), cover the soil again for a couple of days, or until the seeds germinate, then remove cover.

Watering is not necessary when sowing seeds directly into the garden because the soil is quite moist this time of the year.  


Chi semina raccoglie,


Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian

Cover Your Garden and Start Digging


Ciao Ortolani; 

  It’s the beginning of March, and I’ve already sown my onions, scallions, Brassicas, parsley, celeriac, lettuce and they are all growing nicely, but it’s also time to start thinking about prepping the soil for cold season crops so by St. Patrick’s Day it’ll be ready. Since the weather has been reasonably mild, the garden should be free of frost, but to make sure it’s warm and dry, I drape it with a clear plastic sheet for a week or two; soil should be worked at medium moisture content, not when it’s too wet. Image

I have already draped and turned over the cover crop (winter rye), added nitrogen on a couple of raised beds to plant my cold crops, and have left the others untouched. I’ll use those to demonstrate my hands-on techniques to my students this week-end so they’ll get an idea of how the moisture content in the soil should be before working on it. Since I have adjusted the pH level, amended the soil with nutrients in the fall (minus nitrogen), my garden is in excellent condition to host whatever  crop I wish to plant. I will sow my peas, carrots, beets, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, rucola, and other greens, on St. Patrick’s Day on the raised beds that I have worked on last week, and those that are being worked on tomorrow will be used for the cool crops such as cardoons, broccoli, kale, onions, scallions, cabbage, kohlrabi and the likes.

Before sowing cold season crops directly into the garden in early spring, seeds benefit from an overnight soaking and a 15-20 minute bath in worm castings “tea”. If you’ve never planted legumes in a particular area of your garden, organic inoculants may increase the yield.

Sempre verde,

Nick Mancini, the organic Italian