Spring is here, which means farm workers at the Haley House Thornton Street Urban Farm and Community Gardens are looking at seeds.
“It is the first day of spring, and we are plotting and planning what we're going to be growing this season,” said Jay Vilar, program director at the Haley House. “A lot of the work that we're doing now is about just getting ready for the season. So we're doing a lot of our seed ordering. We're doing our starts at the Dudley Greenhouse and we're starting to get our deliveries of soil and compost ready to go."
Haley House uses its Roxbury farm to provide both food and education, Vilar said. The nonprofit runs a cafe, soup kitchen and other initiatives that connect food and community. The three-quarter acre farm grows fresh produce and allows students and neighbors to tend to the soil.
“What we're really waiting for before we can actually, truly get into the ground, is make sure there's no more frost this season,” Vilar said.
Right now, seeds that will eventually become kale, collard greens and tomatoes are getting their start at the Dudley Greenhouse on Brook Avenue in Roxbury.
“In order for your crop to get a head start, a lot of the initial work is just about getting them ready,” he said.
Most produce won’t go into the ground until mid-May, Vilar said.
“Typically when you start to put things into the ground and it’s safe is around Mother's Day, that second weekend of May when you know that the weather has officially turned and you're able to grow things in the ground and everything can survive,” he said. “There are things that you can start early on — like peas — that can live and germinate as the temperature is still a little cooler.”
Some plants, like tomatoes, will only give one harvest this year. Others, like spinach, arugula and other leafy greens, may yield two harvests if the growing season is long enough. That all depends on when the first frosts come next fall, Vilar said.
The food that Haley House grows will eventually go to local seniors, the nonprofit's soup kitchen, a nutritional cooking program called Take Back the Kitchen, and to re-entry programs for returning citizens.
Flowers and ornamental plants, too, will soon be ready to plant — but not quite yet.
Mark Saidnawey, who with his niece Laynie Saidnawey are third- and fourth-generation owners of Pemberton Garden Services in Cambridge and Belmont, said now’s the time to get everything but the plants ready to go.
“We’re itching to get outside,” he said. “We are outside working now, putting all of our non-living items out for sale — all the pottery and all the gardening supplies and soils and compost — so we can just press a button and say 'Bring us plants,' and we're ready to go.”
Though most people in the Boston area will start seeing daytime highs around 50 this week, Saidnawey advised against planting flowers until nighttime lows rise above freezing. People who want a bit of color outside their homes can put flower pots outdoors, so long as they remember to bring them back inside at night to protect from the cold.
“I appreciate that it's the first day of spring, but we go by what the weather forecast is: low temps, high temps, precipitation,” he said. “This will be the week that we'll start to bring in our early spring plants. We'll get some pansies and other cold crop flowers they can maybe take below freezing. But it's still early. You got to be careful.”
Most local nurseries will soon begin to sell bulbs — tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, to name a few — that will be ready to go into the ground.
“Pansies are usually the first flowering outdoor plant to come in and safe enough to put outside, because they can take temperatures in the 20s,” Saidnawey said. “They'll get a little beat up at night, but they'll bounce back as soon as it warms up above freezing.”
Perennials can go in the ground in the coming weeks too, he said: “Hellebore is a very popular early spring plant that you'll see starting to bloom in people's gardens soon.”
Trees and shrubs native to New England can go in during the first week of April, he said. By the middle of April, it’s time for cold crop vegetables, like parsley and lettuce.
“By the third week in April, we have most everything for the season, but we also have to just keep an eye on those temperatures,” he said.
It's also time to think about humane ways to keep bunnies and other critters from nibbling at gardens.
“If you're like us and our gardening clients, the rabbits are going crazy eating the foliage of tulips and other crocus,” Saidnawey said. “So it’s a good time to put down some type of rabbit repellent, and you can pick that up at your local garden center. Maybe you can go online and find a little home remedy to make.”
People without outdoor space can also get started on container gardens, he said.
Leftover containers from last season are still just fine, Saidnawey said. They may need some fresh soil, a bit of compost and new plants.
“One of the greatest joys is to watch people walk into this place with a smile on their face,” Saidnawey said. “I mean, if you're walking into a plant store without a smile on your face, something's wrong.”