Here we are already in April, where did the season go!? We consider April one of the last opportunities to plant and harvest annuals before the summer comes and wipes them all out with its intense heat and rainfall. April is a great month to also plant transitional perennial crops that will survive into or through the summer if you have some space opening up in your garden. If you planted things like kale & tomatoes in the fall those plants might be nearing the end of their life cycle by now. Many home gardeners get a bit attached to their plants because they've cared for them for so long, so they don't want to pull them out (aka kill them), but annuals are meant to grow, produce flowers, fruit & seed, and then die (or be pulled out). We sometimes get comments from people like "my beans were doing so well, producing so much food for me, but then they just stopped and now they're just sitting in my garden for months not doing anything...whats wrong with them?" to which we respond: "theres nothing wrong with them, they're just done making you food! pull them out already!". So, pull it out already is definitely a theme of April gardening. It's not too late to remove a spent crop and plant something new, especially something quick growing, like asian greens.
"Asian greens" is a whole category of delicious and super easy to grow heat tolerant crops in the brassica family (the family that includes radishes, kale & broccoli) that we love planting this time of year. Many of these varieties are incredibly popular staple crops in other parts of the world but are relatively uncommon here in America. But remember, our unique climate is much like that found in Thailand and parts of India & Asia, so it makes sense that we would take inspiration from these areas when looking for cool heat tolerant crops.
From left to right in the above photos we have asian greens Tokyo Bekana (also known as Pei Tsai), a mix of mustard greens (including mizuna, mz america, southern giant and Japanese red), and purple stemmed Hon Tsai Tai. Tokyo Bekana is a loose headed Chinese cabbage that has lime green soft ruffled leaves and a very crunchy watery main stalk, making it very similar in texture, flavor & use to romaine lettuce. Mustard is a whole class of greens including the most famous one, arugula, but there are tons of other delicious, colorful and ornamental mustards that gardeners can grow for baby salad leaves or large leaves for cooking. Hon Tsai Tai is closely related to broccoli and its stalks are crunchy and sweet like broccoli.
This first photo is of Komatsuna which is a very mild and modest shaped asian green that people often harvest young and compare to spinach. Come to think of it, the second green, Tat Soi, is also often compared to spinach. Traditional spinach hates miami, and these two equivalents love it, so why not embrace them and grow them instead... Tat soi makes a beautiful savoyed cabbage head if you let it mature, and the leaves are treated like bok choi at that point, because they have nice thick interior stalks.
Another fun garden activity that is unique to spring is the harvesting and saving of seeds from your plants. Many plants that you might not think make seeds will definitely do so if you leave them in your garden long enough, or if you treat them just a little bit differently. Lets take the medicinal flower calendula as an example.... If you're growing calendula in your garden you are likely harvesting all of the blooms and saving them for medicinal use. Well, if you leave a few flowers on the plant then they will get pollinated, die and turn into seeds! Let the seeds dry on the plant (that means they have fully matured and will be the right age for germination when you are ready to plant them) and then store them in a jar in the dark until next season. Saving your own seeds is an important part of becoming a self sufficient and resilient gardener. While we specialize in selling people plants and seeds we are always thrilled to see people move away from relying on us for materials and into relying on nature and their own garden to generate what they need. And then when they generate abundance, especially in the form of saved seeds, sharing it with their community. Miami Seed Share is a local non profit project that collects and gives away saved seed (through seed libraries and different spots throughout the city), check them out on instagram if you have seed you'd like to donate.
If left on the plant many flowers & fruits will make mature seeds, all it takes is some patience. The calendula left will produce way more seed than you'll ever need for next season! The seeds in the palm right are heirloom Datil pepper seeds, which can be harvested from a pepper fruit so long as it matures into a color (sometimes orange, sometimes yellow, sometimes red). Each plant family will make useable seeds in a different way, so the best way to figure out how to save lots of different seeds is to get a guide book, like "Seed to Seed", which is a bit of a seed saving bible. You can also use seeds in a culinary way! The herb cilantro has so many useable parts including its fresh and dried seeds, which are referred to as "coriander" but are just cilantro seeds! Dill seed, arugula seed (which is called mustard seeds, like what you make mustard out of!), and nasturtium seeds are all edible and useful in the kitchen, so you can also stock your pantry during spring before composting your spent plants.
Spring is a good time to start a compost pile if you don't already have one for two reasons. No, three reasons! Reason one is that many of our local tree species (like oaks and black olives) are losing their leaves now, and leaf litter is a super valuable (but free and abundant) ingredient in compost. Leaf litter breaks down faster than woody mulch, is full of minerals that the tree removed from the soil, and they are a great environment for microbial & fungal life forms to thrive in. Reason two is that as you empty your garden out of spent crops you'll get to make use of them if you add them to a compost pile. Plants added to a compost pile fresh are referred to as "greens" and they contain lots of nitrogen, a key ingredient for plant growth. Layering greens and browns (dried stuff like mulch, hay, cardboard and our friend leaf litter) is how you make a healthy and balanced compost pile, so spring has lots of greens and browns for you to divert from the waste stream and turn into future plant food. The third reason is that summer is the best season for composting because the microbial, fungal & bug life that makes composting happen (basically life forms eating detritus and pooping it out) is at its peak during the hot and sunny months of summer. If you start a compost pile now it'll be eaten and pooped out a hundred times through the summer leaving you with a much smaller but very precious pile of "compost" that will be ready in time for fall planting. See how that all works?! Its the cycle of life in your home veggie garden!
So get out there and enjoy the new and exciting crops (asian greens!) and yields (saved seed, future compost) that the spring garden has to offer.