Yesterday was the perfect occasion to start our outdoor garden work; the weather was mild and sunny, and the kids could hardly wait to fill up some of our empty garden beds with new plant life. But first, we checked on our indoor trays, which are sprouting up nicely. We even have some true leaves on a few varieties!
Once outside, we turned our hands into instant cultivators, gently swirling our fingers in the garden beds to loosen or aerate (add air to) the soil. We then interplanted (planted more than one crop in the same row or bed) some Easter Egg radishes with Mokum carrots. We decided to plant the radishes and carrots together since we know the radishes will mature (be ready for harvesting) long before the carrots. In about a month we’ll pull out the radishes, giving the carrots extra space as they grow.
We also filled a bed with Sugar Ann snap peas, a favorite early crop amongst the kids. To help increase our snap pea yield (the amount we harvest) and promote soil fertility (the ability of the soil to provide nutrients to the plants), we inoculated our peas with a powdery bacteria called rhizobium (pronounced “rye-zoh-bee-um”). Together, the rhizobium and peas create a mutualistic relationship, which simply means they help each other out. In this case, the peas get nitrogen from the bacteria, held in nodules on the pea roots, while the bacteria get starch (food for the rhizobium) from the pea roots. Even better, whatever nitrogen the peas don’t use up is left in the garden bed for other crops planted later in the season.
The Nitrogen Cycle
The diagram above shows how nitrogen moves between the atmosphere and the earth. Volcanic eruptions and pollution release nitrogen gas into the air that must be “fixed” by lightning or bacteria in the soil; once deposited in the ground by rain and snow, this nitrogen is converted into inorganic nitrogen compounds like ammonia and ammonium. The plants are then able to use these new forms of nitrogen to create protein to be eaten by animals (don’t forget, humans are animals, too!), providing them with amino acids needed for many bodily processes. Nitrogen is also deposited into soil by the decomposition or breakdown of organic plant and animal wastes and released back into the atmosphere by denitrifying bacteria.
Before we left for the evening, a few of the kids stuck around to help Cece and I replant broccoli since our original “broccoli” trays are actually full of Chinese cabbage sprouts. With a whole tray filled up, we should have no shortage of these little green trees come late spring.
Next week, we’ll start eggplant, beet, and pepper seeds indoors for transplanting later this spring.