A February Snapshot of Our Gardens

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s starting to look like spring, a favorite time of year for all of us on the garden team. This is a time of year when all of our planning over the winter can finally start taking shape. Here’s a look at what we’re up to in the TNFP gardens this month written by our Garden Manager Christina...

In February in The Nashville Food Project gardens we try to remember that it is still winter. Our garden crop plan for the year has hopefully been made and checked twice. Seeds have been ordered. Machines and tools are clean and tuned. Winter cover crops are growing slowly in the field along with beds of overwintering greens like kale and spinach. Potting soil and other garden supplies are stockpiled waiting for the signal to start planting. We do the essential February tasks of pruning fruit trees and brambles, direct seeding flowers that require cold weather to germinate (poppies and bachelor buttons), check on the bees’ honey stores and, if necessary, feed them. Spring is surely close at hand but we try to remember that we risk doing more damage than good by trying to work soils that are still cold and wet.

We anxiously await the end of the month, when we can start our first seeds in the greenhouse and begin preparing a few beds for our earliest vegetable plantings in March. The first crop we plant outdoors is the onion transplants that we’ve started in our greenhouse the previous November. Onions are soon followed by peas, lettuce and other leafy greens, and root crops that love the cool weather of early spring. By the end of the month, the greenhouse is full of crops that we begin indoors to get a head-start on the growing season - leafy crops like kale and chard and fruiting crops like tomatoes and peppers.

We try hard to follow the garden plan that we made over the winter. We start this garden plan begins with a list of crops that we are excited to grow for our meals program with a rough idea of how many beds should be planted in each. We map out where each crop should go in our permanent bed system and ask whether another crop can be planted in the same space before or after the main crop during our long growing season. We aim to have at least one-fourth of the garden resting at all times in cover crops so that we can maintain productive and healthy soils for many years to come.

This time of year, we love the broadfork - a garden tool that lifts and aerates the soil while maintaining good soil structure. Where we can, we begin to broadfork the beds that will grow our earliest crops  - the lifting and aeration action warms up the cold winter soils and allows them to breathe out excess moisture. Volunteers love the aerobic work-out of it, too.

Another exciting thing happening this month is the start of a new year with all of the community members growing in our gardens! This month we’ve begun meeting with participants in the Middle TN Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program, a group of farmers from Burma and Bhutan, with whom we share our best practices for growing production-focused urban gardens in Nashville. We help them with creating their own garden production plans for growing and selling their vegetable crops to restaurants and at local farmers markets. We’re also recruiting other community members for our neighborhood-based community gardens in North and South Nashville.

And don’t forget about Project Grow! We’ve started planting for our annual subscription vegetable plant sale. Sales will open soon so be on the lookout for emails from us!

This truly is one of our favorite times of the year, a time when we breathe with anticipation, because the busy time is almost upon us.

Check out some of our favorite resources for specific information about growing vegetables in the South: