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It's Garden Season

 
GardenforWeb.jpg
Gardening is one of the first outdoor adventures of the season. It actually can start way back in January or February when the seed catalogs begin arriving in the mail. Flipping through the pages and dreaming of the summer and fall harvest while the wind and snow whip outside is a favorite winter activity.

But now the time has come to begin thinking about actually putting the plants and seeds in the ground. If you can, it’s a good idea to start your plants inside. Plants with longer germination cycles, like tomatoes and peppers, need to be started four to five weeks prior to planting them. Others, like squash and beans, may not need to be sprouted inside at all. Just plant them directly in their summer homes.

Now that you have your seeds started, let’s talk about your garden space. If you compost, begin spreading your soil super food over the garden about six weeks before you plant and work it into the dirt. If you planted a cover crop, like rye, clover, or buckwheat, in the fall to replenish nutrients in the soil, you’ll want to turn it under in time for it to experience a good freeze.

Early season crops need to be tolerant of cool or cold temperatures. Good suspects for the spring line up include broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and spring onions. If you were thinking ahead, you might actually be harvesting these right now. Here’s a recipe from the Mast Store Cooks cookbook using lettuce and onions.

LettuceOnions.jpegKilled Lettuce and Onions

Leaf lettuce
Spring onions, chopped or sliced
Salt
Apple cider vinegar
Water
Bacon drippings from 3 slices of bacon

Gather and wash enough leaf lettuce to fill a large glass or ceramic bowl. Drain and cover the lettuce with your chopped onions.  Salt to taste. In a small pot, mix vinegar and water using a little more vinegar (to taste) and add in the bacon drippings. You should have enough to almost cover the wilted lettuce when it kills down. Bring the liquid to a boil. Pour over the lettuce and onions making sure to distribute it as evenly as possible. Toss lightly. Cover the bowl with a plate or lid to allow the lettuce to wilt. Enjoy! This is a great addition to a pinto bean and cornbread meal.

The layout of your garden space is important. There are some plants that work well together to produce a better tasting end product. For instance, if you plant your cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and carrots in close proximity, their taste will be sweeter. When gardening in a small space, consider planting lettuce in a place where you can trellis your cucumber vines over them. As the cucumbers run up the trellis, they will shade the lettuce to extend its growing season later into the summer.

There is nothing better than a fresh tomato from the garden. But tomatoes can be very finicky. To make a stronger plant, use the ditch method. Create a furrow and place the plant in the ditch covering it long ways with about six inches or so above the ground when you cover it. This will create a longer root system. You may want to mulch your tomato plants to lessen the likelihood of blight. And if you’re in the mountains, never put tomatoes in the ground before Mother’s Day. That is a date on the calendar when the chance of frost is lessened.

It’s a good idea to rotate your crops each year. Never plant your tomatoes or squash in the same place two years in a row. These plants invite specific pests that are just waiting to feast on the next year’s vines.

Zinnias.jpgWhen planting corn, you’ll need at least two rows to allow for proper pollination. And you’ll need to account for foiling the crows. In the early life of your plant, crisscrossing strings over the tiny corn seedlings will help with crows picking the kernels out of the ground. Of course the crows really love to enjoy the full ears of corn, too. To help prevent that, watch for after Halloween sales and purchase a large black raven you can hang in the garden among your corn stalks. Sometimes that will frighten them away. A black bag fashioned into something that resembles a crow often works, too.

Don’t just put out vegetables, plan for a few flowers, too. Marigolds and zinnias are beautiful and can act as natural pest prevention. They attract ladybugs, which love to eat aphids. Plus, the zinnias make beautiful bouquets!

You can find a wealth of information at your local Cooperative Extension offices. They hold workshops and seminars throughout the year to introduce people to the joys of gardening and to show how easy it is to can your own produce at the end of the season.