Given our on again – off again weather patterns recently here are a few tips on how you might get your early vegetables to the table nearly on schedule:
First, use early varieties if they’re available. Read the catalog description carefully. An example: “Arugula: Quick to bolt in summer, best growth in fall” sounds like a fast grower and arugula likes cool weather. I’d go for it.
One I don’t really care for but since Maggie does: “Famous for exceptional cold tolerance, kale’s sweet flavor is enhanced by frost and cold weather. The frilly hybrids are best for full-size production whereas the open-pollinated varieties are also excellent for baby leaf.” The open-pollinated baby leaves would probably be ready sooner so I’ll pass on the “frilly hybrids”.
We’ve had great luck with chard. “Lightly savoyed, green or bronze leaves with stems of gold, pink, orange, purple, red, and white with bright and pastel variations. Consistent growth rate and strong bolt resistance across all colors makes this a superior mix. Direct seed or transplant to allow separating out the individual colors. Suitable for production year round, but somewhat less frost hardy than normal for chard.” Maybe we should skip the gaudy variety and go for the standard but more hardy green. We can buy plants of the rainbow variety later.
Peas! My favorite, and can be planted as early as the ground can be worked. Here’s “An earlier, somewhat shorter-vined version of Sugar Snap with the important addition of resistance to powdery mildew. The vines average 5′ or more and need trellising. Early yields are heavier than Sugar Snap but the harvest period is shorter. High resistance to pea leaf roll virus and powdery mildew.” Peas don’t transplant well so it’s a gamble. Maybe use a somewhat larger starting pot to avoid bothering the roots.
Secondly, grow larger transplants. That means starting seedlings indoors under lights three weeks earlier than normal by sowing seed directly into 4” plastic containers with potting soil and a smidgen of fertilizer. Sprinkle a few seeds and then thin the seedlings so you can skip a transplant step, putting out plants that are further along. And make multiple plantings for seedlings, two weeks apart, as insurance.
Or, keep checking with your favorite supplier to get their seedlings just as soon as they’re available.
Once you have your seeds ordered there are some other things you can do to extend the growing season in your kitchen garden. And even though it’s too late for this season you might take a look at your homestead and determine if you’re using the best site. Best in that it takes advantage of the sun and the slope if you have options.
For the exposure now is the time to start mapping the potential sites to see which offer the best use of sunny areas. Make a sketch of your property and during the course of the day draw lines to indicate the division between shade and sun each hour. Ideally that spot will have a slope so that cold air flows downhill; it takes advantage of the angle the sun’s rays hit the ground and the rows run east to west.
When you find that perfect spot you may have to adjust your priorities – veggies versus ornamental plants. And decide if a structure, from cold frame to greenhouse could be installed. Even just a raised bed would offer significant advantages.
Row covers, tunnels or hoop houses using plastic or spun bond material can provide temporary greenhouses but require vigilance on sunny days to avoid overheating and baking the plants
Hot caps constructed of plastic or cardboard provide shelter and heat retention for individual plants. Like a greenhouse though, they may have to be “opened”- removed on warm days.
Get to work! And Happy Gardening in 2016.
By Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer