It’s time to plant early veggies
While tomato, corn and pepper planting season is still a way off for us, now is the perfect time to plant a whole host of early spring vegetables. Often called the cool season crops, these are vegetables that thrive on cool weather and soil.
Many of these vegetables can be planted any time after the soils can be worked. This is an agricultural term which means that the ground has dried out enough from the winter rain and snow. This isn’t much of a problem for us this year unless the wet weather, that finally showed up a couple of weeks ago, hangs around.
To test whether your soil is ready, squeeze a handful together. Then try to gently break up the clod. If it breaks up easily, then the soil is ready to be worked. If it holds together, wait a while for the soil to dry out. Clay soil will take longer to dry out than loam or sandy soils.
So what can you plant?
Radishes are the rabbits of the early garden. Most varieties mature in as little as 20 to 30 days total. For a continuous harvest through the spring plant a few seeds every seven to 10 days. This is a great vegetable for kids because they get results quickly.
Leaf crops such as spinach, lettuce or the more unusual gourmet lettuce and green mixes such as mache (corn salad), mesclum and arugula can provide early colorful salads until the heat of summer makes them bitter and tough. These can be planted in wide row blocks in the garden and even mixed together. When the leaves get to salad size, simply cut a few off and throw them in the bowl all mixed together. Most of these can withstand some below-freezing cold without any major problems. If the leaves are damaged by frost, simply pick them off and new ones will grow back quickly.
Peas are the classic spring garden vegetable. Planted now, you should be shucking the sweet nuggets or pods right off the plant by early June. Most modern pea varieties have been developed to not need a support to climb on. Snap peas are grown for the peas inside the pods, while snow peas can be eaten pods and all. Try throwing a few very young snow pod peas into your mixed green salad. Peas are very cold tolerant.
Good Friday is the traditional day to plant potatoes. Since Easter was a little early this year, we are still right on schedule. There are dozens of varieties available these days from the large familiar bakers like Idaho russet, to the small Russian Banana fingerling or the blue potato. If you don’t think you have room for potatoes, try planting a few in the compost pile and hilling them up with garden trimmings as you generate them this spring. A couple of good local sources for potatoes are Northwest Seed and Pet and by mail order from Ronniger’s Potato Farm in Moyie Springs, Idaho ( www.ronnigers.com; HCR 62, Box332A, Moyie Springs, ID 83845).
Carrots are another spring favorite that can be planted in successive crops right into August. Choosing a variety depends upon your preference and your soil type. With the rocky soils in the Spokane Valley and Rathrum Prairie, shorter types such as Red-Cored Chantenay and Short and Sweet are better because they are stubby and seem to work their way around most of the rocks. They are also very good for heavy soils. Other varieties include Nantes Half-long, Danvers Half-long, Pioneer and Spartan Bonus. Gourmet varieties such as Little Finger can be planted in container gardens. Carrot seed can be a challenge to plant evenly and thin. Look for pelletized seed or seed that has been wrapped in a clay coat to increase its size.
Lastly there are the onions, you just can’t have all these other good vegetables without a little seasoning. Onions can be purchased as sets, little miniature onions that grow up to be big; plants; or seed. Sets are the easiest especially if you want the familiar large onions. Our famous Walla Walla Sweets usually come as plants this time of year, and will yield juicy sweet onions by early August or nice green top onions within a month of planting.