March 15, 2009 in Features

First up: Cool-season crops

By The Spokesman-Review
 
SUSAN MULVIHILL Special to photo

Red cabbage is a flavorful cool-season crop that adds beauty to the vegetable garden as well. Special to
(Full-size photo)

The first batch of vegetables that can be planted in the spring are cool-season crops. They include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, fava beans, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard.

These vegetables thrive in our cooler temperatures during the spring. I often cover their planting beds with a floating row cover – a lightweight material that lets light and moisture through – the first two weeks to give them some frost protection.

Let’s take a look at the most commonly grown of these crops:

Beets: In addition to the red cultivars, seeds for growing cool-looking red-and-white and golden beets are available. They require moist, well-drained soil to develop rapidly. Thin the seedlings to about 4 inches apart.

Cole crops: This plant family includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. They are easy to grow but are susceptible to aphids and cabbage loopers, those green inchworms that make the plants’ leaves look like Swiss cheese in short order.

The easiest way to thwart both insects is by covering the planting bed with a floating row cover for the whole season. Aphids can be sprayed off the plants with a strong jet of water from the hose. Loopers can be sprayed with a product containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria, which are deadly to the caterpillar stage of insects but safe for humans.

Carrots: These seeds are slow to germinate, taking as long as three weeks to sprout. The most important task you must do is thin the plants to a spacing of about 3 inches apart. It’s a tedious job but will help produce well-developed carrots. Parsnips have the same growing requirements as carrots, so they can share the same bed.

Lettuce: Since there are so many interesting varieties of lettuce now, the hardest part is deciding which ones to grow. I plant blocks of five different types in my raised beds and thin them so there is a little space in between, which will keep the leaves from rotting.

Birds love to eat the leaves, so you might need to cover the bed with netting or wire. Harvest individual leaves so the plants will produce throughout the season.

Onions: Gardeners can purchase seeds, bulb-like sets or onion seedlings. Last year, I planted seedlings and was amazed at the size of the onions they developed into, so I’m starting my own seeds indoors and hoping for good results again this season.

If you choose onion sets, they should be planted about 2 inches deep and 3 inches apart. Harvest every other one, as you need them to leave room for the others to grow.

Peas: There are three types of peas: sugar snap, shelling and edible pod. I start mine indoors for better germination and to protect newly sprouted seeds from hungry quail. I transplant them out into the garden once they are about 4 inches tall.

Most varieties require some type of support to grow up on and should be harvested often while they are small and sweet. They’ll continue to produce until the hot weather hits.

Potatoes: Traditionally planted around Good Friday, seed potatoes can be purchased at local garden centers. They can be cut into chunks containing two “eyes” each or small seed potatoes can be planted whole.

Air-dry the cut chunks overnight before planting. Plant them a foot apart and about 6 inches deep. Cover the bed with a light mulch of untreated grass clippings or weed-free straw to prevent sunlight from hitting potatoes growing near the soil surface.

Radishes: These are fun to grow mainly because they germinate so quickly. Many gardeners use them to mark the location of rows of slower-germinating seeds. Harvest radishes early in the season as they will become pithy and spicy in hot weather.

Spinach and Swiss chard: I plant these crops in the same bed, as they are targets of leaf miners, small worms that tunnel through the layers of cells in the leaves. This means the bed has to be covered with a floating row cover to keep the insects out.

As with lettuce, harvest individual leaves so the plants produce throughout the season.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at inthegarden@live.com.


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