This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
March is the consummate month to plant “cool season” veggies like potatoes and carrots and onions and radishes, leaf crops like lettuce and spinach and cabbage and broccoli and finally peas. All of these crops demand a cool soil and cool air temperatures to perform their best. When it starts to get too warm they will mature rapidly and go to seed.
In most cases plants that are in the group we call “cool season” require a soil temperature below 55 degrees. In fact, it is the soil temperature that really separates “cool season” crops from “warm season” (a soil thermometer is a fun way to know what temperature your soil is). Warm season veggies are those that get planted in May and June when hopefully the soil has warmed up to above 55 degrees.
We all know that often our soils don’t warm up until almost July so it becomes necessary to find ways to get a jump on planting so our warm season crops will have time to mature. There are several ways to trick Mother Nature in order to extend our growing season but I will save that for later.
Getting our soil prepared as soon as possible by tilling and working in lots of compost will help get air into the soil and consequently warm things up. Raised beds are superb for warming up soil early because the sun (when it shines) will not only shine on the soil surface but also the sides of the beds. The same is true for any sized container so don’t feel like you don’t have room for growing a few veggies. They can do just as well in pots as they do in the ground. This is also true for herbs.
Fortunately for cool season veggies we are not as concerned about soil temp as with tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers, all of which will rot if planted now. For planting this time of year the most important tasks are getting rid of winter weeds, amending the beds with compost and incorporating some slow release organic fertilizer. Then it’s just a matter of deciding if we want to plant seeds or transplants.
Some crops like carrots can only be planted from seed but others like beets can be purchased already sprouted. All we need to do is carefully separate these small seedlings and transplant them into the garden 4-6 inches apart. For crops like cabbage and broccoli it makes more sense to buy a half-dozen transplants rather than mess around with a pack of seeds since most of us don’t need four dozen plants.
To learn the fine art of growing cool season veggies come down to the nursery Saturday March 22, 2014, at 10 am for our class presented by veggie gardeners extraordinaire Mary Ann and Andy Sudkamp. This couple has an unbelievable garden in north Everett that they eat out of year ‘round and they have lots of fun ideas on how to get the most out of your space.
You can also purchase the consummate manual for veggie gardening called the Maritime North West Garden Guide here at the nursery for $14.95. Produced by Seattle Tilth it is chocked full of great ideas on growing produce in our unique northwest climate.
Here’s to a fabulous and productive gardening season. Hope to see you on Saturday. Please let us know if you plan to attend as this class is always popular.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org