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Archive for Thursday, March 11, 2004

Traditional vegetables are low-risk, high enjoyment

March 11, 2004

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Traditional and non-traditional vegetables are easy to grow, low-maintenance and will add nutritious flavors to your favorite recipes. Fortunately for those who enjoy potted veggies, in recent years, seed hybridizers have introduced a wide variety of seeds specifically for potted plants.

Peas

Peas need direct sunlight at least six hours a day. An area with full, unobstructed sun will work best, although in areas like such as the deep South and Southwest, peas should be have some shade from the midday sun. Master gardener Paul James, writer and host of Home & Garden Television's "Gardening By the Yard," provides his peas with trellises for them to grow on.

"You can buy a trellis or make your own with pruning sticks," James says.

Peas grow well in almost any kind of soil, but they do best in a fertile, somewhat sandy soil with good drainage. The best way to grow peas is to sow seed directly into prepared garden soil, according to the National Garden Bureau. Because they are frost tolerant and germinate best in cold weather and soil, sow them as soon as you can work the soil.

Spinach

Like peas, Popeye's favorite vegetable must be planted when the air is cool and the soil is rich. According to "The Edible Salad Garden," by Rosalind Creasy, spinach must be planted early spring or fall, as they will bolt too quickly if the weather is too warm.

Spinach should always be seeded directly in your garden. If the soil is too dry at planting time, consider watering several days or so before planting to supply the needed moisture. Applying water after planting to supply the moisture needed for germination often causes seedling diseases and is best avoided.

The seed can be scattered over the top of the bed or planted in rows. Generally, planting in rows is preferable since weeds that emerge near the spinach seedlings can be more easily removed. If your planting bed is about 20 inches wide, four rows of spinach can be seeded across the top, leaving plenty of room for the plants to develop.

Approximately six to 10 weeks after planting, depending upon the variety and the weather, it's harvest time. Note that as the weather cools down your spinach takes a little longer to fully mature and will grow more upright. Generally, spinach that matures when temperatures average between 50 degrees and 60 degrees F. will be fuller-bodied and of higher quality.

Dandelions

Believe it or not, the common dandelion is a hardy perennial whose leaves are gathered as potherbs or greens. Young leaves are eaten in salads, boiled, steamed, sauteed, fried, braised, etc. The roots are even eaten raw, or cooked and served like salsify. Dandelion wine and jelly are made from the flowers. Dandelion may be cultivated in the home garden when wild plants are not available.

The root of the dandelion contains the sugar insulin, plus many medicinal substances. According to Shetherd Ogden, associate editor of "The American Gardener," blanching the dandelions takes away the excess bitterness of the flower.

"If you find them out in the yard, take a fiber pot, the size that chrysanthemums come in and turn it upside down (over the plant)," Ogden said. "Come back in a week or ten days, and the leaves will have just enough bitterness left to taste good."

Basic Tips

Chris Dawson, master gardener and host of HGTV's "The Seasoned Gardener" has some final tips to remember when planting your spring veggies.

1. Water established plants deeply, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings. It is important to water at ground level and not the plants themselves. Avoid getting your vegetable plant leaves wet to discourage pests and plant diseases.
2. Mulch to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.
3. Remove weeds that compete with your vegetables for sun, water and nutrients.
4. Select disease-resistant varieties of seed/plants.
5. Carefully follow seed packet instructions regarding depth and spacing.
6. Plant at the appropriate time: generally after the danger of frost has passed in your area.

Paul James offers up more information on greens at this Web site: Greens!

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