Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Timeline important for planting from seed

March 20, 2008

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The time has finally come to plant spring vegetables. Whether you are an experienced gardener or trying your hand for the first time, take advantage of the cool weather to plant some leafy greens and spring favorites.

All of the mentioned cool-season crops can be grown in containers in the yard and patio as well as in the garden. A lot of sun is the most important thing for spring veggies.

¢ Lettuce and spinach are two of my spring favorites. There are many varieties of each to try, and there are some relatives that grow well in cool spring weather, too. Try planting mustard greens, collard greens, endive and Swiss chard to complement your spring salads.

¢ Potatoes are another favorite. I like to plant them on St. Patrick's Day or soon after when the weather is uncooperative. Purchase seed potatoes rather than cooking potatoes, because seed potatoes are certified disease-free and have been prepared for growing. Even though cooking potatoes sometimes sprout in the cabinet, their ability to do so is unreliable.

Seed potatoes can be cut into four to five chunks. Make sure that at least one eye is present on each chunk. Store the potatoes in a warm location for a few days after cutting to allow the cuts to seal themselves, which will help protect against soil-borne disease. Each chunk of potato can then be planted about 2 inches deep and 8-12 inches apart. When the new plants emerge (typically mid-late April), add dirt around the base of the plants. You can also mulch heavily with clean or weathered straw.

¢ Radishes, like the leafy vegetables, have tiny seeds. Plant them according to package directions, and remember to thin them once they grow.

¢ Onions are best grown from plants or sets. Plant about 1 1/2 inches deep and space them according to size of the mature onion. Four inches apart is adequate for large onions. Onion seeds are available but take much longer to germinate - plants and sets will give you a head start on onion harvest.

¢ Purchase seeds or plants of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Plants again will give you an advantage on germination, but make sure to set the plants outside for a few days before transplanting into the cool soil. This allows the plant to "harden off" or adapt from the greenhouse to the outdoors.

¢ I usually plant peas when I plant potatoes. They can be planted any time in March, but they will not germinate until the soil temperature reaches 40 degrees. Sow pea seeds about 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. You may wish to add a short trellis or fence if you are growing climbing varieties, to keep the plants off the ground. Install the fence after plants emerge.

¢ Kohlrabi is a little less commonly planted than some of the others, but my father has grown it for several years and convinced me to try it, too. It is a close relative of cabbage and broccoli, but instead of a head, it produces a swollen stem that looks something like a turnip. Harvest the turnip-shaped stem and eat it or cook with the same way you would a turnip. Why not just grow turnips? The flavor is different - you just might like it.

¢ Turnips, beets, carrots and parsnips should be planted in a few weeks when soil temperatures have warmed a little more. These are also best grown from seed following packet instructions.

Many of these cool-season crops can withstand temperatures in the 20s, so they will be safe even if we get more wintry weather. Also remember that spring vegetables use little garden space, so try them in the corner of the garden or in a container on the patio.

- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension AgentHorticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or smithjen@ksu.edu.

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