}

May 19, 2020

Springing Forth Against All Odds: Rare Annuals, and A Garden Update


My new border garden is about 60% complete, but like all good garden designs, development takes time. This urn is temporary until I find the right (and affordable) object to center the design, and the walks still need to be set in (gravel, peastone and cobblestones) but even incomplete, it's already looking nice.




In the kitchen garden, straw lines paths as onion seedlings interplanted with plugs of mesclun start the season off with quick growing greens reducing trips to the supermarket.

Mesclun washed, and chilled is crispy and tender when it is fresh and home-grown. I've been sowing one plug tray every week, setting out the plugs 8 inches apart after three weeks which allows just a pinch of seed to mature with enough space and light.



This time of year while it is still cold at night and cool during the day, tropical plants that will become large specimen plants outdoors in the summer are being potted up. I like to mix unusual plants with more common ones, always planting single species in each pot rather than mixed containers which have become so popular. This Iochroma is a nightshade shrub with brilliant violet tubular trumpets in clusters from mid-summer through autumn. A cutting planted now will grow quickly.



This is a typical discovery in the greenhouse this time of year - black walnut seedlings that squirrels sneak into pots every autumn. It's amazing to see how well they hide them! I found this one in a begonia while I was pinching back all of the red snapdragons.



If you look back in the blog about ten years, you'll see my obsession with an obscure bulb (corm) from South Africa called Rhodohypoxis. I traded many cultivars and crosses with friends years ago, but then lost all of my collection to mice one winter while they were dormant. A few months ago while shopping for some new varieties I came across this one named 'Matt's White' sold at Far Reaches Farm. Apparently a friend shared a number of my selections with them years ago, and this while one was chosen for it's short growth. It may be a named cultivar but since that provenance is questionable, they named it for me! (for now). Maybe someone will be able to ID it soon.




My new book Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening was published in March, and while my speaking tour has been cancelled or postponed indefinately, you may find it useful for some of your flower gardening projects. This chapter on annual poppies, for example, is one that seems to be popular and useful for those interested in alternative ways to raise the pretty and tender annual poppies.

You may remember my experiments with sowing the annual poppy P. somniferum 'Lauren's Grape', which is so popular with many serious gardeners but impossible to find at garden centers, and truly a species best sown direct in late winter. I wanted to test alternative ways to raise these often challenging poppies. My early discoveries reinforced that the seed germinates best at 70° F, in a greenhouse or under bright lights, but then what does one do? Here are my results.

Now, three months later my single-sown seedlings that were once so tiny in their 4 inch pots, have grown into lush rosettes. Slower than a few friends of mine who were growing them as well in Vermont, I was able to alleviate their growth rate by raising the nighttime temperatures from 40° F  to 65° F. In two weeks in late April, they doubled in size. In early May I relocated to to a cold frame outdoors to harden off.




Annual poppy seedling being hardened off in one of my cold-frames. Here you can see  P. somniferum, P. rhoeas (Shirley Poppy), Viscaria, salpiglossis and in the back, about 30 Cerinthe major 'Kiwi Blue' - the Blue Honeywort.





My basal stem cuttings taken from early-emerging delphinium in March are now rooted and able to be potted-up. Still in the greenhouse, the root now are growing quickly. This method, rather old-fashioned, I discovered in an old gardening book from England. Cut from established clumps just as they are emerging, the cuttings (cut deep underground) are set into sand or perlite, in a clay pot set in a tray of water.



My snapdragon seedlings are always a special project as I adore healthy, strong, tall and bushy snapdragons, and finding well grown or properly grown snaps at a garden center is difficult today as most are either treated with growth regulators or are sold in-bloom. These seedlings takes time, and I can fuss with them more at home. Seedlings are set into 4 inch long-tom pots, pinched and their fertility adjusted (with Cal-Mag or high potassium) food which they appreciate. Pinched twice (at least) these will be set in large groups out into the borders for a spectacular summer show.




These are pinched tips from another set of snapdragons. I used to not pinch snaps, as I wanted to tall, florist-style snapdragons, but those are impractical outdoors as they will tumble without netting and one ends up with bent stems. Yet, if one pinches early and frequently (at the second pair of leaf stage) a sturdy enough plant can be achieved that will still produce relatively long stems.



Cerinthe major var. purpurescens 'Kiwi Blue' is a secret fav of many garden designers. Also rarely found at garden centers, the large seeds are not only easy to sow, they grow quickly (sometimes too quickly). I usually sow mine too early (I never learn), but again, with pinching, the plants branch and by the end of May, a plant in a 4 inch pot is already an impressive size. Set out into the border in great numbers (as all annuals should be planted - in groups of 20 or 30) the show is nothing but sensational.




New for me this year is this: Silene pendula 'Sibella Carmine', a new introduction from Fleroselect that promises to produce a cloud of magenta flowers. It's reccomended for hanging baskets, but I am going to try bedding it out. I am very excited by they dense growing habit already.



By far a favorite annual last year in my garden is this: Phacelia campanularia. These are just beginning to bloom in a pot but last June they put on a sensational show out in the border. A Californian native wildflower, these are certainly something you will need to grow from seed early indoors, but I think that they are so worth the effort. I'll let you know how they do in a container, but I also set out about 25 plants in the border and a few in a clients garden.




Im not growing as many sweet peas this year as in past, but I do have three areas where am growing them, each one demonstrating three different methods. This structure shows my cordon method - the traditional and fussy way exhibitors grow their sweet peas for the sweet pea shows in England. Pinched plants are them restricted to a single stem, which is tied to a single bamboo cane which results in very long stems and flowers that are almost double the size of traditionally grown sweet peas.



In the background here you can see one of my tee pee's. Constructed on a base on 8 foot bamboo poles, branches and twigs are then tied onto the structure. Sweet pea seedlings that were started early in deep trays were set in around the base, pinched back to produce the stronger stems and by July this structure will be covered with flowers. These will be a mix of dark purple, violet and blue colors.



The last method is new for me - the 1910 dwarf variety 'Cupid Pink', from seed raised in the UK as most American strains are considered to be inferior to the original heirloom - I tried these last year along with some 'Knee Hi' varieties from the 1970's in pots for a wedding in Vermont, and they were a hit. So I am dedicating one of my windowboxes to them just to see what happens.



I terrible iPhone shot, I know, but this angle does show how I am setting out these cool-weather annuals out in the border - between the tulps. Upper left are some salpiglossis, lower right a few Phacelia and in the center-right, Viscaria occulata.




I thought i would share a photo of one of my clients gardens last year in suburban Boston using a selection of hard-to-find annuals raised from seed. 


It's Memorial Day weekend here in the US which in my growing zone (5b) is traditionally the time one would plant out tomatoes and basil. It's been too cold this year, as it was last year, as night temps are still in the 40° s so no need to rush. My basil seedlings are just forming their first pair of leaves - the time to transplant into larger pots (I'm reusing some 6 packs from pansies). Im growing a number of varieties of Basil including the traditional variety used for Pesto (Genovese) but it will succumb to BPM Basil Powery Mildew by high summer - a new disease introduced 10 years ago.So I am also growing a few of the newer disease resistant varieties like Prospero. Im curious to see if I can taste the difference as these new resistant varieties are crossed with other basil varieties like the Asian basils or Cinnamon basil's. The flavor profiles are very close though, to the true Genovese, but stay tuned.



Aside from unusual annuals and vegetables, the plant geek in me can't help but grow some true rarities or uncommon plants. These pots are from seeds acquired from the NARGS (North American ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY) annual seed exchange. Some Asian delphinium species and other alpine gems - I'm thrilled that the germination is so good this year. these have been outdoors and snowed on since late February.




The entrance to my house shows a display of pansies and violas. I prefer to pot three plants to a pot and not to jam in many plants which is so common today. Three plants pinched, and tended to daily to remove spent blossoms and seed pods will fill out a pot in just a few weeks. You'll be shocked at how large they will get, and I prefer the look of a single variety per pot or basket - a more horticultural look, and the effect is more 'Great Dixter' than  'spiller, thriller and filler'. I'm kind of over that look.



 I just had to share this lilac that I planted two years ago. I lost the tag so I don't know what variety it is, but it's magnificent, with a color so intense.



Baby chicks are hatching every week. These guys are all from the green eggs laid by the Aricana hens, but clearly our black Australop rooster has been busy with the hens. They are so cute!



A friend of ours gave us 6 eggs from their Royal Palm turkeys, but we had doubts about them hatching in our incubater, so Joe ordered 15 rare breed turkeys that will arrive in June. Of course, all 6 hatched and are healthy, and growing quickly. I found two of them escaped and perched on the kitchen counter a few days ago. No paper towels, so we are re-purposing emails for their bedding!


Lastly, I never announced it but I was honored to have been asked to feature our garden on a Garden Conservancy Open Days tour (you know how I freak out about tours! but this was a big deal). I was also offering a Digging Deeper program on June 6h but sadly the tour and program has been cancelled or postponed until next June. It does give us time to get things in order around here (hey - it's a mess!) but I promise that it will be even better next year!

May 5, 2020

Book Giveaway - Jennifer Jewell's 'The Earth is in Her Hands'

Jennifer Jewell

Jennifer Jewell's 'The Earth is in Her Hands' offers readers insight into the backstories and inspiration behind 75 of the most extraordinary women in the world of plants today. You can find it wherever books are sold online or order it at your favorite independent book seller. Also, leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for a book giveaway here on Mother's Day (see below for details).



With Mother's Day fast approaching, books remain an easy-to-order and welcome gift for any mom, grandmother, sister or aunt who loves plants. Oh, by the way, it's a great gift for any guy, too. 

 Jennifer Jewell is well known and valued as an award-winning public radio host. Her weekly program and podcast reach many of us in our cars and kitchens, where we listen to her calming voice as she interviews a remarkably diverse range of influential and always interesting plant people from around the world. 

 Many of us have been impatiently waiting for this book  'The Earth In Her Hands - 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants' (2020, Timber Press), as there is no book that I know of that covers such a subject - unless they focus on the classic, early writers usually from the UK.

Such compendiums often focus on the 'classic' garden writers we know and love already - the Gertrude's, the Vita's and the Chatto's, (and they're in here too, but often listed as 'influencers' to these contemporary women who are cultivating or nurturing our plant world.). 



You will recognize some of the women featured in the book lke Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm, but many may be new to you.


What makes this book unique is just that - they are contemporary women. Young or experienced, and best of all - not all of them are gardeners or garden writers. These women are from all aspects of the plant world. They are the seed collectors, the landscape architects, the botanists, and explorers. They are the botanical artists, nursery owners or designers we all should know if we don't already.  I can't think of a book like this.  It's a valuable addition to anyone's plant library or to keep on the bedside table as each bio is about three pages long.

Timber Press has done a remarkable job with the design and quality of the book, from the artful cover to the page layouts. No surprise that Jennifer's writing is as thoughtful as her language is on her radio/podcast - would we expect anything less? Each of the 75 profiles deep-dives into the lives, passions, and influences that led to each woman owning a part of the plant world. Anyone interested in a career with plants will enjoy it, as well indeed anyone already in such a career or life passion.

Francis Palmer, a talented potter and gardener is featured as well. So fun to read the back-story and vision for such icons from our modern gardening world.


Why women in plants, you ask? (It's OK, I asked the same thing, guys). Look, it's crazy even to think that some people react this way today, but it's a strange world that we currently live in. But, yes - I'll be honest, I too had some second thoughts about getting this book (I bought my copy last week because I am friends with Jennifer, but---I did wonder if this book was really written for me? 

Short Answer: Yes, this book is written for any plant person regardless of one's gender. It's a book about entrepreneurial confidence, creativity, life-passions, over-coming irrational fears and expressing one's talent with joy. Each will take away something different from it.

BOOK GIVEAWAY

Full disclosure, Timber Press is currently sending me a comp book to review, so I will offer that up as a giveaway here - just leave a comment below and kindly subscribe to my Instagram account @matt_mattus and I'll use a randomizer to choose a winner on Mother's Day - contest closes at 6 PM EST.


But if you are wondering still if this book is for you, (and if you are a man) then think about this:

All horticultural societies were virtually all-male clubs until around 1900. 
Some didn't allow women until much later. I'm not preaching; these are just facts we sometimes never think about - careers in science, botany - even an education beyond high school was predominantly a male opportunity. Women were relegated to flower gardens and maybe a kitchen garden, yet throughout history, it was women who tended the fields in tribal cultures, men just hunted and then watched TV.

And how about this...pre-20th century most plant species were named after men (thank you Carl Linnaeus), and most of these guys were elite, wealthy white guys. The only plants named after women were basically some 'varietal names' like Mrs. Willmotts Ghost, Valerie Finnis this or that or Beth Chatto's poppy.  I could go on, but you get the picture.


I appreciated that some featured plantswomen are global.


Granted, it was a different time, but from a woman's perspective, while we 'guys' just moved on from all of this -- women and girls, especially minorities or people of color have had few north stars to look up to for guidance or inspiration. In fact, all they had were those paintings of white plantsmen - you know - guys with beards posing with donkeys on an expedition or painted while seated in chair looking pensive. I know this because I sit on the board of a 275-year-old botanical society and botanic garden, where there were rooms full of these white guys with beards on the wall - (we moved them all down to the cellar to make a point for a while.). I think a book about contemporary women and their many contributions to the world of plants has been a long time coming.

As Jennifer states in her intro, "Compiling this list [of 75] has felt akin to mapping mycelia pathways between collaborating organisms in the soil of a forest." Yes. Precisely. That's a thread in this book that connects so many life stories. Each feature profiles a plant person by describing her work, her plant (favorite plant), her plant journey (life story), and then what I find most interesting, 'other inspiring women'.  It's like a 300-page interview with someone interesting.


One feature I liked was called 'Her Plant Journey', so if you've been wondering what drives people like Debra Prinzing and her Fast Flower movement, this is the book to get.


This book could have easily been ten times as long if she included every woman from the world of plants! But the web, the ecosystem that exists shows through, and should assure each of us that anything to do with plants offers endless career and life opportunities, many not even invented yet.

This book then is for everyone. 

The dreamer, the plantsperson, the philanthropist, the plantsman and plantswoman, the inventor. Jennifer has collected ( and clearly had to carefully edit it down to 75) of the most interesting people that will inspire anyone to boldly grow - perhaps where no man has gone before?

Happy Mother's Day

March 24, 2020

CULTIVATING OPTIMISM AND RESILIENCE WITH A VICTORY GARDEN

When I look at our storeroom in the cellar (cork-lined and full of canned goods that my mother who would have been 100 this year) I am reminded about all of the hard work and purposeful growing that happened around here in the 1940's.  Will we need to do that again? I think not, but a productive vegetable garden this year (and maybe next year) might be a good idea to relieve the food pressures in our country and for our own health. With a cellar still full of potatoes and winter squash, I feel a little more secure.



Our grandparents had their Victory Gardens, our parents may have had their Oil Crisis Gardens in the 70's. and us? Well. Clearly, we do want to limit how often we go to the market, and while any excuse to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Spam for a while, the time will come when we start craving something fresh and even though that green Romaine lettuce at the weekly market trip may look appealing, I don't know about you, but it's not like Romaine has a good track record for carrying diseases lately! Good news is that now in most northern climates, one can start a garden and grow your own.


Historically preserving food raised at home or picked at local farms wasn't unusual at all. It served a real purpose. I'm pretty sure that this woman wasn't accused of hoarding or even became upset when her local market ran short of strawberries or frozen peas. Her larder is well stocked. 


I live in Zone 5b in central Massachusetts, and while our frost-free date is closer towards the end of May, I know that there are many cold-tolerant crops can be started now like lettuce, mesclun mixes and some root crops (but not broccoli or cabbage, more on that later). Here are some crops I am planting now, and others that are in the wings waiting for the weather to comply. Most of you know your local climates better and can adjust planting schedules to meet your own needs.

Spring is regional, but aside from deep winter, something can be started no matter where you live and garden. In the Southern Hemisphere you could be planting fall crops and in mild-winter climates, winter crops. If you live in an apartment or don't have land, a fire escape or wide, bright window sill can let you grow mesclun, greens or some green onions, a rooftop terrace and you have lots of opportunities. A deck or a balcony too can hold pots - especially nice for miniature vegetables or a few tomato plants and herbs.

For the purpose of this post though, I am focusing on back yard gardens, whether it be a new one that you are digging up and planting in a few weeks or an expansion of an existing one. I think it's safe to assume that most of us are re-evaluating what we are growing over the next year, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts on what you might think about growing, and why.




It seems every generation that faced a challenge had it's version of a victory garden, it's now time for us to define what our generation will do.





A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE NEW VICTORY GARDEN 
FOR TIMES LIKE THIS WHEN A TRIP TO THE MARKET GIVES ONE ANXIETY


1. Choose the most productive crops given your square footage. 
Make every square foot earn its way. This means crops like spinach or peas that you shell may not make the most sense if you have only a few raised beds. Instead plant crops that you can pick quickly, and provide enough food for at least a few meals, and think about space over the long-term. For example, an 8-10 bed of spinach is wasteful when it comes to space use. It will produce as much spinach as that found in a $5.00 box found at a store (if it is harvested as baby spinach).

WWII Victory Gardens were large wth 30 - 60 foot long rows - the intention was to fill the storeroom with food that could save money and feed the family. While every war-time generation had their version of what a Victory garden was, today's world is different and while we may not need to live completely off of our gardens, in times like these we may need it to serve a greater purpose than just providing us with fresh heirloom tomatoes and cut flowers.

However, if it is planted with the old-fashioned larger growing spinach that we rarely see in stores anymore - the 'Bloomsdale' types (those with crinkled leaves and crunchy stems) space will go a bit further, but again, know that one raise bed may only produce two or three meals (one meal, at our house). Think of spinach as a 100 sq foot crop (10' x 10') or a 30-foot long row. Let it mature, be sure to lime the soil well when you sow it, and yes, you can sow it now. Some crops are fun to grow when a weekly trip to the supermarket is the norm, but this year, thing is different and it might make more sense to focus on crops that are worth growing that fill the fridge, the storeroom or ones plate and not just a fun project. As such, artichokes are out for me for 6 buds per bed isn't worth space.



Elevated beds, or even raised beds allow one to plant crops out in a grid. Often called Square Foot Gardening or French Intensive Method, it works well as it allows one to maximize space and harvest. Lettuce like these growing in a cedar raised bed means that 12 heads can fit into a space no larger than a laundry basket.


Using space wisely isn't a bad practice right now. When these cabbage plants mature the swiss chard has been harvested. Rows of cabbage were planted along with all of the lettuce and cabbage as it could be harvested in 28 days.


2. Plan like you would shop - Crop Succession is key as in interplanting. No one needs 12 heads of lettuce at one time so conserve how much seed you sow, and save some for later with those crops that mature quickly. SA dozen or sow lettuce seeds of a few varieties also will give you a variety to choose from. Be sure to order seed now of a number of varieties for those quick-maturing crops like lettuce, white and purple-top turnips, cilantro and kohlrabi that you can sow now, and then sow again every few weeks to ensure a constant supply into early summer.




Baby lettuce and cabbage grown together with little stress on this grid matrix planting. The lettuce gets pulled out every day providing salad greens in the kitchen and not interfering with this cabbage which is a fast-growing early type. Late cabbage or storage cabbage goes in later, in late June.


3. Plant smart - This is the time to rely less on myths and more on facts. Make every square inch valuable because you are growing food to live on so skip the marigolds and companion plantings (it's proven not to work anyway) and grow crops that maximize space and harvest. Use the space between cabbage for productive crops that mature before other crops do -- like dill, radishes, or onion sets and cilantro. This past weekend I planted rows of snap peas that are 36 inches apart, but between those, I plant three rows - one with cilantro, another wth Swiss Chard that I will harvest as baby chard, and the other with spinach which I to will harvest early.


White Tokyo turnips are a quick crop for both very early spring, or even better in late summer for harvest in October and November in our garden. 


4. Order seeds now for the whole summer. and autumn. Many seed companies are overloaded right now. I can't order from Baker Creek until 4:00 PM Monday because their website has been down for 4 days. So plan and order now. I am also avoiding many so-called heirloom varieties opting for newer strains or f1 hybrids. Right now, it's all about vigor and disease resistance. This is generalizing, but for crops that are notoriously susceptible to diseases like tomatoes and cabbage, I am taking no chances because I need reliable crops. I love Romana Costata summer squash but it is a space hog and produces just a few squashes at a time. Instead, I am planting a new hybrid probably from Johnny's Seeds. I need to be overloaded.



Obviously, support your local nursery or garden centers, but who knows what our situation will look like a month from now? It's easy (and frankly, better) to start your own brassica seedlings at home, outdoors in full sun but in cells or individual pots. Sow later than you think you should (biggest amateur mistake s to think of these as 'cool weather' crop. They aren't. Cabbage and all relatives germinate best at 85° and grow best if set out after the first spring flight of the Cabbage Root Maggot Fly which for us is around May 1. Full sun outdoors also ensures stocky plants.



5. Start lots of Summer Crops in Pots Outside - Science has proven that the best light for all seedlings is the direct sun, and any seedling that you start under lights indoors will be inferior to those you start out on a deck or porch in direct sun. Even tomatoes sown the first week of June outdoors will outperform those you started in April under lights. This is especially true with brassicas. First, you can get stronger, healthier seedlings of cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts if you start them the first week of June in cells set out on your deck or terrace, but also you can avoid the worst effects of the Cabbage Root Maggot Fly, which has it's largest flight (hatch) usually in late April - late May, depending where you live). Just keep an eye out for cabbage butterfly larvae.

Many crops can and should be started in reusable pots on your deck or outside anywhere in late May or June. Germination is quicker than in soil, and you can keep an eye on their progress. Just be sure to sow one or two seeds per pot and to not disturb the root ball when transplanting. Try this with melon, cucumbers and squashes. I great way to get a few weeks jump on lima beans and pole beans too.

Early cabbage is very useful, and perhaps the most flavorful of all cabbage - what's interesting about it is that early cabbage is rarely found at supermarkets and most people haven't even tasted it before. It's one of the best veggies for early crops. COne headed varieties are classic like 'Caraflex' which is quick maturing, super sweet and as crispy as iceberg lettuce. Try it raw or in stirfries. It's also a space saver and is out of the garden by the Fourth of July so you can plant beans or summer squash.


Kale is always better as a late summer and fall crop, but in these troubled times early sowing in pots then set outdoors will give you a smaller yet welcome harvest by June. Buy enough seed for late summer sowing too.

Peas are great but only grow them if you have the room to plant 30-60 foot lon rows of them. Otherwise, they can be a waste of space and effort. Buy seed by the pound like our grandparents did, and remember that you have to shell and process all of those pods! I always forget that!



7. Green Peas - We all love the flavor of garden-fresh peas, but only grow them if you have the room to plant lots and lots of them. I mean - the peas that you shell, not snap peas or snow peas - those two are worth growing. Three 30 foot rows may only get you three buckets of peas that you will have to then shell, often not worth the effort and space, (if it's supposed to keep you out of the frozen food aisle at the supermarket). Save peas as a luxury item for non-viral years. Instead, plant more productive crops like edible-podded peas (snap peas or snow peas) which sown now, will produce in June and are very productive.

That said, if you have the room (and the labor -i.e.: kids) then do plant long rows of shelling peas!

If you have the room, do plant long rows of peas now - in late March, for there is nothing like the flavor of fresh peas. Just note that the crop is easy to grow but harvesting and shelling can take it's toll if you are growing enough to both feed a family and to freeze. As kids we used to dread pea harvest day for it meant back-breaking work picking for a day and an entire night of shelling peas - only to get one half of a bucket bowl full of shelled peas (or 7 bags from the freezer section).

This is not the time to casually play with growing food. It is a great time to teach children about good planning, agriculture and our food systems. A dozen pea plants are useless if you are planning to live off of your garden. Grow smart. Gardening isn't a craft project, it's science and food. Sow seriously and sow smart. So smart.

Snap or snow peas or any edible-podded pea provides more band for the buck than shell peas. Older varieties can grow very tall though so note the overall height first to make sure you have the room or supports. The foliage on these peas (the entire new shoot) is deliciously stir-fried - so much so that most of the peas we grow in our garden are harvested at 10 inches tall for spring greens.

8. Pea Greens - Peas also are good for pea greens, which may be the first crop you can pick in three or four weeks if you sow now. Snow peas seem to produce the largest leaves. So in thick bands (8" wide) and as long as you want. Cut when greens produce open leaves and are about 6-10" high. Stir-fried in oil with garlic, or a few tablespoons of chicken stock with a 1/4 tsp of corn or tapioca starch, and you could have a quick and delicious fresh green that tastes just like green peas. It's a favorite around here. Just be sure not to order pea varieties touted as good for tendrils. Those are rather useless, in my opinion.


True cold-weather crops like Broad Bean or Fava Beans can be started under lights, or like these that I started in my greenhouse. They too can be sown directly in the ground and are a great project for kids as the seeds are large, and like many kids, being a part of how they grow will make it more likely that they will eat them too.

9. Broad Beans or Fava Beans are surprisingly productive if you have the room. Again, if you have raised beds, perhaps skip them, but if you have a more conventional veg garden, like a 30' by 12-foot plot, broad beans planted out in a few rows will mature by June and each pod produces a handful of large beans that once cooked, rival that of green sweet peas. Last year, four short 8 foot rows gave us enough bean to both eat two or three times fresh, and 8 bags to freeze.



Broad beans or fava beans are less known in America but pod for pod they produce more edible bits that English peas.

Mesclun or baby lettuce can be raised most anywhere, even on a deck or a fire escape in window boxes. These I sowed in rows in an old wooden flat which does sit in the greenhouse but can be moved outdoors on days when temps are above freezing. A quick crop, one can harvest most mesclun mixes in just 30-40 days.

10. Grow Mesclun Everywhere - Order larger packets of all greens to make a jar of your own mesclun mix. This will save money and allow you to sow successive crops every week and a half. I mix myself using larger packets of many lettuces, mustards, cress and arugula that I keep in a jar. The larger packets you purchase of individual seed, the greater the cost savings. Buy seed in bulk.

If you live in an appt order various brassicas (broccoli, red cabbage, cress, kohlrabi and arugula( which you can mix all together in a jar) and then start a square foot or two in a seed tray or even on a plate of et paper towels for microgreens. This mix along with a mesclun mix like above can also be sown in window boxes, or in any recyclable container that you can put out on a ledge. It's still cold out but I am starting mesclun mix in all of my pots out on the deck that I have topped-off with a few inches of fresh potting soil.




11. Early Beans are Purple and more cold tolerant - t's true, purple string beans are more cold tollerant than yellow or green. Plant a tower or three in a few weeks, depending on where you live. Start early in 6 packs or three seeds in a 4 inch pot indoors to get a jump.

Beets are productive both for the roots and for their greens.



12. Plant Onion sets - Forget about what I said before because we arent growing onion sets for onions, we are growing them for their greens. It's true, sets are  useless for onions, but great for quick green onions. The same goes for those sprouting onions in your onion basket on the counter - I never encourage this in normal years, but if you want greens in a few weeks, plant them.  Mom was rght about these.

13. But....Sow Green Onion Seed NOW  for the best green onions ever. (It will just take time ), but do it. I have found that green onion seed is one of the most economical crops to grow - especially if you are like me and buy green onions every week at the supermarket. They make sense to grow because one sowing in early spring will produce all summer. Plus, the quality is superior to any green onions one will find at a supermarket. Crispier, better varieties and more flavorful. The downside is that it is a slow grower - still, sow it now. Sow green onions in rich soil (it cant have enough nitrogen! I use composted manure but don't be afraid to use the blue, water-soluble fertilizer as right now - we are all desperate and need food of the highest quality.).


Potatoes are a long-season crop that can and should be sown now. They make good use of space, but can also be planted in places perhaps where you don't garden - like along a fence or even in a garbage can (Google it!). Potatoes are one of the most productive crops and aside for having plenty of uses, are good to store,  not to mention that they taste so much better straight from the garden like tomatoes do. You can even sneak a few out early if you are lucky!


14 Don't forget about Long-Season Dependable Crops - Outdoors, in your raised beds try sowing crops that can stay in the ground a bit longer such as onion sets, cabbage, kale, and mustard greens won't need to be sown as often. If you have mesclun mixes sown, try using a trowel to select out a few mustard plants and plant them in a row or grid elsewhere so that they can grow larger. Mixes that are cress and arugula-heavy or sown too thickly will bloom faster, but mustards (both frilly and large red or green-leaved varieties) can be transplanted elsewhere and will grow into large, productive plants in a few more weeks.


Winter storage squashes are one of the most productive crops any of us can grow. If it wasnt for storage squashes, many in the north wouldnt have survived the winter. This Blue Hubbard can produce dozens of dishes, roasted squash, soups and in pies.

Aside from herbs, for those of you who have rhubarb, isn't it amazing how once we don't have (or trust) fresh fruit from the store, how welcome fresh rhubarb suddenly is? I'm not exactly comfortable buying strawberries or blueberries right now, unless I am cooking them (one sneeze!). But rhubarb from my garden in late April is so welcome! I now know how early Americans felt when they would get this first 'fruit' out of the garden.

15. Fruit? If you arent that trustful about fresh strawberries or apples at the market, remind yourself about an old favorite - Rhubarb. In crisps and pies, rhubarb is just going to seem so amazing in a few weeks! I can't wait, and now I can understand why it was so valued by northern gardeners a century or more ago when their storage fruit like mealy apples were running short. In a time before air travel and even trains, rhubarb did indeed bring us the first fruit of the season. I get it now.
Can you taste it?


My own parsley seedlings are at the perfect size for late March. Parsley must be set out at a small size if you dont want it to bolt. It must also never be exposed to cold or near freezing temperatures if it is any larger than this, or it too will bolt - the key reason why so many parsley plants that we find at garden centers that sat out with the pansies eventually bolt by July.




16. Plant Herbs that you buy fresh every week -  Think about herbs that provide health benefits like parsley and add fresh flavors to dishes like dill and cilantro. Remember that parsley seed or very, tiny plants of parsley will be your best choice as larger plants (with more than 4 pairs of leaves) will bolt by early summer. Parsley will bloom too early if plants are exposed to cold weather (above 45 deg) as it will think that it has passed through a winter. This exposure won't hard true seedlings if they are young enough, but most commercial sources of plants sell parsley that was started in autumn or winter. Also, never buy cilantro plants, you can grow a crop quickly in three weeks from seed.

As for cilantro that is growing in a pot at the nursery it just going to bloom and go to seed in a few weeks, and isn't worth the price if you are going to use it in a few weeks. So cilantro now (it prefers cool weather and will go to seed and get too soapy if the weather turns hot). Also, sow it every 2 weeks in 30" bands, or in pots set out on your deck. It's like a mesclun mix - an in-and-out crop that can be ready to harvest within a month.

Basil can wait, as it truly needs warmth (here in Zone 5 I sow seed indoors in Mid April, and plant out in early June. If you are in California or the south, go for it!



TO RE-CAP

PRODUCTIVE CROPS THAT MAKE GOOD USE OF SPACE

Pea greens
Broad Beans
Spring Turnips
Mustard Greens
Swiss Chard
Snap Peas and Snow Peas
Spinach
Lettuce
Mesclun
Onion Sets

CROPS FOR Late Spring/ Early Summer

Purple String Beans
Early Cabbage
Kohlrabi
Lettuce
Tuscan Kale
Mustard Greens

Long Season Warm-Weather Crops to Mature later and are highly productive (storage too)

Potatoes (Plant now!) Do not lime soil, as they prefer acidic soil. Plant as many as you can.
Root Crops like Carrots and Parsnips sow now
Late root crops like Rutabaga, sow later in July for late fall storage.
Winter Squashes - any and all, from acorn to Blue Hubbard and perhaps the most economical - the Butternut types. Believe me, you will want to stock up on storage squash next fall and winter if they don't find a cure until next spring. Our great grandparents knew about the value of storage squash and potatoes. It may be time to rediscover their immense value.


Summer Standbys to ORDER SEED FOR NOW (To Freeze, eat fresh, pickle or preserve)

String Beans
Tomatoes
Peppers and Chili's
Summer Squash
Potatoes

Productive herbs
Longer-season (plant once)
Parsley
Rosemary plants or cuttings
Sage

Sow bi-weekly
Cilantro

Sow Monthly
Dill for greens
Dill for seedheads (for pickles)

ORDER SEED NOW FOR  AUTUMN CROPS that are Productive (in late July/early-mid August)

Napa Cabbage
All turnips
All Asian radishes like Daikon
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Cilantro
Arugula/mesclue
Lettuces
Kale