08 March, 2011

The March Garden

March. Baseball teams are in Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. Tomatoes are growing in a protected location with 'bottom heat' so they can be set out in the garden close to the end of April.

We've all heard the old saying about March coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion, or is it coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb? Whatever the exact saying, it correctly alludes to March as a more schizophrenic month; certainly a truism as far as gardening goes. On one hand, we are still tending our winter vegetables, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce, while on the other we need to be planning on what we will soon be eating in summer.

Those of us on the coast can continue to plant more winter vegetables if we haven't had our fill of all those cabbage family plants. I usually find I can grow winter vegetables right on into late May in most years. Some of the winter veggies will 'oversummer' for us; leeks, fennel, chard and kale will hold on in most summers although they can look downright ratty once our June Gloom has left us.

Royal Purple Pod beans can go in even in February, certainly by mid-March, I'll have a row growing. This is the only bean that will germinate in cold, wet soil. All other beans, in most years, will need to be planted no sooner than late March or early April.

You can buy tomato starts in March, but I wouldn't want to plant them out until later in the month. Tomatoes will survive cool soil, but they will thrive much better in warmer soil. If you want to grow tomatoes from seed, I usually sow mine in February. I start them in a sheltered location, but still in direct sun – I use a grow mat that warms the soil to about 70° so the tomatoes get off to a good start – I sow basil the same way at the same time. Other summer crops that I start in pots to be transplanted later, including peppers, eggplants and okra, need more heat and I don't even mess with those until after mid-March. They will be ready to sow out into the garden come the first of May (allow about 6 weeks to get them up, up and away).

This is one of the more busy months in the garden because I should be harvesting from the winter crops and I'm out there looking at those plants trying to figure out where I'll be able to plant the summer crops.

I'm awfully fond of lettuce. One of my Summer rituals is making a big production out of the first BLT of the year where I've grown the L and the T in my garden – if I'm lucky I'll have also baked the bread myself too. The hard part is getting the L and the T to cooperate. Tomatoes love heat, to really fruit they need temperatures above 84° while most lettuce is positively allergic to temperatures above 75°. There are some varieties of lettuce bred to be less heat sensitive – Jericho and Summertime are the two I'm most familiar with – look for them in seed catalogs and try planting lettuce plants North of taller plants to give them more shade.

In one fit of fanaticism, I once grew lettuce year round. I created a bed just for lettuce. I created a copper snail barrier to keep those salad lovers out, and set up a series of little misters to spray the plants twice a day with a cooling mist. But the most significant feature was an old window screen (frame and all), resting over the plants on four 18” wooden stakes (easily purchased at a local garden supply store). The screen proved to be the most effective part of the whole operation. I was able to grow lettuce right on into the middle of October, when a heat wave and an irrigation failure contrived together to completely fried the remaining plants. Fried lettuce has about the same appeal as month old bread. If you want lettuce all summer you might give this – or some of this – a spin in your garden.

March is a month filled with activity – daylight savings time now starts at the end of the second week and boy do gardeners need that extra hour! Look at what you have in the ground and begin to imagine full size tomato, pepper, eggplant and basil plants growing there. Try to contain yourself and get a reasonable view of what you can plant. Check out the suggested planting spaces on the plants you want; measure to see how many you can reasonably accommodate. No, don't multiply by four! (We all do it anyway, don't we?)

Warm Season Vegetables

...and varieties I suggest you try... 

Lettuce Leaf, Genovese,
Beans - drying
Black Turtle, Cannellini,
Beans – Lima
Beans- snap
Roc d’Or, Romano, Royal Burgundy
Sweet Corn
Golden Bantam, Stowells Evergreen, County Gentleman
Lemon, Mideast Prolific, Japanese, Armenian
Pingtung Long, Rosa Bianca
Jenny Lind, Ambrosia, Hales Best
Star of David, Clemson Spineless
Peppers (Sweet)
Banana, Pimento, Cubanelle,
Peppers (Hot)
Ancho, Corno di Toro, Anaheim, Jalapeno
Small Sugar, Howden
Squash (Summer)
Zahra, Lebanese White
Squash (Winter)
Sweet Dumpling, Red Kuri, Queensland Blue
Purple de Milpa
Brandywine, Juane Flamme, San Marzano, Black Krim, Stupice, Sweet 100’s, Yellow Pear and thousands others!

BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. I have never ordered from them, but I have heard good things about them.

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners. If you see him, he owes me a laser pointer.

FEDCO; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903 207.873.7333
They are rabidly anti-GMO, though they do carry hybrids in addition to open-pollinated seeds. A wonderful and extensive selection. (A lovely letter to customers can be found on their site, Sticker Shock Moves from the Oil Tank to the Seed Catalog. Someone who writes this beautiful deserves to get some of our money!)

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools.

NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561 (Fax 520.622.5591) Specializing in the seeds of south western United States, concentrating on the ancient seeds of the First Nations' Peoples from amaranth to watermelon. A worthy cause for your money. Please note, this entry does not appear on the handout distributed in class, that is my error.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400
Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years.

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $35. Free brochure. Some organic, but ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481)
A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed.


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