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09 April, 2013

April In The Garden


The summer garden's plants are in their little starter pots right now (vaguely reminiscent of training wheels on a bicycle) really begging to be transplanted into the earth. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, the stalwarts of our summer garden are almost ready to hit the big time. In some years, it's too cool until after your taxes are done, but in many others, heed their pleas and put them out sooner.

It seems the crops most of us think of as 'value crops' are the summer crops of the Southern California garden. Back in March, if I sowed a couple of short rows of purple snap beans, so I have some lovely little summer plants already up in the garden, about five inches promising the goodies to come. Some folks swear they are 'purple green beans, ' but that seems a little goofy to me. They aren't green, they're purple – until you cook them; when they are cooked to a delicious al dente 'done,' then they become a deep luscious green. It's a perfect veggie for someone learning how to not overcook vegetables.

They are good, but in my book, they aren't the real deal of the bean world. In April, we put out the main crop of snap beans. It's pretty common to plant green beans, including, Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Romano and others, either as a pole bean or a bush bean. Pole beans need something to climb on and tend to produce some beans over the entire season. If you want to eat your beans freshly picked at a number of meals over the season, pole beans are your bet. If you plan on pickling, canning or freezing a bunch of beans for the cooler months, bush beans with their tendency to put on all their crop in the space of three or four good pickings will be the ones you go for.

I like to plant yellow beans, also called 'wax' beans. I hated yellow beans as a kid, mainly because they were different and I never saw them for sale in the grocery store; I didn't want anything on our table that wasn't 'normal.' As far as I can determine, this is the only instance of conformity I've ever committed. Now that I am an adult, I've come to love the yellow beans, especially when pickled. The yellow ones are like 'sunshine in a jar' that I can put on sandwiches and in salads all year long. Yum! I look for Pencil Pod or Carson, both of which are straight, delicious and good croppers. When it comes to pickling or canning, you only have to pack one jar with beans to appreciate the importance of a quality like 'straight!'

In all of this, I don't want to miss noting that I did an experiment a few years back putting a row of Romano beans up against Kentucky Wonder which had been my standard for a good many years. Romano won hands down so hard I've not planted Kentucky Wonder or any of the round beans since! Some folks don't care for the taste of Romanos, but I find them as delicious as any bean I've ever had. And they are 'meatier' and my beans were more productive over a longer period of time.

For something a little different, plant Dragon Langerie, a Dutch variety that has purple strips down the large flat yellow bean. They can be quite large and still tasty. And showy! Or, Scarlet Runner beans. What a showy vegetable! First they have a bright red (scarlet?) flower. The green beans can get what large, about ¾ inch across, and up to 12 inches long! Even at that stage they have a crunchy deliciousness that the size belies. After getting a little tough at that stage, you can pick them and shell out the soft bean seeds – called 'shelly beans' mostly in the south – and cook with a little butter. If you wait a bit longer, the seeds get hard and you have a dried soup bean – all this production in a plant you would be proud to put on a trellis at your front door! I didn't even tell you that the seeds are a brilliant purple splashed with black – this is one of the stand out plants of the bean world. Can you guess if I'll grow it again this year?

In the first half of the month, start planting beans, green, yellow and purple of all varieties, directly in the garden, I don't bother with transplanting from beans in starter packs, it's a lot more work for a very dubious gain. You can put out any bean from tax day on, but I usually wait yet another month for the beans I want to dry, like the famous Italian Cannelini, American Cranberry Bean or Black Turtle. I want these to ripen when the garden is basking in the dry heat of late summer/early fall. There are a lot of drying beans, but a gardener of a small plot can be forgiven if they pass on many dried beans – it can take a bit of space to get a decent crop. For the best drying bean selections look into Native Seed/SEARCH in Arizona or Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.

Don't forget Lima beans! These big meaty bean seeds are really a winner in soups and stews. The climbing Lima bean variety “Christmas” is perennial in our climate and produces loads of red and white (the reason for calling it “Christmas”) year in and year out. These vigorous vines demand to be put on a really sturdy fence – they will pull down anything less as I can attest. If you can only afford one or two plants, they'll still make it worth your while. Keep them picked – I say that because it can be a bit of a chore to keep after them.

About the same time you are putting your green and yellow beans into the garden, set out a couple cucumbers. I like Armenian and Japanese cucumbers which have the same mild flavor and awesome crunch, even though they couldn't look any more different! The Armenian cucumbers are a light green almost bordering on yellow, with smooth skin covering a straight fat cucumber while the Japanese are a very dark green, with massive prickles on a furrowed and absolutely convoluted twisty narrow cucumber. Both are delicious. The Japanese cucumber will bear over a longer period but there is much more eating on each Armenian cuke, so it probably ends up with both being about the same. Give them plenty of room! If your garden is small, make these gangling fellows climb a fence, a trellis or something up and not out over the ground – and your other plants, which they will do with impunity!

I would bet you will be tempted at some point by the Lemon cucumber. This is an heirloom that looks so cute in catalogs. I have grown it several times and each time I've found myself asking, “Why?” It's not all that good, it's a labor to peel (five Lemon cukes equal less food than one Armenian or Japanese) and the vines can engulf a small home! OK, that's a bit much, but I've seen it cover a ten by ten foot garden bed without looking back. And it does produce well, but not like some of the more traditional cukes. Too much labor per bite. That should be a veggie growing matrix: Labor Per Bite; the LPB is too high.

The beans and cucumbers aren't all we are planting out right now. I haven't even mentioned later in the month! After the taxes are in, set out growing plants of peppers, eggplants, okra, melons, zucchini, summer squashes and tomatillos. Sow seeds of corn directly where they will grow. Pumpkins are a winter squash and all those hard skinned squashes should go out in May or so. They are really heat lovers. And demand space or something on which to climb!

You say you want pumpkins for Halloween? Check the packet for the days to harvest. In our coastal climate, we need to add a month to that which means you need to get them in sooner rather than later! You could skip the 'add a month' part, if you are more inland. A pumpkin that is ripe before you need it, will keep. A pumpkin that isn't ripe until Thanksgiving can't be transformed into a Jack o' Lantern until the last minute because it will rot very quickly. Early really is more better than late in this case. And your dates to harvest could be slowed down if we get a heavy dose of June Gloom on the coast (if you don't get June Gloom, ignore this) making that extra month essential.

Peppers and eggplants are easily grown once it has warmed up. They usually get about 3½' tall and need about two feet between plants. As with most vegetables, you need to give them all the sun you can. You can also try growing some lettuce in the shade of larger plants. Lettuce dislikes heat, but I like tomatoes and lettuce (my annual BLT) at the same time and it's easier trying to get lettuce in summer than tomatoes in winter.

I love peppers but I hate eggplant. Both however, are beautiful additions to every garden, I grow eggplant as an ornamental and give the produce to someone who cares to eat it. Peppers come in a wild variety of colors – all start green and eventually change to whatever color they want to be – every green pepper you've ever eaten would have turned to some other color if we'd only practiced more patience. I like Anaheim, Early Jalapeno and Corno di Torno (Italian for 'Horn of the Bull') for warmer peppers and Cubanelle, Sweet Banana and Marconi for a sweet pepper. Eggplants can be Asian or Italian – I like the Italian Listada de Gandia or Rosa Bianca, primarily because they are very good looking in the garden. I have no intention of eating them. There are deep purple ones (almost black) and white ones as well as Turkish Orange and green eggplants. Very pretty.

Okra can be planted late in April/early May. Clemson's Spineless, Burgundy, Annie Oakley, and Star of David all are prolific producers. Put on a pot of gumbo in late summer! I'll eat 'em if I don't see 'em. There is a red variety called 'Burgandy' which is stunning! All okras, being hibiscus family members, have amazing flowers!

Not enough has been said about basil, but Genovese basil is the best in my book. Not just good production, but wonderful aroma and the taste is incomparable. Pinch the tips of each branch as flower buds begin to form all summer to keep it producing – once there are two pair of leaves on a stem, that stem will commence to flower. Pick the flowers before they have set seed. Once the seeds begin to mature, the plant begins the process of dying. If you keep it well picked, the plant gets bushier and bushier and you get a lot more basil from each plant. Throw the pickings in soup, salads or directly in your mouth! It's a win/win type of situation.

Sweet corn is another delight of the summer garden. It is a little tricky to grow in our small gardens though. Corn, like all the cereal grains, is wind pollinated. However, unlike the other grains, corn has male and female flowers. The tassels atop the plant are the 'boy' flowers and the silks on the ear are the 'girl' flowers. The tassels produce loads of pollen that must reach the silks to fertilize them and create the corn seeds. This is hard to do if you don't have a lot of corn plants with pollen to blow onto the silks. It is best to plant corn as a block of plants rather than long rows. There needs to be a critical mass of male flowers to produce pollen to fall on the silks. You can shake the flowering corn stalks to cause the pollen to fall down and assist in corn sex if you're the adventurous type. Play some seductive music. “Was it good for you too?”

If you've ever eaten and ear of corn and found a spot where there was a space instead of a kernel, that shows that one silk was not pollinated because every kernel has its very own silk. To get a fully populated ear of corn, every individual silk must be fertilized.

Also in the garden you will put out plants of zucchini and soon afterwards, so-called 'Winter Squash.' Zucchini and the yellow crookneck squashes with soft skin are called Summer Squash because they are eaten in summer; while the hard rinds of squashes and pumpkins can be saved to be eaten in the cold (read 'non-gardening') months of winter. I usually set a plant or two of summer squash in the garden and plant seeds of the winter varieties. Both can be put out by seeds or by transplant, it's just the habit I've gotten into. Zucchini and summer squashes can be large leaved plants that don't ramble a lot, but get quite large. Winter squashes and pumpkins ramble everywhere – the larger the fruit, the larger the leave and the greater potential with smashing other, not as large, veggies. Winter squashes resemble cucumbers in this way, except that cucumbers are a LOT more delicate than squash.

If you have an unused trellis, consider one of the climbing summer squashes like Zuchetta Trombonicino Squash. There are others with similar habits – but you'll have to grow them from seed! Check the seed catalogs for a description that matches this one. The fruit on these plants can get to be three or more feet long and when they are hanging down from a trellis they create a magical experience for children and the childlike as they walk between the hanging fruit – and mighty good eating too! Keep them picked and plan on having these gorgeous soft squashes to share with friends and neighbors. My catalog says they 'may be grown on a pretty strong trellis” and I would say that's just a bit understated. In our small gardens, growing these plants on the ground will take up too much of your gardening real estate and if you try a wimpy trellis, you'll get the plants growing on the ground as well, among the shattered parts of the wimpy trellis!

There is little hope of April showers in our area, although they are not unheard of. In many years, one or two will show up, although they don't usually provide us with much rain. Get your garden beds mulched as soon as you can. A lack of mulching will allow that water to evaporate and you will need to water all that much more. Add mulch to about three inches deep – don't cover your plants or freshly sown seeds, but all over the spaces between plants. And as plants come up, add mulch around them. It will save you in weeding later on, the roots of plants will feel better and the critters in the soil are all much more happy!

It might seem early, but begin to think about saving seeds from some of the plants you put out now. Beans are easy in this regard, as are tomatoes and lettuce. Especially if you start your planting off with saving seed in mind. And it is NOT too early to think about seed saving; lets take a moment to think what you would need to do to save the seeds from some of the plants in your garden.



Saving seeds from year to year only needs a little extra attention in what you already do and a little more record keeping so you can say 'this came from that and not from that' with assurance. This little effort will enrich your gardening in unexpected ways. The season I started to plant my garden with the intention of saving seeds for the future, both my garden and myself were changed in ways I did not anticipate. I have heard other folks describe a similar phenomena once they became parents – the future has new meaning and new importance and weight. In addition, I became more intimate with the phenomena of life that exists in the garden, feeding on the flowers and the seeds that I allowed to flourish. I don't, as I've said, use any pesticides in my garden and depend on a multitude of insects in the garden as my 'pest control.'

Plant beans apart from one another, as far as you can; although science says there is little chance of cross pollination between beans, their research is done in insecticide-soaked research plots. In your organic garden, you can get some crossing so planting your different varieties somewhat apart with something tall between them will help keep the beans self pollinated so they remain the same bean year after year. (The bean remains the same.) Designate a couple of plants from the beginning to be seed producers and mark them with some colored flags or colored tape found in hardware stores (this 'tape' is a lighter version non-sticky flagging tape, like a light version of 'Police Line – Do Not Cross' seen at crime scenes), buy a couple of colors to use for different purposes. Chose a plants of early, middle and late production. Chose plants with qualities you like (production, disease resistance or straight beans) if you want to carry those qualities forward. Tie the tape securely around the plants you will save for seed. Simply let the plant make beans and leave them on the plant until the pod is drying out. Gather in the dried up plants and allow to dry in as cool a place as you can find until they are really dry.

To insure there are no insects in the beans, put them in the freezer for a few days once they are dry enough (hit one with a hammer – if it shatters, it's dry enough!), pull them out, allow the condensation to disappear and put them into jars with extra head room (air space above the beans) and store them in a dark, cool place until needed to eat or to replant.

Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are a little more demanding because they produce over the whole summer, or at least that's what we hope for. They are mostly self-fertile, so if you're saving seed for yourself only, you might find it acceptable to have two plants of each flowering at the same time. If you plan on sharing the seed with others who might not have the same forgiveness gene as yourself, you'll need more rigor. I had a handyman build me a couple of frames that cover a typical eggplant or pepper. These frames are of 1 x 2 wood on to which I can staple some porous fabric, called 'spun fabric' or 'row covers' – sometimes you'll see the brand names Remay or Agri-Grow. This fabric allows air, water and sunlight to pass but no insects – in fact it is used over rows of plants like cabbage to protect the plants from the cabbage moth. It is rather inexpensive and can be used for more than one year. Just make sure the bottom of the fabric has solid continuous contact with the soil The frames should be good for several years especially if you coat them with linseed oil.

Start with these easy to save seeds – on down the road, you can learn to save seeds from the more demanding plants like squashes and cucumbers. Both of those are more promiscuous than any animal ever thought to be and are pollinated by bees. To get pure seed from them requires to manage their sex life and that can be really demanding.

Or corn, beets and chard which are wind pollinated. In fact, is is because they are wind pollinated that many folks are upset with genetically modified organisms grown indiscriminantly in America's fields. The pollen from GMO plants can easily be blown into non-GMO cropland contaminating those plants with the genetically modified material. The wind blown pollen has created a scarcity of corn varieties that are NOT contaminated with this unproven, and largely unwelcome, tehcnology.

Once you find yourself saving seed, you'll really feel a connection to your forefathers and foremothers! They saved seed all the time because it was their only source for seed other than neighbors – and I'm sure that sharing their seeds was one of the annual highlights of the community. It can become a part of your annual harvest festivals, of which Thanksgiving is the ultimate.

Boy are we busy this month! Don't worry. If you fail to get everything done, you can keep at it for the first two weeks of May. There is no need to rush in Southern California. Our climate forgives us for being too early or too late most of the time, so you can go wrong, but you have to work at it pretty hard.


Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Winter squash
More basil, if needed
Beans of all kinds mentioned in the text
Tomatoes
Basil
More summer squash, if needed
Squash (some folks prefer this to staring in containers)
Peppers
Eggplant
Summer Squash

Corn
Cucumbers



Refer to the text for exact dates.

It is with trepidation I share the following recipe: I have often thought I need to enter this in the county fair because it is a winner for those of us who love rhubarb pie – you cannot find a decent one made commercially, that's for sure. A rhubarb pie cannot be made with a ton of sugar that covers the tartness of the rhubarb. This is a knock off from a Martha Stewart recipe and it is delicious.

I have not mastered making pie crust as of this writing – that is the only reason I have not sought a ribbon with this pie: it seems unfair to buy a crust for a pie that will be judged. I intend to learn how to make a good crust and then, look out! The blue ribbon will be mine!

David King's Most Beautifully Delicious Rhubarb Pie!

2 double pie crusts
2½ pounds fresh rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces, or 2 20 ounce packages of frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained
1 cup sugar, or to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice and grated zest of 1 bright-skinned orange

Preheat the oven to 350 ° F

Cut the rhubarb into pieces to fill your pie crust. Combine all ingredients except rhubarb in bowl. Spoon this mixture over the rhubarb as evenly as you can over the rhubarb – the act of baking will take care of the distribution of the sauce.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until the filling has bubbled and thickened. Let cool on a rack before serving.

Makes two pies.

This is a male bachelor's adaptation of Martha's recipe which takes about 3 hours longer, eight or nine more dirty dishes and a lot more money to make.  

david

03 April, 2013

March!





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 one of the more schizophrenic of our months; certainly true 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 and planting 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 almost all the 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. Even lettuce, if we don't have those hot and dry Santa Ana winds scorching through here too much. Even if you have lettuce that doesn't bolt (run to seed), you will find very bitter if it gets too much heat.

Royal Purple Pod beans can be planted even in February, and certainly by mid-March, I'll have a row growing. This is the only bean that will germinate in cold, wet soil and they are worth growing even when you can plant the more traditional 'green' green beans. I have had good production from my Royal Purple Pod beans even when snails have completely defoliated the plants. They taste great and turn a deep green at the exact second they are perfectly al dente, which is the way I like them. All other beans, in most years, will need to be planted no sooner than late March or early April because of their need for warmer soil.

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 only thrive in warmer soil. If you want to grow tomatoes from seed, I usually sow mine in February. I start them in a location sheltered from insects, 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 I start in pots to be transplanted later, including peppers, eggplants and okra, need more heat so I don't even mess with those until after mid-March. They will be ready to plant out into the garden come the first of May (allow about 6 weeks to get them up, up and away).

I'm awfully fond of lettuce. One of my Summer rituals is making a big production out of the First BLT of the Year with the L and the T coming from 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 with the vagaries of weather. Tomatoes love heat and 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 on the north side of taller plants to give them more shade.

In a fit of fanaticism, I once grew lettuce year round. I created a bed just for lettuce. I stapled a copper snail barrier to keep those salad lovers out to my wood box, 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 thru the brutal Californian summer right on into the middle of October, when a heat wave and an irrigation failure contrived together to completely fry the remaining plants. Fried lettuce has about the same appeal as month old sushi. If you want lettuce all summer you might give this – or some variation – 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 really 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?)

Now that we've gotten ourselves into the garden and have a few things growing, I want you to begin to think about your soil. Here's a lovely little exercise that will tell you more about your garden soil: Dig into a place in your garden, going down about nine inches. Try to get below any mulch and get into the area where the roots will live. Get approximately a cup's worth of soil and put it in a pint container. Add a tablespoon of alum, you can find a lifetime supply in the spice section of any supermarket. Fill to within ½ inch of the top with water, cover tightly and shake vigorously. Allow this to stand for at least an hour, but 24 hours is better. Now observe what you have in your jar.

Observe carefully without disturbing the water too much. You will see that the soil has self-sorted into layers. The bottom layer is sand. The middle layer is called silt or loam and on top there is a layer of clay. The water should be clear, any floating debris in the water is mulch or compost material called organic matter.

The thickness of the separate layers define your soil. If sand is the predominate layer, your soil is sandy and will not hold water or nutrients. If clay is the thick layer, you will need a large dose of patience because your soil is hard to work, but is more fertile than the sandy soil. If your middle layer is the fat one, your soil is the dream of every gardener around you and you should play the lottery more often because you are blessed with good fortune! Most of us, though will experience the two dominant layers operating together to create our own unique set of opportunities and problems.

Every characteristic of clay soil is the opposite of a sandy soil. Silt is the 'silent majority' of the soil community. We all want silty soil. Few of us have it.

Looking at this chart, you can see if you have a sandy soil, you will need to water more than a neighbor with a clay soil; like wise you will have to consider more nutrients because your soil won't store them. You will be able to plant earlier in the spring because your soil will be warmer than a clay soil, but you'll need to add a lot more organic matter more frequently. It isn't good or bad, it's just different.

Characteristics of Soil Components

Property/Behavior
Sand
Silt
Clay
Water holding
Low
Medium +
High
Aeration
Good
Medium
Poor
Drainage rate
High
Medium
Slow/Very slow
Soil organic matter
Low
Medium +
High
Decomposition of organic matter
Rapid
Medium
Slow
Speed of warming
Rapid
Medium
Slow
Compactability
Low
Medium
High
Storage of nutrients
Low
Medium
High
Resistance to pH change
Low
Medium
High

Sandy soil will more readily forgive mistakes of too much fertilizer, too much water and too much of psychosis because it holds nothing for any length of time. Not even a grudge.

A clay soil is higher in nutrients for plants and takes less water to get a crop. But screw up with clay soil and it very much does hold a grudge for a lot longer. If you even walk on clay soil when it is wet, you can create clods that will haunt you as you try to plant later in the year.

Neither, though is ideal. Silt, in the middle, is what gardeners dream about. A soil that is neither too much clay and is therefore easier to work nor too sandy that holds no nutrients for the garden crop.

If you have too much sand or too much clay, take heart, I have a solution in two words:

organic matter

Organic matter is any material that used to be a plant. Technically, it is anything that used to be living, but I would rather you skip disposing your victims' bodies until you get to be a much better gardener. Stick to plant material for now.

Yes, compost is one of the organic materials you can add to your soil, but it's not all. Anything that used to be a plant is fine. My preference is for slightly unfinished compost. And I'm glad you asked why, because I am dying to explain it.

Finished compost is delicious. I love the stuff – but UNfinished compost has chunks in it that you can identify what it used to be – it hasn't quite broken down completely. This material still needs critters of all sizes to finish into a dark unidentifiable compost. Those critters are the key to soil fertility. They are multi-celled animals like earthworms or they are fungi or bacteria or critters that are a little of both, 'actinomycetes.' Penicillin is one of the actinomycetes – and that smell of good garden soil that smells musty and sweet? That smell is the smell of actinomycetes. We want to have all these creatures in the soil because the plants derive real nutrition from them as they decompose. This is the stuff that past generations have ignored and so tried to add fertility with various fertilizers. It only works for a little while.

I don't have any scientific proof, but I do know from many years of gardening, we are being asked to buy a lot more stuff than we need. You will get big beautiful tomatoes if you use all those expensive fertilizers, but it's not a sustainable model and you'll get good tomatoes without the expenditures and save money. If you use fertilizers, I think the fertilizers either kill off the actinomycetes and fungi in the soil, or make your garden a very inhospitable environment for them. I'm not sure which it is, but I am sure that the addition of fertilizer in the long term ruins the fertility of your soil. And I believe this is true about chemical and organic fertilizers alike, although, organic fertilizers tend to be milder and therefore less harmful than the chemical ones.

A few fertilizers, though are the exception. I have used, and if I need to, I will use again, including alfalfa meal and cottonseed meal. Alfalfa meal has nitrogen, but is noted for inspiring rather than hindering microbial activity in the soil. I have used it in the beginning of the summer garden as the soil begins to warm. I used to use it every spring, but I've gotten lazy and now only use it on occasion.

Cottonseed meal is a provider of nitrogen and somehow seems to release the nitrogen over a long period of time, unlike most fertilizers that have a very short beneficial effect. If you elect to use cottonseed meal, go out of your way to find organic cottonseed meal – the commercial cotton crops are doused with unending amounts of chemicals, and many of the commercial fields are planted with genetically modified cotton these days. I haven't used cottonseed meal for about 6 years, although if I was putting corn, as the only example I can come up with, into a soil with marginal fertility, I would not hesitate to use it.

Look at the list below. If you haven't yet, get orders off to the seed companies to get your seeds for the summer. Get cracking now and you'll reap huge rewards this summer!

Warm Season Vegetables
Basil
Lettuce Leaf, Genovese,
Beans - drying
Black Turtle, Cannellini, Hutterite Soup, Jacob's Cattle
Beans – Lima
Christmas
Beans- snap
Roc d’Or, Romano, Royal Burgundy, Romano, Blue Lake
Sweet Corn
Golden Bantam, Stowells Evergreen, County Gentleman
Cucumbers
Lemon, Mideast Prolific, Japanese, Armenian
Eggplant
Pingtung Long, Rosa Bianca
Melons
Jenny Lind, Ambrosia, Hales Best, Golden Midget
Okra
Star of David, Clemson Spineless, Red Burgundy
Peppers (Sweet)
Banana, Pimento, Cubanelle, Marconi,
Peppers (Hot)
Ancho, Corno di Toro, Anaheim, Jalapeno
Pumpkins
Small Sugar, Howden
Squash (Summer)
Zahra, Lebanese White, Black Beauty, Yellow Crookneck
Squash (Winter)
Sweet Dumpling, Red Kuri, Queensland Blue, Musquee de Provence
Tomatillo
Purple de Milpa
Tomatoes
Black from Tula, Juane Flamme, San Marzano, Black Krim, Stupice and millions of others!

You have to allow that I am not a fan of okra or eggplant. My choices are influenced from those around me that consider these plants more than just ornamental. I will tell you, few plants are rivaled for beauty in the garden; but that doesn't mean I'm going to eat them!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
More tomatoes
Still some of the
Ultra-early tomatoes
Peppers
Winter veggies
Lettuce, cilantro,
Eggplants
Basil
Beets, radishes, lettuce, cilantro
Any perennial herb (marjoram, oregano, etc)
Summer squash
Purple beans (early)

Winter squash (late in the month)
Green beans (later)







Refer to the text for exact dates.


Beets In Orange Juice

By now you should have the beginnings of a beet harvest – and if you've followed my lead and put in some Golden beets, these sweet treats from the garden can be treated nicely this way. Other beets will stand in readily, but the golden beets in the juice is exquisite.

With the beets sliced into thick slices, I parboil them to the point their skins will slip off easily, and they are just beginning to be soft enough to eat. They usually have to cool quite a bit, but once you can handle them, slip the skins off and compost.

Put the beet slices in a skillet with orange juice. Add a little cinnamon or other spice you think will compliment the beets and saute until tender.

Serve as a side dish to a simple, earthy meal. They are fantastic.


david

Whoops! Running Behind: February


February










Summer's harvest from last year include these gorgeous peppers (what did I plant last year?) and San Marzano tomatoes. Both were prolific and delicious. When summer is over, I don't want to touch another tomato, but by February, I'm gearing up for a fresh BLT where I've raised the T and L and baked the bread. Someone else has to take care of the B.

The short days of winter are getting perceptibly longer. We are half way to the Spring Equinox, which is half way to the Summer Solstice. These dates were vitally important in an agrarian cultures and as one gets more involved in gardening, it is easy to see the reasons that made these dates important to people dependent on agriculture. Knowing what to do and when to do to it in their garden was necessary to avoid starvation.

Valentines' Day marks my traditional weekend for starting my tomato crop for the coming year. I've become accustomed to the need to sow my tomatoes a bit earlier each year in recent times (global warming?), but whenever I do my main crop of tomatoes, I sow plenty of basil seed at the same time – they grow well together as much as they eat well together. I have been seduced into starting an earlier crop of short-season tomatoes, lately. Territorial Seed Company has a list of 'ultra-early' tomatoes with names like Glacier and Northern Delight and sport 'Days to Harvest' declarations of something like 56. These plants top out about 18 inches high and produce tomatoes about 2½” in diameter – what I call a 'saladette' tomato – that are very tomatoey and tangy – more tangy than I like, but for the first tomato of the year, who's going to bellyache about that? I've even started these little fellows around the first of January! Whenever you start tomatoes, and whatever tomatoes you use, the procedures are about the same. Just remember that most tomatoes, with these ultra-early tomatoes being the exception, don't like to be planted into cold soil so wait until your soil has warmed (to about 65° at minimum!) before setting most tomatoes into your garden.
One method of starting tomatoes I have done in the past used fluorescent tubes about 6 inches above the pots for the beginnings of tomatoes. This is opposed to starting them outside with a heating mat underneath to keep the roots warm and, with a sunny spot, I have found this works well enough. Peppers and eggplant, needing more heat, are started about 2 weeks later in the first week of March. All seedlings cannot be allowed to dry out and must be protected from predation, it doesn't take even a small critter (like snails and slugs or tomato hornworms) many bites to remove an entire plant when they are as small as this. More on the seed starting indoors shortly.
About a week after Valentine has shot his arrow, start the first summer squash (zucchini and the crooknecks) seeds. I usually also start a couple plants of cucumbers right about then too. I wait until the Ides of March before starting winter squashes (the hard skin type that are best eaten after being stored for time). These first plants may struggle if the ground hasn't warmed, but that's OK, we'll balance that out by starting a few more of each later.
Most of these big-leaved, vining plants like squash and cucumbers get a whitish powdery look long before they are done producing. This is called 'powdery mildew.' It is a fungus that gets on almost all of these plants and causes them to live a shorter life than they would without it. This is a common as cell phones around here, so close to the ocean. Until I find varieties that are resistant to it, I simply grow another plant to fill in when the first one succumbs. I don't spray for it because it seems a waste of time to me; if you spray, you must spray constantly and I just don't see it as being efficacious. I accept that the plants will get mildew and will die because of it and I make plans accordingly: Zucchini #1, funeral on July 8th. Zucchini #2, funeral on August 29th. Clear your calendar for composting service. Frankly any more zucchini than that is more than any person ought to have.
Come February, I start thinking “baseball,” which will be right around the corner. (“Wait until next year”, is the universal call among gardeners and baseball players everywhere!) Dodger Spring training starts next month and I'll begin to reacquaint myself as to who is with us and who has been traded and is now agin us. Win or lose, I’ll be out in my garden soon, radio in hand. Something about that baseball optimism that dovetails nicely with my gardening optimism. You don’t have to “think baseball,” but I do and it lifts my spirit in this slight lull before the summer garden gets up to bat. It's one of my favorite traditions.

With any amount of luck, February is our rainiest month which means we won’t need to be watering all that much. I have more or less permanently built up beds with paths between them, so walking through a wet garden isn’t that big of a deal. If your garden isn’t laid out like that, take care not to walk through the parts of the garden you intend plant when the soil is thoroughly soaked. Your footprints will compact the soil and cause needless grief later when the soil has dried out. Especially in clay soil.

February is the last month we will want to prune dormant fruit trees. One cannot plan that they won’t have broken dormancy any later than this. See flowers? Or leaves? That’s “broken dormancy” in a nutshell, the sap is running inside the tree and pruning after once you see leaves or flowers will drain more of the tree's vitality – mind you pruning late won’t kill your tree, some folks do this kind of pruning regularly – it’s my preference to do my pruning with the least harm to the tree and for me, that means before the sap begins to run and that means December or January in my Zone 24 climate. I have learned over the last few years that my nectarine and peach trees break dormancy first and I need to consider pruning them in late November/early December. But I've proven that procrastination has its benefits! I find I can use the flowering branches for bouquets without causing a shortage of nectarines! I'm thinning that tree incessantly, even with a hard pruning to prevent too much fruit from weighing down and breaking the branches. Lateness in pruning hasn't stopped any tree I know from producing nor has it ever killed a tree. “There is slack in the universe,“ a teacher of mine used to say.

Don’t forget to deal with slugs and snails. In these wet, cooler months, these destructive little mollusks multiply with alarming proficiency and can present huge problems. You cannot get rid of them forever. They are migratory, so even if you could rid yourself of every single one in your garden on Tuesday, you'd have a whole new supply by Friday from next door. And more on Saturday. It can be a discouraging thought! However, the only real way to deal with these transients is with persistent effort. You deal with today's snails today and leave tomorrow's snails to tomorrow. Sounds like something I heard before, maybe in yoga class?

Some gardeners keep a five gallon bucket on hand with soapy water in it (one of those plastic buckets you see in a hardware store's paint department – cheap and rust free) and drop the critters in for a quick death. Others put a board down with one end slightly raised. Slugs and snails will congregate there over night and can be simply crushed with one swift footfall in the morning. Good for the soul. And soil. A fairly new product, 'Escar-go' is on the market and is non-toxic to mammals (you, your children and dogs and cats etc), and actually benefits the soil. Slugs and snails eat it and die. Probably not as humane as crushing them, but more acceptable in polite society.

No matter what you do, you will probably always have problems with snails and slugs in our climate unless you are fortunate to have a possum on hand. These homely, if not downright ugly, members of the rat family (look at the tail) consume slugs (mostly) and will resort to snails if hungry enough. I am fortunate that The Learning Garden is blessed with a possum or two that have negated any need to bait or board for snails and slugs. I also avoid growing the Oriental cabbages and greens (sheer delight for snails and slugs) and savoy cabbage; slugs, more so than snails, love to live in between the crinkles in these plants and it can take gallons of water and lots of time to remove all that extra protein from dinner before you serve it (I have found doing this after you serve it to have undesirable repercussions!)

Broccoli is being harvested, along with cauliflower, cabbage (clean those slugs!), peas, scallions, carrots, radishes, beets, new potatoes, chard, kale, and lettuces by the bushel. The garden looks stellar at this time of year, it is bursting with produce of deep green, blue green, punctuated with red and yellow (chard and beet) flags. Heads of broccoli and cabbage show off their refulgent harvest, while the tops of carrots and beets peek out from their cool soil homes. Peas hang delightfully from those bright green plants, with colorful poppies in outrageous bloom and the honey scent of sweet pea flowers in their lovely pastel colors wafting on cool breezes across the garden. Freesias are towards the end of their bloom cycle (there's another heady scent!) and the first of my climbing roses (which are not pruned as hard as shrub roses) are beginning to show off in the Southern California garden.

Don't stop planting lettuce; I will continue to start seeds of lettuce right up through May. I have it easy being so close to the Pacific Ocean – here, cool season plantings can stretch through all months except late July through late September. Warm season crops aren't nearly so flexible because our night temperatures don't get all that high – the soil is cool and hardly gets warmed up enough for the summer crops until July.

The real summer garden begins to take shape next month...
Tomatoes and cucumbers. However you say it, cucumbers and tomatoes are the number one plants gardeners think of when they think “Summer Garden.” There are more varieties of tomatoes than there are potholes in the greater Los Angeles area. These days I could say, there are more varieties of tomatoes than potshops in the greate Los Angeles area, too. Just check out the offerings of the members of Seed Savers Exchange: They list page after page of tomatoes. Tomatoes come early, mid-season or late. Tomatoes are cherry, saladette, plum and beefsteak as well as black, cream, green, red, striped, yellow and many shades in between. Tomatoes come as plain ol' tomatoes or heirloom, and (had enough choices?) determinate and indeterminate. It's a complete overwhelm of choice. Determinate tomatoes are similar in growth to bush beans, giving you short plants that bear all at once (more or less), while indeterminate are like pole beans that bear over a long stretch and get quite large to boot.

Here are a few common varieties I've grown for you to consider:

Cherry Tomatoes (all cherry tomatoes are indeterminate)
Sweet 100 – a great productive and sweet little red tomato that is as dependable as a beach day in July.
Orange Sunshine – lots and lots of very sweet little tomatoes! As of this writing, only available as a hybrid, which I usually try to avoid, but I hear some folks are working on breeding it out to an open pollinated variety.
Yellow Pear – a lot of folks like these, but I think they are mushy. Very productive though.
Golden Nugget – a ton of cream colored little guys that are sweet with low acid – always a bonus in my book.

Ultra-early Tomatoes (less than 65 days from transplant to fruit, under good conditions and all are determinate)
Glacier – sounds like an odd name for a tomato, but it's one of several bred to grow under non-tomato conditions – cool and wet. Produces a saladette sized tomato that is punchy tart but tastes more like a tomato that most the hybrids in the store.
Northern Delight – as above and I've had good production with it. Look also for Beaverpole Lodge tomatoes, bred to grow in Canada! A great way to get the jump on tomato season.


Saladette (some are determinate but most are indeterminate – marked with a D or an I)
Jaune Flammee (I)– a lovely bi-colored tomato (give it something to climb on!) that is red outside and gold inside – good tasting and beautiful!
Green Zebra (I) – yup, it's ripe when it's green. I think they are little too acidic, but plenty of my friends like 'em.
Moonglow (I) - Solid orange meat, few seeds and wonderful flavor. A favorite of any one who grows it.
Black from Tula (I) – not really 'black,' but a very deep red. Delicious, though not a heavy producer – the skin is so thin I think it's best to take your plate and fork to the garden and eat it right at the plant!
Stupice (D) – a small early plant that is worth growing because they also taste good and come in quick!

Plum (AKA paste tomatoes, my favorite! And all are indeterminate)
Black Plum – almost a mahogany tomato – tasty and meaty, an indeterminate tomato that produces quite nicely
Cream Sausage - A unique colored variety with creamy white to light yellow sausage-shaped fruit, very productive bushy plants do not require staking; a really different tomato sauce!
San Marzano – the most productive of the paste tomatoes and the biggest plant in this class of tomato – a very good, standard production tomato for paste tomatoes.
Striped Roman – a beautiful tomato on the vine and on your plate! Rich red flesh with streaks of gold in it. I've not made a paste with this one yet, they didn't last that long! But look for me to say more about them in the future!

Beefsteak (Indeterminate)
Brandywine – the taste that everyone is looking for in a big tomato, winner of many different taste tests. We can't really grow them very well in West Los Angeles because they need 85 F through the night as well as the day. Pasadena and other points inland can grow them, though.
German Johnson – a large pink tomato that is really juicy and yummy.
Mortgage Lifter – there's a great story about the name of this tomato I'll tell you at a cocktail party one of these days. For now, I'll say it tastes great and is not less filling, a lovely juicy tomato that rates.
Persimmon – this is the largest tomato I've ever grown in West Los Angeles. One sliced tomato could fill two dinner plates with meaty orange/yellow slices. However, the six foot plus plants only gave me one tomato each! Way too much space even though they were the sweetest and tastiest tomato I've had the pleasure of growing.

You'll notice I didn't include any of the Best Boy or Early Girl or other common hybrids. It is true they are productive and will give you a good crop of bright red fruits, but I think they are too acidic and have tough skin, so I don't grow them at all. Also, with multi-national corporations buying out seed companies (read 'Monsanto' here), many of those hybrids are now owned by companies that sell genetically modified plants. These old hybrids are NOT GMO, but the profit made from home gardeners buying seeds from Monsanto goes towards their GMO research. No thanks. Besides, there are so many delicious tomatoes in this world, to stick to those few seems silly to me. I grow my standards (San Marzano, Jaune Flammee, Black Plum and Garden Peach) but I always experiment with some new tomatoes every year! Plant lots of basil and marigolds at the same time you plant your tomatoes as they make good companion plants and help deter insects.
So right about now is when you want to begin to start seeds for your summer garden, if you have a protected place to sow the seeds. You don't need a greenhouse or a cold frame, though both of these can help. It is possible to start seeds in an apartment without any decent balcony space. I did it for a good many years as I bounced from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. Come February, I religiously put seeds of my regular tomato crop and lots of basil under the lights.
By the way, it is a law of nature, Lord knows I don't make this stuff up I merely report it, but if you need one plant of something, start seeds for six! If you start one seed, it will fail – might be loneliness, I don't know, but it absolutely will not survive. However, if you grow six, they will all live. Give the other five away, you'll make other people happy and there is no better way to make yourself happy. Works with other things too, not just plants.
If you have a little space – when I started I didn't have much! – you can start seeds on a table indoors. All you need is an inexpensive 'shop light' fixture – usually you can find them for right around $20 – add a couple of cheap 'cold' fluorescent bulbs – you CAN pay more, even more than $20 for 'full-spectrum' bulbs, but you don't need them for growing seedlings. If you were growing plants under the lights to full maturity, springing for the extra oomph of bulbs that have more of the light spectrum is useful, but for the quick trip your seedlings will have before they go out doors, getting more expensive lights is a waste of money. The cheap bulbs are called 'cold' light because they have a preponderance of cold – blue spectrum – light. They will need to be close to your seedlings, but that won't be a problem.
I used bricks to prop the lights up to the height I needed for my seedlings – you might find other, more attractive solutions. My choice was based on what I had lying around for free and bricks it was. To raise the lights required adding a brick to each end – it wasn't “pin point” control, but it worked.
Florescent lights do not distribute light equally along their length. The center has the most light and the ends the least. They also begin to loose effectiveness as soon as you start to use them. I think three years is all you can get from a florescent bulb even though it will still be putting out light. Your seedlings will get leggier when the bulb fails to put out sufficient light and it's a sign that it's time to move on. When I installed a fresh tube, I would record the date with a Sharpie on the light so I had an idea when to replace it. Our eyes cannot clearly tell the diminished output, but the plants suffer.
The surface where this is placed needs to be waterproof. In addition to watering my plants, I frequently misted mine (sometimes I got them twice a day; which was my goal, but I made that goal infrequently). One of the hardships we place on indoor plants is the lack of humidity in our homes. Misting helps mitigate that. In addition, some of your watering will inevitably spill over making a waterproof surface essential – or, if not waterPROOF, at least water-impervious. You don't want to warp an antique dresser or something.
Set the lights as close to the plants as you can and raise them only just before the plants begin to touch them. I had my lights on a timer that turned them on at 6:00 AM and off at midnight. Why so many hours of 'sunlight?' Because the bulbs are so much less bright than sunshine, they need to be on a long time to fulfill the plants' needs.
In addition, I provided my plants with a small fan. It was one of those oscillating fans which would blow on the plants as it swept back and forth the length of the trays. This accomplishes several things. It makes for stronger plants; swaying in the breeze builds a stronger stem and helps create a stockier plant. The circulating air also kept fungi at bay – especially the fungus called 'damping off.' This is a killer of baby seedlings that has broken a lot of gardener's hearts. You say goodnight to your babies that are lovely little sweeties in the evening and come back to say 'good morning' in the dawn only to find your little darlings all 'cut' off at the soil surface.
They are not really 'cut.' They have been attacked by the damping off fungus (which is actually any of about seven different fungi) and the stem, just where it emerges from the soil, has been turned to mush, hence the seedling keels over as though it was cut off and lies there with no chance of resuscitation. Sad to say, your plant children are goners. In your mind, hear Taps being played.
All for the want of that little fan that would have helped mitigate the fungus. You don't NEED the oscillating type – if that proves to be expensive or difficult to find in the size you want, the kind that doesn't oscillate will work as well. You will need to turn it on and turn it off a couple of times in a day to approximate the oscillating. You want the stems to 'work against' the wind to build strength. And the on/off, though a little more time consuming, does work.
Another part of seed starting is to use a potting mix that favors the seedling. I have found a simple combination of peat and vermiculite (very fine perlite works too). One part of peat for each part of vermiculite gives a person a very lovely seed starting mix that will hold a lot of water and get the seeds sprouted. It is not wise to leave them in this water-retentive mix much beyond their first true leaf stage if you can help it. If you are not doing a lot of plants from seed, you can also use a regular good potting soil and get out any big chunks of anything by sifting it through a riddle. Really fine seeds like snapdragons may require you to screen the potting soil down to a very fine size, but most seeds can survive pretty good in only a coarsely sifted potting soil.
By starting your own seeds at home, you will have a staggering number of choices for all your garden plants! The ones offered by the nursery pale in comparison to what you can have – and you will have access to all the new varieties before your neighbors will because the seeds are often introduced before the plants. Nurserymen don't like to plant millions of a new variety of anything that hasn't proven successful all over, where seedsmen will want to have their seeds trialed all over the country. It's fun to be able to show off what you grew THIS year to your neighbor who won't have access to the same plant in a nursery for at least one year, if not more! Purple and yellow cauliflowers come to mind. As does my Genovese basil which I was growing for almost ten years before everyone realized that this was one of the best basils for pesto.
Starting your own plants at home is also a better ecological choice. 2009 was a tomato disaster in the eastern United States. The problem stemmed from all tomatoes for sale in all eastern seaboard nurseries were started in the south eastern US and somewhere down there, at least some of the plants became infected with a fungus called “Late Blight.” From the initial infected plants placed in the nurseries alongside other plants, quickly most plants were infected. This caused the highest mortality among the tomato population seen in recent years. Those folks that grew their own plants avoided complete devastation. One friend started all his own plants from seed and could see a good harvest coming along. He had a few empty spaces in his garden and, on a whim, bought a couple more plants from a chain store nursery to fill in. Those purchased plants died fairly soon after being transplanted – and some of his healthy home-grown plants got infested before he realized what was happening. A good gardener and a quick thinker, he destroyed all the infected plants and was able to prevent the spread to the few remaining uninfected plants. He still got some tomatoes, but many of his neighbors had complete failure. Growing your own saves that from becoming an issue. Maybe with a little extra effort you could provide seedlings for your neighborhood?
Growing plants from seed is not hard. Most books and seed packets will tell you the depth at which to put the seed making it sound like they have access to the Holy Grail of seed planting. Most of that is something akin to hogwash. There are many different depths at which to plant a seed depending on a lot of factors so ignore those depths. Let me tell you, in containers, the rule is always, better too shallow than too deep. If you plant too shallow, you can always add more potting soil around your little guys, or plant them deeper when you transplant, but if you plant too deep, you'll never see them again. Sowing seeds in the ground is a little more complicated, I’ll get to that!
With your shallowly planted seeds, it is imperative that you keep that top layer of soil moist. It need not be wet, but consistently moist. This is very different from how you will water your regular garden, which should be much less frequently and much more thorough.
Soil is put in the six packs and pressed down, not so hard as pushing it out the bottom, but don't be faint on it either. I want it in the cell up to about an eighth of an inch from the top and just barely springy. For smaller seeds, like tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants and even up to okra (planted in late March), I will put up to five seeds per cell of the six-pack, putting one seed in each corner of each cell and one in the center. If the seed is not fresh, I might even put in more. Using a light pinch of soil I cover the seeds only after I've made out a plant tag for the six pack. The tag should read with the date across the top (i.e. 02/04), then turn the tag counter-clockwise and write the type of plant (i.e. Tomato) and underneath, the variety (Glacier – an ultra-early tomato and why I can start it on 02/04).
If you write your tags this way all the time you will find it easier to look at what you've grown consistently without your head tossing back and forth to make up for tags written clockwise, followed by counter-clockwise. And if you ever work in a nursery, you won't be fired the first day for being backwards.
Little seedlings do not need fertilizer, in fact fertilizer can damage them. Not until after they have their first true leaves do you need concern with any fertilizer. At that point, I would use a solution of fish emulsion at about half the strength the directions say. Don't over do it.
Once your plants have sprouted and are beginning to put on their second set of true leaves, you must begin to harden them off. Place them outside in a protected location – in fairly deep shade of a tree, for example, and move them slowly closer to full sun a bit at a time, getting them into full sun in about a week. If you don't have a tree like that, the other choice is to put them out in full sun for two hours on the first day, four hours on the second, six hours on the third and so on until they are out in the sun for the whole day. Or, you can put them under some shade cloth and begin to move the cloth back a little of each day until they are completely exposed. Any one of these three methods will work – which one you will use will depend on your circumstances. If none of those will work, you are on your own; use your creativity and you will be able to figure out what you need to do that will work for you.
Let's take a second to discuss this 'true leaves' thing. The first leaves that come out of a seed were already in there, waiting for the right conditions to shed the hard seed coat and start growing. Water acts on the seed coat to soften it and the first set of leaves (two leaves, for most of our food plants – some, like onions, have only one) come out. They often look different, sometimes very different, than the regular leaves, so we call them the 'seed leaves' – or, in botanist speak, the 'cotyledons.' Plants with two seed leaves are, botanically-speaking, dicotyledons, or for us common folk, just 'dicots.' Grasses (which include bamboos, onions, lilies, and irises) have one leaf and are called 'monocots' for monocotyledons. Those of us growing from seed, need to learn what the cotyledons look like or we'll be weeding out our baby plants. Tomatoes, spinach, and all the cabbage family have quite distinctive cotyledons with not a whit of resemblance to the regular plant leaves. All the leaves after those first baby leaves will look more or less like what you'd expect, only smaller than a full-sized plant.
The summer garden, which most of us still think of as THE garden because our desire for the heat loving veggies, is coming fast! Hurry up, check your seed inventory. Now's the time to put your seeds into six packs or other containers! Summer will be here before you know it!



Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Ultra-early tomatoes
Beets (still)
Any left over transplants still hanging
Regular tomatoes (about the 14th)
Radishes (still)
around – although you won't get the best yield, if you have the plants and
Basil (same time as tomatoes)
Carrots (short season)
the space to put them in the ground, do it!
Cucumbers (later in the month)
Turnips

Summer squash (later in the month)





Refer to text for more exact dates.


Hot Chocolate That Kills
I know you probably don't have chocolate growing in your garden, but it's that time of year – you might need some fortifying. This Hot Chocolate, pronounced to be “Adult hot chocolate,” by one young taster, is not be trifled with. The caffeine of the coffee and the chocolate make this a picker-upper and the cayenne pepper makes a person say 'yowser, baby!' It's all good in my book.

1 cup very strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar (or less)
3 oz. Bittersweet chocolate
⅛ teaspoon cardamom
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
pinch salt
3 cups whole milk

Bring coffee to a boil in a sauce pan, add vanilla, sugar, salt, and other spices. Simmer for a minute and add the chocolate in chunks. Whisk until it thickens from the melted chocolate; add milk and simmer for another minute to warm throughout. Whisk it to froth and serve at once to your Valentine. It's a winner.   

david