Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
Obsession is such an ugly word for what can be the most rewarding experience to give your stomach. Sure, a few hours spent planning, a month or more spent purchasing and utter devotion to soil and sowing may seem an addiction, but for kitchen gardeners, the rewards are worth the time.
It’s not about putting food on the table; it’s about putting in endless combinations of tastes and dishes. Getting months of harvest to come together in a culinary crescendo takes exquisite timing and if you want to foray into gastronomic gardening, the time to get started is now.
Unsure how to begin? Here’s a guide to planting your inner chef this month:
Beginning in mid March, direct sow seeds straight into the garden. Creamy-crunchy lettuces, sweet spinaches, beets and carrots in purples, golds, and oranges pack your spring garden with flavor if sown directly into the prepared bed. Turn an inch of compost into the soil, break up the clumps and smooth the bed. Small seeds like shallow sowing; sprinkle them out and cover with a dusting of soil.
Try slow bolting Ben Shemen lettuce, developed to take the heat in Israel, stays sweet in Colorado’s blast oven summer. Two-toned Purple Dragon carrots and golden beets are pure table chic.
Pre-sprouting peas at warmer indoor temperatures gets them started for growing in cool weather. To jump start peas, place them between damp paper towels in a warm place, and check them several times per day to keep the towels damp and to look for germination. Once they’ve sprouted, pop them into the garden, two-inches deep and three-inches apart.
Choose taller varieties to trellis if you have little space– they give you more peas than compact varieties. Change up your ideas on peas by planting both Sno peas – that you eat pod and all – and shelling peas, for perfect round balls of flavor.
Perennial rhubarb will produce succulent stalks year after year once established. But be patient and don’t cut the leaves the first year they’re planted. Put rhubarb in a sunny spot where it can stay; this plant can easily live up to 30 years. Space them 34-inches apart, deep enough to have the top of the crown two-inches below the soil.
Start seedlings indoors. Warm season plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or cucumbers give earlier production if started indoors six to eight weeks before planting. Cole crops like cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli are sweeter started early because they are planted in time to take advantage of our cooler, moister spring.
Keep these tips in mind when starting your seeds:
– Choose an out of the way, sunny location to place your tray over flooring that can get wet or dirty.
– Moisten light, sterile seed starting mix before you fill small pots or cells. Get the mix damp but not soggy.
– Sow seeds and cover with slightly damp mix, then place a plastic tent or dome over the tray to raise humidity until germination.
– Once your seeds are up and growing, remove the humidity tent, but do so gently over a few days – a blast of cold air can shock seedlings if the tent is taken off too quickly.
– Keep lights within three inches of the seedlings as they grow, but don’t let the plants touch the light. Raise the lights as the seedlings grow to keep them above the plant.
– Feed with half-strength fertilizer after they get their second set of true leaves.