March: Can you dig it?



“There is no gardening without
humility. Nature is constantly sending even
its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class
for some egregious blunder.”
— Alfred Austin

A garden myth: Lawns are beautiful, vegetable gardens are ugly. Not true. Vegetable gardens in a front yard (a hot trend) can create an inviting focal point. Defy convention. With a little care, a vegetable garden will look lush and interesting, giving you a variety of colors and textures, accompanied by sweet scents. Even a modest garden can produce a bountiful supply of space-efficient crops.

Just stop in front of a seed display and get carried away by names like cosmic purple, a beautiful purple carrot with a sweet flavor. Easter Egg Blend (crisp, bright-colored radish); Red Warty Thing (a creature-like pumpkin — run for cover!); Yard Long Orient Wonder (surprising 18-inch-long beans); Red Winter (delicious baby green kale); and so many more mouth-watering new arrivals. Of course, do not ignore our heirloom seeds, true performers over decades. They might not have jazzy names, but boy, do they produce.

Did you ever think that cauliflower could throw you a surprise party in your own garden? A new Rainbow Cauliflower Seed Mixture will surprise you with heads of orange-yellow, lime-green and purple, a rainbow of big heads, each cloaked in enormous, blue-green leaves. Shallots, garlic, parsnips, turnips, winter squash, beets, beans and radishes all are easily grown. They are as nutritious and delicious as they are beautiful, rich in antioxidants and fiber.

To give your seeds a head start indoors, consider these requirements:

Light: Plants love it. They need extra fluorescent light, approximately 14 hours a day and as close to the container as 4 inches.

Containers: Use clean containers for seed starting, providing good drainage and the right size for the number of plants.

Soil: The right choice of soil is important for your seeds. A good starting mix is recommended.

Water: Water gently and thoroughly, do not let the soil go dry. It will confuse or kill tiny plants. Cover the container with a dome or clear plastic to hold in moisture.

Temperature: A soil temperature of 70 degrees or more is suggested. Keep the container in a place that is warm day and night.

Directions: Always follow the directions on your seed packet. The right planting depth is important.

Crops with long days to maturity — cabbage, parsnips, potatoes, winter squash — must be planted in spring for fall harvest. Onions, shallots and garlic sets should be planted in the garden around April 1. Carrots, beets and turnips can be sown directly in the garden during mid-summer for fall harvest.

If the New York Times is correct in their weather predictions for the next 10 years, we will be facing extended drought conditions around the country. As water is essential to successful gardening, you might want to consider drip irrigation systems, conserving water by targeting only the roots of your plants. Mulching is also a great way to help maintain adequate moisture levels in your garden beds while acting as weed control. And the muchtouted rain barrel will come in handy for smaller areas.

What to do now:

 Repot and fertilize houseplants as needed.

 Divide and transplant perennials, as needed.

 Fertilize trees and shrubs after soil temperatures have reached 40 degrees, but before new growth begins.

 Apply dormant oil spray on a calm day above 40 degrees.

 Sow directly outdoors seeds like peas, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce and seeds of coldtolerant annuals.

 Get a pH test and apply lime, if needed.

Watch and enjoy your garden. After a rather docile winter in our area, we all are intensely wishing for a gentle and sunny spring.

Gotti Kelley, a past president of the Navesink Garden Club, also serves on the board of the Garden Club of New Jersey and Central Atlantic Region of National Garden Clubs.