March is the time of year when all it takes is a few rays of sunshine to get us thinking about early spring crops that like cooler spring time temperatures. Onions, Peas and Early Potatoes are three that come to mind for kicking off our vegetable gardening.
Onions are biennial plants. That means their natural growth and flower cycle takes them from a seed, to a plant, and then into a dormant bulb their first year. The following spring, the bulbs begin to grow again and its purpose in the second year is to produce a flower spike. When the onion sets flower, or bolts, all the energy and resources are spent producing flowers and seeds, which compromises the size of the bulb. That’s why onion sets are typically grown for spring onions or green onions since they are now entering their second year of growth. The sets can also be planted earlier and aren’t as sensitive to frost.
Onion plants, on the other hand are first year plants. They are planted when the weather is more predictable, and respond well to warmer temps. Onion plants will produce a bigger onion throughout the growing season for late summer harvest. An indication of readiness for harvesting is when the onion tops begin to fall over and start to cure back. At that time the bulbs can be lifted for drying and storage.
Peas are a cool season crop and are planted early. It is also a great idea to do successive sowings to extend your harvest. A successive sowing takes place when the first spring planting is about 2 inches high. This helps to stagger the harvest and extend the the pea growing season. Peas love the soil temps to be a bit warmer, and germination can be slow. It helps speed things up a bit if we soak the seed overnight to hasten germination. We also realize that weather can be a bit unpredictable so pre-planning for some protection with a row cover isn’t a bad idea.
When the pea plants are 3-4 inches tall, a support structure of chicken wire allows something for the tendrils to climb on and makes the harvesting easier. During flowering, be sure to water throughly and don’t allow them to dry out while in flower, or as the pods are swelling. Harvest when the pods are filled, yet still bright green, young, and tender.
Early potatoes are harvested early to mid-summer. They have such wonderful texture and flavor and in gardens where space is at a premium, early potatoes may be the best way to go.
We can generally use Saint Patrick’s Day as an indicator for getting our early potatoes in line for planting. We strongly suggest that one always purchase seed potatoes that are certified disease free. If you desire for your potatoes get off to a fast start you can pre-sprout them -also known as greening. Stand the seed potatoes in a shallow box and place them in a light, warm (around 70 degrees) area to encourage the buds to begin to grow. Stubby shoots will begin to develop as an indication they are ready to plant and start growing. Plant them about 4-6inches deep and 12 inches apart within the row. As the plants come up and grow – continue to hill them up with loose soil, creating a small mound around the plants.
Early to mid-summer when the flowers on the plant are fully open, its time to check and see if they are ready for harvest. Just use your fingers to navigate your way through the soil checking to see if the tubers are about egg size or smaller; if so, time to dig and harvest your early potato crop.
The fresh, cool season, spring produce helps us maximize our gardening space, gets us out into the garden earlier and gives us a reason to get dirty. That’s the best reason of all to have Plants for That.
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