We all need a little shelter

By Jennie Hagen March 20, 2013 09:14 am

Once again our good gardening friend Ed Hume has compiled a brief synopsis of what to plant when, for vegetables, and it can be found in the “2013 Garden Almanac” on sale now at D&B Supply.

Other retailers who feature Ed Hume seeds may also offer the Almanac but as yet I’ve not been informed of additional locations. The Almanac is a small pink-colored booklet this year and features month-by-month planting tips including planting by moon signs. Phases of the moon, and gravitational fields, have been studied by gardeners and scientists alike for hundreds of years with surprising results being obtained from observation and statistic compilation. It’s an interesting subject and Ed’s 2013 Garden Almanac contains a wealth of information. The price tag of $1.79 makes it extremely worthwhile.

Local gardeners throughout the tri-county area are more than eager to get growing this spring but we must be patient!

Although many vegetables, and certainly flowers, may be started from seed right now, any of your warm weather crops cannot be started yet. But any member of the brassica family, which includes kale, broccoli raab (pronounced “rob”, just like the man’s name), pak or bok choi, spinach, chard, and even beets may be sown now for fresh eating of beet greens.

I’ve also started, in my unheated cold frame, several varieties of leaf and romaine lettuce and red bunching onions. The red bunching onions have the same flavor and taste as green onions but with an added flair of brilliant red in the outer layers for contrast; they are as tender as the green onions. Bunching onions should be picked when they are no bigger than a fat ink pen, otherwise, especially if sown early, they will become pithy or develop an undesirably strong flavor.  Other hardy spring crops that can safely be planted outside are sugar snap peas and beet for fresh beet greens.

Just remember: Germination will be slow since our soil isn’t warm yet.

All warm weather crops such as beans and squash should not be planted yet — if sown outdoors now in our tri-county area, the seeds will simply rot in the ground.  If you aren’t able to provide heated soil for seed starting, try building a small cold frame. You can even find small ones at local retailers; they are light and easy to maintain and can provide you with a good month jump on starting seeds outside in the open.

By sowing under a layer of plastic, fiberglass, or even in an unheated greenhouse, you extend your growing season into an additional USDA zone for each layer of cover.  Most of our area of Northeast Oregon is USDA zone 5/6. Your local microclimate can add another zone or two to your growing season depending on the amount and type of shelter you can provide your seedling stock.

For the past two winters, I’ve purchased one-gallon and one-quart plants, the product of local fall nursery sales, and have left them in their pots over winter with surprising success both times. Although these plants have not been under any type of shelter, they have been tucked next to the house on either the east or west side of the structure.  So far no plants have been lost to winter chill, and as of this writing, I have one plant that is a zone 9 (Southern California) and it is getting new healthy growth already.

What little snow we did receive this winter was shoveled or swept onto the plants as the only shelter offered.

They are all alive and thriving, another testimony to the fact that it does not always have to be an expensive covering to shelter plants. The main factor for over-wintering plants is to try and keep them frozen — the cycle of freezing and thawing is what rots or kills new root growth.

Although this winter was not excessively long or hard as our winters go, it is spring, I think, that brings out the true gardener in all of us.  We were meant to have dirt under our fingernails.

Until next time, enjoy all the new growth and flowers. We ate our first snap pea today.  Sweet and tender, rather like a warm spring day.