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Pass the Peas (Seed), Please

Posted Apr 06 2010 9:30pm


Everything on earth has its own time and its own season (Ecclesiastes 3:1 CEV).

The snow was flying again at the end of last week. For our area, it was just a passing storm that only left cold night time temperatures to remember those flurries. My grandson coined it "swinter," combining spring with a touch of winter.

The warmer days might give the urge to go ahead and put some seeds in the ground. Before you do that, take a look at your average last frost dates. There are several good sites with this information.

1) Victory Seeds has the frost dates listed by state and city. They are also a good source for open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.

2) The Old Farmers Almanac has frost dates and a plethora of gardening help. Sign up for their free newsletter delivered right into your email.

3) USA Gardener also list frost dates by state and city. They have nice free gardening e-books available on their site.

Put in Some Cool Weather Plants

Cool Weather Seeds (c) 2010 Patricia Marie Warren Peas are the easiest to grow as they produce best when the weather is cool. I have had great success with shelling peas. I'm trying a new variety, Pea Progress. If you use the Square Foot Gardening method , they can be planted two inches apart and trained up a trellis. The vine grow approximately 20 inches tall. If I can get them out of the garden before my hens and family realize they are ripe, we'll have some nutritious and delicious side dishes. They freeze well...if we have them that long.

My favorite is Pea Mammoth Melting, a snow pea variety. Delicious right off the vine, they freeze well and make a great stir-fry ingredient. If you use the Square Foot Gardening method, you can plant a pea seed every six inches and train them to grow up a trellis. Snow pea vines grow about four feet tall.

Broccoli is sweetest when it grows during cool weather. Each plant needs at least one square foot of space. The lovely thing about broccoli is the multi-harvest. After you take the main head, the plant continues to produce smaller side shoots that are just as tasty.

Spinach has the chance of two harvests. The variety Spinach Palco Hybrid can be harvested in 30 days for baby leaves or later, in 50 days, for mature leaves. I have found that children who normally wouldn't consider cooked spinach will munch the crisp baby leaves with gusto when it is added to a salad.

My family's hands-down favorite lettuce is Buttercrunch. It lives up to its name when grown early. The plants form loose heads with a smooth, buttery texture. This variety has a bit of heat tolerance so you can stagger your planting to harvest into early summer.

All of these cool weather plants are easy to start mid-summer for a fall crop. Be sure to calculate how much you will eat and save some seeds for your second round of planting.

Start Your Warm Weather Plants Indoors

Heat-Loving Plants (c) 2010 Patricia Marie Warren I love to eat fresh food from my garden all through the warm weather, but the only way to get an early harvest from heat-loving plants is to start them indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost.

Eggplant and tomatoes do much better when started indoors than when they are direct seeded in the garden. In our area, we wait until the first weekend of May (or Kentucky Derby weekend, as some refer to it) to plant our tomatoes outside since we generally don't have a frost by that time. The only exception to this is when using cloches or hot boxes .

Summer squash, like zucchini and yellow crookneck, produce so much fruit per plant that I rarely plant more than three (and that is sometimes more than my extended family and friends like me to plant!).

Beans, beets, and corn prefer to be direct seeded in your garden. I'm trying a new bean this year. It is an heirloom called Garden Bean Dragon Tongue. I bought these seeds from a Burpee display at the local home improvement store.

The beets I'm planting are for fresh eating because I heard they are a superfood and best served that way. Plus I have horrible memories of pickled beets from my childhood. But I decided to slowly introduce this important nutritionally rich food back into my diet in a form I can stand. The variety I've chosen is Beet Detroit Dark Red, Medium Top. One of the lovely things about beets is that there is little waste. You can add the bright red-veined chartreuse leaves to your salad or vegetable lasagna or stir-fry.

Why I Choose Heirloom and Open-Pollinated Seeds

Heirloom seeds give me the opportunity to preserve the past by propagating varieties that, in some cases, were brought to the United States with the first settlers hundreds of years ago. I love the connection this gives me to my gardening/farming heritage.

Open-pollinated seeds, unlike hybrids, reproduce true to the fruit of the parent plant. Even if the plant is not heirloom, I choose the open-pollinated varieties so that I can decide if I want or need to buy seeds next year. If I am content with the plants this year, I will let some of them go to seed. I will then save the seeds to use in next year's garden.

Sometimes a hybrid seed packet catches my eye. I was drawn to a variety of Honeydew, Melon Green Flesh, that is supposed to be very sweet. If I really like them, I will eventually save seeds straight from the melons and take my chances on the results. But that will be awhile...the seed packet has 25 seeds, plenty for the next few years.

If you are interested in growing heirlooms, check or my favorite, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds .

Until next time, enjoy getting your hands dirty!

Patricia Marie Warren, Thyme for the Garden columnist at

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