The time has come to plan ahead for the warmth of spring. It will be here in no time, and I am really looking forward to an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, flowers, etc. Now is a good time to start some tomato seeds indoors because they take 6-8 weeks to grow into transplant size. Peppers are also one of my garden favorites; they don’t take up much space and produce high yields. That’s where my head is — tomatoes, peppers and cilantro …. of course, I’m thinking salsa from the garden! There is nothing better.
I like growing everything from seed, simply because it’s cheaper, especially since I have saved many seed varieties from previous crops. I also enjoy observing the entire process. My children love it, too. They get to care for and to see new life emerging from the tiniest seeds. That is a miracle right in front of their eyes. When the plants are ready to go into the ground, I ask my kids to help so we all can plant them in their new homes.
Garden beds are so important to prepare, and that is something you can do right now. Start by mixing good soil with compost, manure, kelp, etc. I’ve been adding kelp to the soil, then using it to mulch my garden. If you live near a beach or lake, I highly recommend filling up a few sacks with sea or lake weeds, then spreading them on your garden beds. Sea weeds are natural repellents to slugs and other pests. They also help keep the moisture in the soil, which is why I mulch in the first place — to save water, of course. Sea weeds also fertilize the soil. They provide trace minerals and natural hormones that stimulate plant growth. Just make sure to rinse your sea weeds to remove any salt residue. (You won’t have to worry about this if you harvest lake weeds.) So, there you go: we’ve covered pest control, less weeding, soil enrichment and water saving. Now you’re ready to plant.
Get those seeds going so that, by March, you can transplant tomatoes to your garden! One of the tastiest fruits on earth, tomatoes come in so many varieties, shapes, sizes, colors. I recommend getting an heirloom variety like “green zebra,” “big rainbow” or “chocolate cherry.” Heirloom seeds are great for saving until the next year, when they can be planted. These seeds, unlike hybrid varieties, are “breed true,” which means both sides of their DNA come from a stable cultivar. This makes it easy to share and pass down seeds from gardener to gardener, keeping that line pure and nutrient rich. There also is nothing quite like the taste of heirlooms; that’s where you can tell the difference. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company has a great catalog, online store and many heirloom festivals throughout the year.
If you live in warmer climates, you can start sowing broccoli seeds. Try a Calabrese; it’s fast growing. Onions are good to get into the ground right now. Just make sure you get the appropriate variety for your garden zone. Southern regions should plant short day onions; northern regions, long day onions. Try red creole and yellow Spanish. Also plant some heat loving herbs like oregano, basil, thyme and sage.
By March you can start sowing beets, onions, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, spinach, summer squash and peas. Early spring is a good time to plant radish, arugula, kale, beans, corn, melon, eggplant, basil and squash.
Oh, I can’t wait! There will be salsa and ratatouille in my near future. Sure, you can always visit your farmers market year-round. However, stepping into your own garden — the one you took so much time to prepare and is now exploding with all kinds of greens, radishes, tomatoes and flowers — just feels so rewarding. And the food tastes that much better.
Learning how to feed yourself and your family is, in my humble opinion, one of the most valuable things we can do for our communities and ourselves.
Mother Earth News provides an excellent garden planner and list of frost dates.
Where to get seeds?