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Growing Season #1 General Rules

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(Photo: Melinda Myers, LLC)

The North Texas vegetable gardening starting gun has gone off.

Local gardeners plant lettuces, spinach, radishes, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.  These plants LOVE full sun.  Start seeds in the ground– or get a jump on the season with commercially-produced seedlings professionals started six-weeks ago in climate-controlled greenhouses.  I sow carrots and radishes from seed just under the garden’s surface.

Carrots and radishes come in an array of sizes and colors, so read the packages to get what you visualize.  If you don’t want to thin-out baby greens (they’re great in salads), sow them lightly.  The same advice goes for lettuces and spinach.  Crowded tiny seedlings may look great at the beginning, but if, for example, you want nice straight l-o-n-g carrots, you should have the width of three-fingers in all directions between each plant.

Fat heads of mature lettuce and spinach flourish 12-inches in all directions from their closest neighbors.  We like the taste of sweet, as opposed to bitter lettuce, right?  Make this happen by dropping a handful of fireplace ash in the hole, where a lettuce or spinach seedling will live. Yum-yum.

Did I mention well-fed cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts turn into huge plants?  The keyword here is “fed;” three-foot height and diameter is not unusual; so plant those seedlings about two- to three-feet apart.  Use a ruler or a yardstick.  Control yourself with the fertilizer or the result will be nothing but leaves.  The fruits we love are actually the flowers.

Buy seed potatoes at a feed store.  Potatoes come in a dazzling array of varieties.  Cut them so each piece has at least one eye, with a tiny bud or two visible.  Some gardeners place a newl- cut piece in a section of an egg carton in the dark for a week before planting.  That’s called “chitting.”  I’m not that patient.

I plant each piece, eyes up, about four-inches deep and space them six-inches apart in the trench, allowing two-feet of space between rows.  Be forewarned– digging mature “taters” isn’t called “back breaking” without good reason.  Control the urge to over-plant until you know how fast you can eat them.  Summer heat wreaks havoc with potatoes stored at room temperature and they tend to shrivel during months in refrigeration.

At some point, maturing carrot, radish and potato roots begin to bulge-up out of the topsoil.  Keep these new edibles from turning green by “hilling up” nearby soil over the row to cover the exposed vegetable flesh.  That’s another reason to leave plenty of room between rows.  Don’t expose one row to cover its next-door neighbor.  When mulching, leave a ring of visible soil around the plant-stem so watering is effective.  Grassy mulches can form a barrier against water penetration.  Plants need water.  Mulching is an art.

Carrots, radishes and potatoes don’t like wet feet.

They need water, but don’t overdo it with the hose.  Stick a butter knife in the ground to discover if there is moisture below the surface.  Give them a drink before a later frost.  If the leaves freeze, the chances are good the root will put out new ones when things warm up.

Lettuces and spinach don’t mind a good daily slurp of water.  Lettuce and spinach are frost-hardy, but not frost-resistant.  Encircle seedlings with a deep layer of leaf mulch, leaving room for water to get in around the stem.  When frost is predicted, I blanket leaves atop each plant, then swish them back when the sun shines again.

Oh– and don’t wash clinging soil off newly-dug root vegetables.  Place in cool, dark storage, then clean them just before use.

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