2009-12-03 / News

Think spring: It’s time to plan your garden

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Get ready! The seed catalogs are coming. With more and more people deciding to start their own gardens, seed catalogs offer an enticing selection of plants to grow. But remember, not all plants can grow in our area.

For example, you may decide to grow onions. Which ones should you buy, long-day or short-day onions? Short-day onions set their bulbs when the day length is between 12 and 14 hours long, while long-day onions set their bulbs when the day length is between 14 and 16 hours long. Around here, we get about 14 hours of daylight in early April or late May, but by then, the onions have not grown large enough to set large bulbs. So, you want to buy long-day onions and start them early indoors, long before they need to be planted outside.

When organizing your garden and selecting seeds, look to see how long it takes for the seeds to grow to maturity. For example, if you plant potatoes next to leeks, your potatoes will be ready long before the leeks – which take about 110 days to reach maturity – and you will want to dig the potatoes, which can disturb the roots of your leeks. When I plan a garden bed, I try to put long-maturity plants in their own section of the bed so that they won’t be disturbed until late in the season.

This trick can also be used to get more produce from a given area. For example, you might grow carrots in two rows. Carrots take 70 to 80 days to mature, so why not plant fast-growing spinach or lettuce between the carrots? By the time the carrots come up, the lettuce can be harvested.

Speaking of carrots, they are notoriously difficult to grow in heavy soils. If you like homegrown carrots, plan to supplement your garden with lots of sand and vermiculite – not so much that the soil becomes beach-like, but enough that the soil is light and fluffy. Light soil is the secret to getting long carrots. However, because the soil is light, it will drain well, so you will need to keep it watered.

If you like beans, you will get higher yields if you grow pole beans, which take about 70 to 80 days to set beans. You will need to erect a trellis or some other support for the beans as they grow. You will also need to keep the beans picked, so that the plants will keep growing new beans. If you do not want to set up a trellis or teepee for beans, grow bush beans, which take about 50 to 70 days to mature. Beginners can start with Bush Blue Lake beans. These high-yielding, small plants will give you a lot of beans as long as you keep picking them.

For pole beans, go with Blue Lake pole beans. After you have a little experience with growing beans, try adding a different variety, such as jade or golden teepee from Thompson and Morgan (www.tmseeds.com). There’s a huge variety of beans; I like to grow runner beans and Broad Windsor fava beans, but you can also grow edamame soy beans if you like them. They are available from www.territorialseed.com.

Dried beans take a few weeks longer to grow than fresh green beans, and I would advise beginning gardeners not to grow them until they have grown some of the other types of fresh beans. Also, be aware that bean beetles can get at your crop before you do, so you will need an organic spray to control them.

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