All is covered with snow now at home in Northern Nevada and the growing season seems far off. But, now is the time to plan for starting seeds for spring and summer plantings and is also a time to get ready to plant cold tolerant veggies and leafy greens. If you look closely, you will see new grass shoots growing because the ground is moist and we had a warm week in January. The ground is already awakening.
If you want to harvest some early greens you should plan now and get ready to plant. With a cold frame or greenhouse, you can now grow leafy greens, like spinach, lettuces and micro greens. Actually, any green that one would associate with spring and can be eaten in a salad can be grown now in a greenhouse or cold frame in late winter. Many plants are more sensitive to light than they are to temperatures. The lengthening daylight hours of late winter stimulates growth cycles in cold tolerant plants and you can take advantage of this if you offer them a little protection.
Peas, swiss chard, kale and spinach can be planted without protection in March, so buy them now and get your beds ready. My favorite peas are snap peas because they can be harvested young like snow peas or left to fill out like English or pod peas. No matter when you harvest them, they are good to eat raw or cooked. Its like a no-brainer. In the case of spinach, choose heat tolerant varieties because that will extend the growing season. Micro greens are eaten as sprouts and they can provide a quick green fix.
Planning to start your own tomatoes and peppers for summer?- Plan to start them in late March and April. Look at the seed catalogs or nursery selections now and pick out your favorites. Pick ones with growing times of less than 70 days if you want to harvest them in the summer. In the March guide I will tell you how to get them up and growing. If you are buying seeds, also make sure that you buy or have “wall-of waters”, one for each pepper and tomato plant you plan to grow. Throw in a few more for the squash plants.
Want to grow some spring annuals from seed? Now is the time to start them. If you want to grow a whole bunch of pansies, snap dragons or other spring annuals you will need a greenhouse and other equipment, but you can and you must start now! If this is something you want to try please search out other references about it. It’s beyond the scope of this article. It is tedious, but worth it if you have the right equipment and patience.
Have you ever heard of snow seeding? Now is the time…. the idea behind snow seeding is that you sprinkle the seeds on the snow and the melting action will pull the seeds into the ground, giving them the moisture they need when warmer temperatures arrive. This method works well with grass seed, wildflower seed, pasture seeds and cover crops. These seeds would naturally be deposited in the late summer and fall and would sit around to germinate over the winter and sprout in the spring. By seeding them in the snow, we give them the opportunity to experience the cycle of winter life into spring life. So, if you want to rejuvenate your lawn, make a wildflower garden, reseed your pasture or grow sunflowers and calendula in your garden beds, you can scatter the seeds now. A seed has a shell that is hard and is broken down by moisture and is awakened by the warming of the soil and exposure to sunlight, so this is a really good time to cast the seeds.
Is it too late to compost for the coming season? No, if you haven’t made a compost pile, start one now. The moisture from snow and rain will move the process along. Turn your pile every month until March, then every two weeks. You can speed the process along by putting plastic over the pile to hold in moisture and heat. Ideally, a compost pile should measure about 3′ x 3′- don’t spread it out. It does not need to be contained in a bin, but that keeps it tidy. By June, you should have compost to use in your gardens. More detailed instructions: carbon containing materials 2/3 rds. to 1/2 (leaves, shredded newspaper- torn up into small pieces, straw, wood shavings, coffee grounds and the liners, potato skins) and the rest nitrogen containing material (vegetable waste- the finer the better, grass clippings (not matted down), manure from herbivores (chickens, horses, cattle, sheep) or a bit of ammonia nitrate. And moisture. You must sprinkle, not drench your pile to keep it alive. If there is enough natural moisture, you don’t have to do this. Your pile should stay as wet as a “wrung out sponge”. If you see steam escaping from the pile when you turn it, you know it is working. If everything is decomposed to the point that you don’t recognize the material, it is ready.
Did you forget to plant those daffodils and tulips you bought in the fall? If they have been outside or in the garage for the winter, plant them now and they will probably bloom. Better yet, plant them in pots and leave them outside in a shady spot and you will probably get blooms in the spring. (they need six weeks of freezing temps to bloom). Try the freezer…..let me know if it works.
A cold frame is a garden bed dug into the ground or one on the ground surrounded by something insulating like straw bales, covered with plastic sheeting or glass- something that lets light in. Old windows work well as a cover. Fill the area, six inches deep is more than enough, with a healthy mixture of soil and compost, tamp it down gently. Plant your green seeds only covered by about 1/4 inch and cover that with plastic, bubble wrap or a glass covering. Check every few days to make sure that the soil remains damp- like a wrung out sponge. When it is cold outside, but sunny, the soil can dry out quickly. If it gets really warm, you might need to lift the cover to add ventilation. Before too long, the greens will sprout. You will have to thin them, so they are not too crowded. Keep them damp- not wet. Micro greens grow very quickly and are meant to be harvested very young. Have fun, pull them up and put the new plants with only a few leaves in your salads.
In a greenhouse, make a bed and do the same but the soil will dry out quicker, so check it at least every two days for watering.
In both cases, water gently, with a mister or a very fine spray- you don’t want to disturb the tiny roots.
So, cast the seeds of your imagination for your garden. And prepare all you can indoors and out. Mend the fence posts, clean the tools, paint the walls inside and hang the pictures that have been waiting to be hung, because when spring comes there will be more pressing issues. If you are a gardener nothing is more important than being outside covering yourself in dirt and rejoicing or cursing the new growth all around.
If you have any gardening questions, ask me. As a master gardener and a landscaper, I am passionate about the subject and am happy to answer questions. I am as much and more passionate about real estate. This is a real estate website after all.