Saturday, February 8, 2014

February Planting Time

This week, we planted arugula, celery, chervil, cilantro, corn salad, curly parsley, Italian parsley, and scallions. The arugula and corn salad will be grown to maturity indoors, while the others will be ready for transplant to the garden in early March. This sowing is part of our evaluation of the LED lighting system I have mentioned in previous posts. 

Leek seedlings have grown beautifully with this light source. They were sown in January and are averaging about 4 inches in height. The plants exhibit no sign of yellowing or etiolation. Preliminary results, therefore, are encouraging. The use of LEDs in horticultural lighting remains somewhat experimental, but holds great promise. Electricity consumption is greatly reduced without sacrificing light intensity, making LEDs much more energy efficient than either fluorescent or metal halide sources, the two most commonly used in horticulture. The 20-watt unit I am evaluating adequately illuminates an area roughly the size of two standard nursery flats, sufficient for my backyard garden’s transplant needs.The difference in the size of the seedlings between the two photos is the result of only four days' growth.

If you were planning to add fruit or nut trees or berry bushes to the garden, February is an ideal time to transplant them. Strawberry plants should also be appearing in garden centers this month. Everbearing varieties will give you a decent crop this year, if planted early. Pick off and discard the blooms that may appear in late spring, to give the plants a chance to build a root system. This will not only improve the fall crop, but increases productivity for next spring and fall. If you’ve never grown strawberries, try ‘Sequoia,’ a widely available everbearing variety that produces big, flavorful berries all season once established. We are going to be renewing our planting of this berry this season. The strawberry patch needs relocation about every three years.

Other berry crops that perform well in the Tennessee Valley are blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. Among nut trees, native hickory and black walnut are good choices if you have plenty of room and patience. American filbert is more suited to the backyard garden, but typically only bears every two or three years. Fruit trees require attention to perform well here. June-bearing apples are perhaps the best adapted to our climate, but fall apple and pear varieties regularly appear at the local farmer’s markets. Local peaches also show up at the markets, too. Attention must be paid to pruning and pest control for fruit trees.

One fruit we seldom see in the market is cherries, which is surprising, because my grandparents always had an abundant crop from two sour cherry trees that my grandfather planted in the early 20th Century. We also had a massive sweet cherry tree, far from the house, that undoubtedly had been planted by my great-grandfather, as it was a foot in diameter when I was a boy. All these cherries eventually succumbed to disease and were removed. They remain a challenge to grow here, owing to a plethora of diseases, but it can be done with dedication. For the backyard gardener willing to take up the challenge, ‘Montmorency’ is a traditional cultivar.

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