Saturday, January 10, 2015

Time for Early Plantings

Although the frigid temperatures outside may not be encouraging, now is the time to plant some slow growing crops for spring transplants. Leeks, celery, celery root and seed onions should all be started indoors by mid-January, in order to have plants ready for moving into the garden by the first week of March.

Gardeners with a coldframe should also think about starting lettuce and spinach indoors for moving to the coldframe in about a month. Other good early crop choices for coldframe production are corn salad, mizuna, bak choy, scallions, and mustards.

Free-standing coldframe
I have been experimenting with artificial light gardening for a number of years, and this season I am using an LED lighting system originally designed for aquarium illumination. While it is not ideal for plant production, it is certainly a far cry from the fluorescent shop lights I once used. The LED unit is compact, runs cool, uses only 15 watts of electricity and is producing a fine crop of microgreens and herbs for the kitchen.

If you are thinking about growing windowsill herbs this winter, start with chives, chervil and cilantro. They all grow easily from seed, do not mind crowding in the pot, and develop flavor at a young age. They all also tolerate light shade, and so will grow in a sunny window or under artificial lights more readily than more sun-loving crops. Cilantro microgreens only a couple of inches tall will brighten up your Latino or Asian dishes during the gloomy months. Chervil is almost too pretty to eat, but it adds a note of tarragon and parsley combined. Use it on vegetable or fish dishes, in particular. Chives can be used to bring a hint of onion flavor wherever you need it. If you start a few pots now and have some plants left over, you can transplant them to outdoor beds around the first of March, and they should grow and produce more herbs before the weather heats up. Chives is perennial, and clumps started from seed this spring may bloom next fall. They will certainly bloom when they are in their second season outside, especially if placed in full sun. Chervil will go to seed in May or June, as soon as the weather warms. Gather the needle-like seeds for a fall planting, and compost the rest of the plant. Chervil does not germinate well, so be sure to save a lot of seeds.


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