I like to direct-seed leaf lettuce under a row-cover-coated caterpillar tunnel in early February, a holdover from gardening half a zone warmer than where we are now. Most years, those early lettuce either don’t sprout or sprout and perish. This year is the outlier that makes me keep jumping the gun. Lettuce planted on Valentine’s Day is well established now at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the more dependable way to get a jumpstart on the garden year in our climate is by starting seedlings inside. I usually go for all-in-one flats, but Mark bought me a bunch of smaller containers that fit into a flat and I’m getting a lot out of the mix-and-match approach. This way, I can start a flat of veggies that germinate at different rates, leaving the slow germinaters (like parsley) behind under cover while pulling out the fast germinaters (like broccoli). Then I can start more seedlings to fill in gaps atop that all-important heat pad.
I’ve even gotten into starting peas inside, but those I do in fifty-section flats because the seedlings have to be set out as soon as the tops are up. Here, I’m planting the first flat into Mark’s porch raised bed.
Seedlings are fun, but what about goodies we can eat right now? Most years are so cold up here that, even under cover, leafy greens perish before spring. This winter, in contrast was mild by our standards. A few kale plants are hanging on under the row covers while uncovered arugula is already growing and putting up flower heads. Looks like we’re having sauteed arugula for dinner!
What’s going on in your garden?
The seed rush has started! My calendar tells me to start the first lettuce outside if the ground is warm enough on February 2 (which it almost never is up here) and the first broccoli inside on February 14. But Mark asked me to try romaine lettuce this year, which seemed like an excuse to go ahead and start a few lettuce seedlings along with the first flat of broccoli seedlings on January 30. I couldn’t help myself!
As usual, we’re trying a small selection of new varieties along with our tried-and-true and I thought you might like to see our experiments. We get our seeds from Johnny’s because their plants are (almost) always both productive and delicious, so you can find all of these goodies over there if you want to follow suit. I will admit that their seeds aren’t cheap, but I find that I get so much more out of each plant that it’s worth the extra cash, especially once you factor in time spent taking care of crops that don’t bear.
So, without further ado, four experiments!
Quirk produces tiny cucumbers that were just too cute to pass by when I saw them on the website.
Sunland is a run-of-the-mill romaine, but we’ve never grown romaine before so I’m adding it to the list. We’ll be starting a few seeds every week then transplanting them the way you would broccoli, a different technique than our dependable direct-seed-a-bed-a-month technique formerly used for leaf lettuce.
Adam Gherkin looks like a similar variety to my beloved Harmonie, which has been a delicious producer for years. Yes, 250 seeds is a lot, but the packet option just seemed too small. I can often eke out cucurbit seeds for two to four years, so if this variety is a winner that will only be $5 – $10 a year for our main cucumber crop.
Menuette is a new kind of parsley with very small, ferny leaves. We like to use parsley in tuna salad, but the bigger leaves tend to get tough in the summer. We’re hoping this variety will stay tender all year long.
How about you? Which new varieties are you most excited about trying? (I’m assuming your seeds are ordered, right?!)