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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

'Red Cross' lettuceFROM SEED TO HARVEST
Now is the time to plan your garden

by Carolyn Singer
February 28, 2009

With rain on the roof and plenty of time to study the garden catalogs that have been filling my mailbox since December, I'm ready to fantasize about this year's garden.

While most of my seeds will be purchased from local vendors, having the luxury of time to read all the delicious descriptions in my favorite catalogs is a highlight of midwinter. However, the more I read, the harder it is to choose! I have heard from more than one beginning vegetable gardener anguishing about the process of seed selection.

If you are planning one of your first vegetable gardens, make a list of every vegetable you'd love to harvest fresh from your own land. At this stage of dreaming, your diet should determine your list.

From this list prioritize a dozen of the most important to you. My list includes tomatoes, greens, beans, carrots, beets, tomatillos, green onions, garlic, eggplant, peppers, winter squash and summer squash. While perennial herbs have an important role for my cooking and for the honeybees, only parsley and basil are included within my annual vegetable garden. These are the two herbs the deer love, so they must be inside the fence.

Your beginning wish list may include a few vegetables that do well in very different climates. The brussels sprouts I ate fresh from the fields in the Skagit Valley in early winter simply do better in that Northwest climate. One year I even tried to grow peanuts. While the plants were interesting, the harvest was a total disappointment. I will leave this crop to the Southern gardeners. Okra, too, has not done well in my garden. Local farmers markets offer a beautiful display of the diversity of crops possible in our area.

Next come the bigger challenges in making that list a reality. How much space do you have? And how much time do you have to manage the garden? Start small! It's a good plan to keep a sizable portion of a new garden area seeded to a summer cover crop to continue building the soil. Finally, how much space do you need for the vegetables you want? Squash and corn can take up a lot of space. You may decide that greens are more important to grow this year.

'Northeaster' beanIt's time to study the catalogs. Johnny's Selected Seeds (1-877-Johnnys) is one of my favorites. This year for the first time I will try their 'Honey Bear' winter squash, which won the 2009 "All-America Selection" honor. This is an acorn squash on a compact bush plant. Last year, the vining buttercup squash I grew near the raspberries threatened to take over that section of the garden.

Johnny's has organic seed and offers "mini" packets, small amounts of seed perfect for most home gardeners. Of course you may also buy seed by the pound. Many of the varieties offered are suited to short seasons and may be ideal for those of you who garden on northern slopes, with limited sunshine in fall, or in cool microclimates.

There are two other vegetables Johnny's offers that I would not be without: 'Red Cross' lettuce, a red butterhead that is fairly heat-resistant, and 'Northeaster' pole bean, a flat bean that is amazingly productive and delicious all summer.

Talk to local growers about the best tomatoes to grow. I must admit that each year I struggle with the many choices available. The end result is that I grow at least ten different varieties of tomatoes each year and enjoy them all!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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