Lauterbach: Take a green break from winter; add variety to your veggie plantings

Special to The Idaho StatesmanJanuary 24, 2014 

The winter lawn at Edwards Greenhouse.

Late in the 19th century, after a long, hard winter in northern Idaho, Jack Langrishe, the editor of the Wardner News, exclaimed, “Oh, for a sight of something green, even if it’s only a grass widow! (divorced woman).”

Are you that tired of dreary brown lawns and cold weather? Here’s a special new winter treat for us: A “pop-up park” at Edwards Greenhouse.

It is green and it’s free. Take your children to see real green grass! Smell plants growing and flowering, and whet your appetite for spring. Bring a picnic lunch and pretend it’s full summer.

MIX UP YOUR SEED SELECTION

When you start looking for seeds for your vegetable garden, it pays to occasionally try a new variety. If you usually grow cucumbers for pickling, buy a variety bred especially for salads, too. As long as you don’t plan on saving seeds, the fruits will be different, cross pollination won’t affect this first generation.

If you usually grow leaf lettuce, try a butterhead or a romaine. Some lettuces produce leaves so large they’re very adaptable to being used as wraps. Leaf lettuces are invaluable, though, as cut-and-come-again crops.

Or try lemon cucumbers — compact, almost round fruits with a lemon tinge to their skin. Crystal apple cucumbers are the same size and shape but their rinds are different shades of green. Both fruits are crisp and delicious.

My favorite cucumber is the longer Poona Kheera, pale green ripening to golden brown. It resembles a potato once it’s ripe, but tastes like a cucumber.

Try some bunching onions so you can have a constant supply of scallions, harvest two when you need them without having to buy a bunch at the store. If you want bulbing onions, be sure to get long or intermediate day onions, not short day onions such as Visalia or Granex. Short day onions won’t form bulbs here.

You can usually buy seeds, sets or seedlings of Walla Walla sweet onions here, but don’t expect them to be as sweet as those you can buy in season from produce stands or grocery stores. Those onions owe their sweet, mild flavor to the very low sulfur soils in the Walla Walla region.

Incidentally, Vidalias, Mayan Sweet and other “sweet” onions are not nearly as sweet as the Walla Walla sweets grown there. The ancestor of these mild onions was said to have been imported from Corsica; some say that early one was the Saint-Andre variety. If so, over the years the shape and storability of the onion has changed. The Walla Walla sweet is only good for about a month, the Saint-Andre for longer, and it’s much flatter than the Saint-Andre.

Soil composition makes a huge difference in flavors of many other crops too, from chile peppers to melons. Famous melons are grown in Hermiston, Ore., an area that has sandy soil rich with humus. Some growers there claim it’s the hot days and cool nights, but many areas in the West have that weather fluctuation; it’s the soil that makes the difference.

Many experts claim the New Mex chiles grown in the Hatch, N.M. area, are better tasting than the same varieties grown in other soils.

IMPROVE YOUR CHILES

If you’ve been frustrated with low pungency in your chiles, you’re probably coddling them too much. Put them under stress, either raising heat levels with a mulch of stones or giving them less fertilizer and water.

Reducing water for chile plants is tricky, for you do risk blossom end rot on chile fruits if the plants can’t take up enough calcium. They can only take in calcium if their soil is moist. Any mulch will hold moisture.

As for fertilizing, use diluted seaweed and fish emulsion fertilizer after seedlings develop their first true leaves. Weekly applications thereafter until transplanting out will give you vigorous young chile plants. Some continue fertilizing through blossoming and fruit set, but unless you use a diluted fertilizer you will attract destructive insects. They are attracted to plants that have been heavily fertilized.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service