Gardening season will resume as soon as the post-Christmas sales are over, lasting until Labor Day. I urge gardeners to look at seed catalogs to see what is available, study attributes of different varieties, then shop locally. I’d also urge local nurseries to post the IDs of their seed racks on their websites.
There are some things folks new to gardening or to the Treasure Valley should know. If you’re looking for bulbing onions, look for “long day” onions. Short day onions won’t bulb here. You can seed or transplant bulbing onions and leeks early, but be aware that they are biennial, and a cold snap followed by warmer weather can fool the bulbs into thinking they’ve gone through a winter, so they’ll send up a seed stalk. That will ruin bulbing onions and leeks, but does not ruin shallots or garlic. Just pull out that stalk of shallots so it can direct its energy to the bulb and clove formation. Pull off seed head of garlic and use in stir fry. Feel for offsets around the leek roots; they’re usable in cooking.
Allium (onion, leek, shallot and chives, for example) seeds are usually only viable for one year, but allium seeds that have been pelleted for farm growers can still germinate after six years, I’ve found. Advantages to pelleted seeds also include easier spacing of plants so you don’t have to thin seedlings. I dislike having to pull out and discard tiny plants that have germinated too thickly for the crop to produce, so I’m generally in favor of pelleted seeds.
I don’t like the new kind of pelleted seed that requires close attention and constant water to get to germination, however. Lettuce seeds for some varieties are NOP (National Organic Program) pelleted, and they require the pellets be kept constantly wet, not just moist. Stella Schneider is an accomplished gardener, and has grown many crops from seed, always heeding the requirement of keeping seeds moist until germination. As she tried to germinate these lettuce seeds, she saw failures, and asked for help from the vendor of her seeds. There she learned they require the seed pellets be wetter than seed-moist, so she had to germinate the seed in her kitchen. This NOP pelleted lettuce is said to be viable for just one year. They may use a different material or use it differently for gardeners than is used for pelleted seeds for farms.
Most lettuce and spinaches are cool weather crops. If you’re going to plant near the end of spring, look for varieties whose descriptions or seed packets say “slow to bolt.” Loose leaf lettuce, spinach or even Romaine lettuces will continue to grow if you just remove outer leaves now and then, leaving the center growing point untouched. Leaf lettuces may also be cut about an inch and a half above soil, and they’ll re-generate usable leaves two or three times during the growing season. They’re also called “cut-and-come-again” lettuces.
Romaine lettuces are called Cos by some, because Roman troops found that lettuce growing wild on the Mediterranean island of Cos, collected seeds, and grew and swapped them until they were grown in Britain, western Europe and the Mediterranean, and the lettuce became known as Roman (Romaine) lettuce.
Most peppers and chiles will grow and fruit here, but I’ve never had any luck with the black-seeded rocoto (manzano) chiles. One expert told me they need a bit of afternoon shade, but I’ve not tried them again to see if that would spur them to fruit here.
We plant peas and potatoes early, around St. Patrick’s Day, if weather permits. Once potato plants have emerged, frosts will blacken foliage, but it will recover or the spuds will send up new growth. Winters here, warmer than in the past, may now see growth and survival of fava beans. I grew them years ago when winters were colder, but they were apparently hit by a herbicide spray blown from a neighbor’s yard, so I don’t know whether they could have lived through winter.
We often get warmer weather at times during spring, but it really isn’t safe to put out frost vulnerable plants until the snow has melted off Shafer Butte (we can see that from our valley).
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.