Edibles

Welcome Spring?

The calendar shows today as the first full day of Spring 2015 but, outside, Old Man Winter is doing its best to cover all evidence of Spring. Still, even with another three inches of fresh snow covering the ground, gardeners welcome spring.

As the season officially turned to Spring last evening at 6:45 pm, snow was falling. It doesn’t look very spring-like outside this morning.

The first full day of Spring in south-central Connecticut

The first full day of Spring in south-central Connecticut

But yesterday, during an early morning walk I found hints of Spring.

Tete-a tete narcissi barely peeking out of the ground

Tete-a tete narcissi barely peeking out of the ground

The few narcissi bulbs not still buried deep under snow cover were peeking out of the ground. I call this hope and, after looking back at last year’s progress, these sprouts are only slightly smaller than on the first day of Spring last year.

Yep … hope.

More hope shows inside, under lights, where basil seedlings have sprouted.

basil seedlings

basil seedlings

They have a way to go before they are large enough to flavor meals, but these tiny plants bring hope.

For this gardener, one of the best ways to maintain hope while waiting for spring temperatures to actually arrive is to plant seeds. If you need a boost to start some of your own seeds, read my seed starting process.

Grow a seed … believe in the future.

And … welcome Spring even when the outdoor landscape is draped in white.

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Fig tree seeking spring

Late afternoon sunshine streams through the front windows during winter and into early spring, making the front windows the best spot for the fig tree seeking spring.

My five-foot tall fig refused to remain dormant in the cool basement. Lengthening daylight spurred its leaves to open, leaving me no option but to provide it as much sunlight as possible.

Opening the front door and moving the rapidly leafing-out Chicago Hardy Fig to soak in sun through the glass storm door highlighted the interesting fig leaf structure. So … what better to do than grab my camera.

Though snow still covers the ground and winter is being stubborn about releasing its grip on temperatures, the fig has decided it’s done with dormancy.

Fig tree soaking up winter sun

Fig tree soaking up winter sun

Once outdoor spring gardening becomes possible I’ll have little time to relish the beauty of fig leaves.

fig leaves against a snow-covered background.

fig leaves against a snow-covered background.

Late afternoon sunlight helps highlight their graceful veining and harsh texture …

The veining and structure of fig leaves against a dark background.

The veining and structure of fig leaves against a dark background.

… and graceful beauty.

Fig leaves in late afternoon sunlight.

Fig leaves in late afternoon sunlight.

 

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Leeks – You Can Grow That!

Being no stranger to growing plants in the Allium family – onions, scallions, garlic, chives, and many ornamentals – leeks had always scared me off. It certainly was not their flavor, which I love. It was the supposed extra care – hilling soil around the growing stalks – that caused me to leave leeks off my garden list of edibles. Boy was I wrong! Leeks are a great You Can Grow That! edible plant.

You Can Grow That! is a monthly blogging meme started by C.L. Fornari – she blogs at Coffee for Roses – to encourage anyone, novice or seasoned gardener, to stick their hands in the soil to grow something. Having grown plants for nearly 40 years, I’m still amazed by the power in each tiny seed.

I start seeds indoors, under lights, every spring. Each year, to expand my knowledge, I try growing at least one new plant or variety. Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) were my 2014 choice; the King Richard variety offered by Botanical Interests. I started two small flats in early March and grew them under lights until night temperatures in my zone 6 Connecticut garden remained above the hard freeze level. That’s when the leeks went into the mini-greenhouse in a protected, full-sun location. They moved to their summer home, a raised-bed, sometime in late May.

I planted the thin seedlings into a six-inch deep trench dug into the soil of the raised bed, then gently hilled soil up around the small transplants, leaving some of the green ends above soil level. After watching, watering, and waiting, the seedlings had grown enough to hill even more soil around the growing stalks. This is done to obtain the long white-flesh area – the edible part – at the base of each stalk. As the leeks grew, occasionally mounding more soil around each stalk took little time and effort. Once the soil was mounded to a total of 8 to 9 inches (remember, they were planted in 6-inch deep trenches), I added 2 inches of shredded straw to help keep soil moisture even and prevent weed growth.

For the rest of the growing season I pretty much ignored the leeks. By the time I harvested a couple in early autumn, they had grown quite large. Still, I left most in the ground for later harvest.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in sough-central Connecticut.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in south-central Connecticut.

Here’s how they looked when harvested right before Thanksgiving. The center leek is actually a bit more mature than recommended. The aim is to harvest before the ends begin to bulb.

There’s about a half-dozen more still in the raised bed, which is now covered as a mini hoop house for extra cold-weather protection. I expect to be harvesting leeks well into the winter.

These beauties were so easy to grow, and took up so little raised-bed real estate, that their now on my yearly edible plant list. And … they are delicious, imparting a mild oniony flavor to foods.

Northern gardeners can start leek seeds inside 8 to 10 weeks before the average last frost. After risk of a killing freeze passes, transplant leeks, 4-6 inches apart, into a trench at least 6 inches deep. Water regularly and mound soil up around growing plants as noted above. Gardeners in milder climates can sow leeks outdoors in spring for fall harvest or in late summer for harvesting the following spring.

For more growing suggestions, head to the You Can Grow That! website and read about other great edible and ornamental plants to grow. Then sit back and dream of all you could do in next year’s garden.

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