by Charlene Burgi
The increased threat of nice weather (that statement just seems wrong) has me planning ahead for how to enjoy a vegetable garden this year even if the very dry conditions continue. You might be asking why bother with a garden when we are being asked to conserve? There is nothing better than having a pot of soup* cooking on the stove knowing the veggies within came from your garden. Or that the salsa that accompanied the multi-grain chips at the New Year’s Eve party originated 50 feet from the kitchen table.
It didn’t take me long to crack open the books to find answers, as living without a vegetable garden is not an option if I can do it with minimal impact. Research revealed great ideas if you are also pondering the same concerns.
Ironically, one idea came to me while looking at maturity dates. Since moving to Lassen County, I have found the growing season to be very short. The last frost date here is late May, and snow has fallen historically every month of the summer. Gardening is a challenge here, and two years running found my tomatoes ripening in boxes in the laundry room, so maturity date listings are critical. That is when the idea struck me!
Why couldn’t Marinites start their garden indoors or in greenhouses or cold frames this month, move their crops outdoors in March after the danger of frost is over, and use crops that have a quick turnaround from seed to fruit production? Spring water needs for vegetables are minimal compared to mid-summer water requirements.
Choose seeds that thrive in cooler weather. Lettuce, spinach, beets, onions, garlic, broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and peas produce much better in cooler weather. Water needs are held to a minimum if you are harvesting before summer.
Think deep! Amend, amend, amend your garden area. Get another layer of compost added to your garden now. Instead of double digging, triple dig the garden to provide an avenue for roots to grow into cooler, moister soil. And don’t forget three to four inches of mulch!! Place large flat stones around the base of tomatoes to hold the moisture in the soil and reflect heat during cool spring months.
Speaking of tomatoes, dry irrigating tomatoes is on my list of experiments this year. If you have a pile of well-composted material that is several feet deep, you might want to try this too. Plant the tomatoes in this medium and stop regular watering once you see the fruit set. Irrigate only when you see the leaves droop, then water deeply. And let the plants sprawl on the ground to hold down evaporation! The plant may not win any prizes for appearance or for the quantity of fruit produced, but the taste of the tomato is said to be spectacular.
Sheltering the garden from winds also reduces evaporation. Plant the garden in a depressed area with taller plants like Amaranthus around the border to keep the vegetables protected. Once irrigation season starts, adjust the watering time on your irrigation controller to irrigate while it is dark outside and winds typically are non-existent. Plants don’t like “wet feet” at night, but watering in the wee morning hours works well. Use drip emitters instead of sprays to deliver water directly to the root zone. If you don’t have a smart controller, pay attention to the Weekly Watering Schedule and water according to the evapotranspiration rate. Water deeply and less frequently.
Watering by hand is a challenge. Water the garden at dusk to minimize evaporation, taking care to keep water off of the leaves. Create dams around each plant. Water until the soil looks shiny and maintains that sheen for five seconds after you stop watering. This method will not work on clay soil that hasn’t been amended. Clay will typically form a puddle instead of drawing water down to the root system.
And lastly, I love the idea offered by one of our readers this past week. Double-use your water! Use a dishpan to collect water that would typically run down the drain and reuse that water to water a potted plant. See last week’s post for Alice’s comments for additional water conserving. Thanks for your ideas, Alice!
*Soup’s on for company!
Tortellini Tomato Spinach Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic (minced)
6 cups of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
6 large tomatoes (I used frozen tomatoes that melt while cooking)
10 ounces of baby spinach
¼ cup homemade pesto
9 ounces of tortellini
1 cup dry red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper
Heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent. Add broth, wine and tomatoes. Turn up heat to high and bring to a boil until the frozen tomatoes have melted. Add tortellini, spinach and basil. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately and garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Add French bread to the table to complete the meal. Buon appetito!