It’s hard to believe that we can still plant a last round of winter vegetables right now.
But instead of protecting our vegetables from freezes like we would in a ‘normal’ winter, we might be shading them from the hot sun. While vegetables like chard, baby beets or newly sown carrots can be susceptible to a strong frost; lettuce and sweet peas can wilt or bolt with too much heat.
The unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having has confused both plants and people alike.
But then, that’s what gardening is all about, isn’t it?
Second-guessing Mother Nature.
For the next few weeks, (we assume that winter will eventually make another appearance) there is a window of planting time left for some more wonderful winter vegetables.
Now is the time to plant seeds and transplants of these vegetables:
- Onion sets (the width of a pencil or smaller)
- Cabbage transplants
- Cauliflower transplants
- Broccoli transplants
- Swiss chard
- Collard transplants
- Asparagus crowns
- Kale transplants
- Leek transplants
- Cool season English peas
In addition to late winter vegetables, now is also a good time to plant strawberries, bare-root fruit trees, berries and grapes. For more specific information on planting fruits and berries, check with your local independent nursery.
Now is also prime time to plant cool-season herbs like chives, cilantro, parsley, dill and fennel. Watch for cold weather, though, dill and fennel will need to be covered if it freezes.
To succeed with your vegetable planting there are different strategies for growing different kinds of seeds. Seed packets have specific information for planting – be sure to follow the directions for how deep and how far apart to plant the seeds. But there are some other planting and growing tips you might not find on the back of the envelope.
Lettuce and spinach seeds should be planted gently and should not be planted deeply. They need light to germinate, so sprinkle them and keep them misted daily until they sprout. Soak beans, peas and carrots overnight to help them get started. This helps speed up the growing process
On particularly warm days, consider setting up a little shade cloth to help keep your lettuce and greens from bolting. If you don’t have shade cloth, something as simple as an umbrella set on its side can help give them some cover from the warm afternoon sun. And be sure to keep the lettuce seeds moist during the approximately 10-day germination period.
English peas will need a trellis to climb. If planted now, peas should produce by early March.
With our clay and caliche soils, it’s best to loosen the soil to about a foot deep before planting carrot seeds. The seeds should only be planted about 1/8 to ¼ inch deep, but this will prevent you from harvesting stunted or deformed carrots because they couldn’t force their way down through the hard soil.
Beets produce seed clusters that contain several seeds rather than seeds that produce one plant. When the seedlings come up, thin them to one plant per group for the largest beets. You can also eat the micro greens that you thinned out.
Once any seedlings appear, you do have to thin them out. I know, they’ve come up, they’re alive, why not leave them all there to grow? It’s more to eat, right? Well, no. (It’s painful for me to thin, too. Live plants are, after all, live plants.) But, if you thin them out, you give the remaining seedlings room to grow more vigorously and you don’t crowd their roots or make them fight for water or nutrients.
For many plants, like lettuce, broccoli and cabbage, stagger your planting time by putting in a few plants each week for the next 3 weeks so your vegetables aren’t all ready to eat at once.
While we enjoyed a little rain to end 2011, it’s been dry again since the first of the year. Climatologists are continuing to forecast to warmer and drier than average weather into the summer, so don’t forget to water your vegetable garden regularly to keep tender new plants growing and strong.
Growing your own vegetables is fun and rewarding. There is something energizing about being outside in the sunshine, harvesting your vegetables and then enjoying a fresh, tasty dinner. And luckily, Central Texas gardeners can enjoy the pleasures of vegetable gardening year round.