Simple Techniques to Reap Early Rewards
In my part of the Midwest, planting potatoes, peas and other cold-tolerant vegetables on St. Patrick’s Day is a garden tradition best kept in the breaking. Usually, it’s way too cold and wet.
So imagine my delight from digging potatoes and snipping a few tiny, tender collard and Asian greens on St. Patrick’s Day.
Boasting boosted agriculture
Some of you probably have even better harvests to brag about, after all, bragging is a somewhat shameful but timeless element of gardening. I suspect one reason agriculture caught on with our paleo-forefathers may have been one-upping each other on the size and flavor of prehistoric veggies. Flowers might have factored in as well, assuming our paleo-foremothers were as delighted with a bunch of blossoms in a man’s hands as many women are today.
Times change but not bragging rights. Producing the first tomato of the summer prompts incredible antics by some growers: choosing Early Girl or other can’t-wait-to-set-fruit varieties, coddling seedlings under grow lights, using mini greenhouses, and muttering mystical chants passed down from those first gardeners.
Enough about chest thumping. In the case of my potatoes, they aren’t the first of the season but the last of last season.
Secrets of success
My approach is a mix of old and new. Grandpa Leach once described to me the vegetable pit on the hard-scrabble farm of his childhood. My memory isn’t clear on details, but the pit was something of an outdoor root cellar lined with straw. The vegetables were placed in layers and covered with straw and soil. Supposedly root veggies, cabbages, potatoes and some fruit stayed fresh in the cold, moist conditions. They dug food throughout the winter. (No small thing, considering the tales I heard of about walking to school through 4-feet deep snow from November through March.)
Being lazy, I skipped the excavation. I even skipped digging potatoes, which don’t keep very long in my cellar. Instead, mulch was piled thickly over the potato bed. A lot more mulch was needed this bitter winter — about half the potatoes dug St. Patrick’s Day were partly to totally mushy. The rest, however, are unscathed and delicious, as only home-grown Yukon Golds can be.
The collard greens were sown Aug. 15 and grew to micro-green size before serious cold weather arrived in early November. Immediately after seed planting, I secured floating row covers over the beds.
Designed to thwart insects from accessing the greens, the row covers serve as something of a windbreak. I discovered this by accident a few years ago when I was too lazy to remove it after winter arrived. Even in the horrid winter of 2014, I picked a few leaves of collards and kale on St. Patrick’s Day. In milder winters, various greens can be picked all season, though growth slows to zip from mid-November to mid-February.
Can you top this?
Besides greens, I discovered the carrots, planted in late summer (tag is missing), came through just fine under the row cover. A couple dug on March 30 were sweet and crisp.
OK, that’s my story. What’s yours? Surely someone can top all this.
For more inspiration about year-round harvests check out www.fourseasonfarm.com, site of Eliot Coleman’s Maine vegetable farm that uses no heated greenhouses.