From cold hardy seeds come salad days

By Janine Pineo,
Posted April 24, 2009, at 7:06 p.m.

It’s not even May and I feel like I am running late.

Maybe it’s because it’s spring. Maybe it’s because of the weather. Maybe it’s because the past couple of years I barely got the garden planted before the summer solstice.

That would be in June.

Late June.

Here it is just late April and I am itching to get things planted. I already have two small beds prepped with compost and fertilizer. I even stuck in the soil thermometer to check the temperature, which has been hitting about 60 in the sunshine. After dark, the soil temperature bottomed out in the 40s, a fact discovered while walking the exuberant puppy around midnight one evening earlier this week. Kai was enjoying the smell of the organic fertilizer (chicken manure flavor, you see) while I was telling him to leave it as I was shining the flashlight on the thermometer.

Exciting, huh? It is when you realize how much snow we had on the ground just a month ago.

Both beds had a good soaking this week, so they should be primed to receive some cold-hardy seeds that should flourish until I can get the main vegetable garden going. With any luck — and plenty of good frost-free weather — that will happen by late May.

Before this weekend has passed, however, I plan to have in more than a half-dozen varieties of goodies, starting with a fine, old spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing, which dates from 1925.

Spinach is a cool-weather crop, which means the earlier you can get it in, the better off you’ll be in getting a decent crop. Because of my lateness the past few years, my spinach crop has failed. Miserably.

I like Bloomsdale because it is a handsome variety with thick, heavily crinkled leaves that are deep green. In just a few weeks, it should be ready as baby spinach, and in less than a month and a half, it should be fully grown.

More baby greens should come from Early Wonder Tall Top beet. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but I like the sound of this variety, which I haven’t tried before even though it has been around since 1911.

Most catalogs tout this beet as the best if you are looking for an early variety with Fedco Seeds saying it is quick to emerge in the cold. The greens look to have sturdy, long stems and substantial leaves, which means it should be terrific for beet greens, one of my favorite dishes. It can produce hefty beets, too, for a bit later. The seed packet says a mere 48 days.

Add seven days to that figure and I may have softball-sized cabbages.

From Pinetree Garden Seeds, I got a packet of Gonzales mini cabbage, a hybrid that looks to make nice, little heads. I grow bigger cabbages in the main garden, but I thought it might be handy to have some smaller ones early.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds also offers Gonzales and describes it as good for “high density” plantings. The tighter the spacing, the description said, the smaller the final cabbage.

Compact is the term for a chard I just got by mail Wednesday. From Seeds from Italy in Massachusetts, I ordered Chard Barese, described as a regional variety from Puglia, Italy (picture Italy and think of what is considered the heel of the boot on the eastern side — that’s Puglia).

The picture showed a tight bunch of chard with thick, white stems and smooth, deep green leaves. What sold me on it was that it was described as the chard of choice in Puglia, because shouldn’t every region have a chard of choice?

Well, if I can’t be there, I might as well eat like I am and dream of miles of sunny hillsides dropping to the bluest of seas. Go ahead and Google Puglia and you’ll be wishing you were eating Chard Barese like me.

Also from Seeds from Italy I ordered Misticanza Quattro Stagioni, a mouthful that means four-season mesclun.

I’ve planted this variety before, which is a fabulous mix of greens: 14 kinds including lettuce, endive and radicchio (a leaf chicory). Some of the plants even wintered over when they got too big to be considered mesclun any longer, especially the chicory that then blossomed into the sunniest of blue-purple flowers.

And speaking of flowers, I am determined to get in a row of sweet peas before the month is out. I have not had great luck with my favorite of flowers for a number of years, probably because it was later than it should have been by the time the seed met the soil.

So I have a packet of Old Spice sweet peas and another of Spencer Ripple Formula Mix ready to plant. The Old Spice ones are a standard variety with the emphasis on the scent, while the Spencer mix from Johnny’s is a bit showier.

Ripple in sweet pea language means one side of the flower has veined color on a white background and a picotee edge of the same veined color. They are most attractive.

But I love sweet peas in any form or color as long as they have what I prize the most: that elusive, intoxicating scent.

Maybe this year I won’t be too late.

jpineo@bangordailynews.net

www.janinepineo.com

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/04/24/living/from-cold-hardy-seeds-come-salad-days/ printed on November 28, 2014