Spring Forward with Caution

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    Spring Forward with Caution

    About the time the snow melts and bare ground appears, most gardeners get the itch to grow things. In northern Utah, gardeners need to be careful with that itch.
    “The best way to relieve the gardening itch is to plant hardy vegetables,” said Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. “Keep in mind, though, that the day after planting anything in the spring, temperatures will plummet to an all-time record low, followed by a foot of snow.”
    For those who feel the need to encourage such weather patterns, Goodspeed said there are several hardy vegetables that thrive in northern Utah’s cooler spring weather. These plants allow gardeners to get outside and dig in the dirt, even before the seed orders placed in January arrive.
    “The first vegetable to go into most gardens is peas,” he said. “In my opinion, peas are planted for two reasons. The first is to satisfy the urge for gardeners to get their hands in the soil and plant something. Second, peas give gardeners something to eat in the garden in late May while planting the more important crops.”
    As members of the legume family, Goodpseed said peas also have a relationship with friendly bacteria that helps them convert unavailable nitrogen into a form plants can use. This means they increase the nitrogen level in the soil, and don’t require much extra fertilization. And, fortunately, they grow with few problems.
    The next early vegetable gardeners can plant is radishes.
    “Radishes are extra hardy, and make a nice addition to any garden,” he said. “They have a very short growing season; some are ready to eat before you get back in the house after sowing the seeds. It is nice to harvest something from the garden before you can even think about planting tomatoes and sweet corn.”
    However, radishes present some challenges, Goodspeed said. The main pest they attract is a small larva that bores into the root, making it a little unappetizing. Damaged radishes can still be used by cutting off the affected part, but not all can be salvaged.
    Much of the damage can be avoided by growing radishes under a garden blanket, he said. Most cabbage family plants (including radishes) are enjoyed by several insects. A garden blanket placed over the crop prevents nibbling by most chewing insects and reduces aphid populations. Garden blankets can be purchased at garden centers and act as a physical barrier between the plants and insects. Water and light can penetrate the blanket, while keeping insects out and offering protection from the wind. In addition, they increase the growth of most plants, which hastens the harvest.
    After radishes, several other members of the cabbage family can be planted, he said. Cabbage, kohlrabi and broccoli transplants will soon be available in local nurseries. They can be planted as soon as the garden is ready. All three of these cool-season vegetables are happiest when planted early in the spring. If gardeners wait to plant them in May or June they will do nothing but complain about the heat and low humidity.
    “Spinach is another vegetable that is best planted early and harvested as soon as the leaves are the desired size,” said Goodspeed. “Like cabbage, kohlrabi and broccoli, spinach hates the heat of Utah summers, so get it in early or it will bolt and go to seed. Bolting occurs when plants send up a tall stalk to produce flowers and seeds. Once a plant bolts, the flavor is less sweet and the vegetable becomes tougher. High temperatures and longer day lengths can increase the likelihood of a plant bolting, which is why we plant most cool-season vegetables early.”
    Turnips can also be planted this time of year, he said.
    “But I don’t know why anyone would plant something that, at best, is only good to use as feed for hogs or possibly for visiting in-laws,” he concluded. “I also recommend planting zucchini and eggplant very early. With any luck at all, a good frost will kill them off before they get established.”

    By: Julene Reese - Mar. 16, 2007