Well, the calendar says it’s barely April, and cool temps are surely still out there for our area, but it’s pretty much accepted that spring is here and the time has come to do a bit of planting. 

I just read a vendor’s newsletter on line (Harriet Kattenberg of Seedtime and Harvest), and it sounds like she’s had a good supply of cold weather crops for most of the winter from her protected hoop house.  That spurred me to get out my own cold-weather seed packets (the ones I ordered in January) and check out what might be started now.  I’ve got sugar snap peas, regular peas (never tried them before, and so have no idea how to cook or can raw peas, but I’ll figure it out with my Ball canning book) spinach, kale and two different kinds of lettuce.  So here we go for another year, hoping nature will be kinder than it was to my backyard efforts in the prior growing season.  

This is the year to take the chance and just do it all earlier than usual, I believe.  So this afternoon, my weekend helper (almost 8-year-old granddaughter Piper, a year older and wiser in the ways of the yard) will help me get those seeds in the new beds I had built last fall.

I actually saw tomato plants for sale at Lowes this last week, big plants with big prices, of course.  Tempting as that is, it is actually a bit too early. Temperatures look to be moderating to closer to normal for some time—not nearly hot enough for peppers or tomatoes yet, not even in containers, but I’ll be ready.  I did buy some potted hyacinth for Easter, however, and Lowes has these ready to bloom at a very reasonable cost of around $2 each, then one can then put them in the ground for next spring. 

Not much to write about except anticipation so will mention a new cookbook I just bought. It is Seasonal Recipes from the Garden, by P. Allen Smith.  I always enjoy watching him on PBS (I have Friday’s off from work, and he is on the PBS digital channel, Create) and found this book online for a good price ($17.99 + tax for a nicely illustrated hardback).  I like the way it is organized by the seasons, and most of the recipes look very fresh and simple, very good.  He has some old standards like Lemon Meringue Pie as well as fresh soup and sandwich ideas, and lots of good vegetable selections, like broccoli with lemon and hazelnuts.  Of course, as he is a Southerner, there are some good ochre and cornbread selections, too.  There’s one for Savory Grit Cakes with Oven-Smoked Tomatoes that looks tempting.  I know grits aren’t a northern plains ingredient, but I’ll try anything once.  The Poached Egg and Spinach salad with black pepper and a vinaigrette dressing looks good, as well.   

At a recent family funeral in Indiana, I had the opportunity to sit and visit for some time with a farmer from my hometown.  He and his wife have six children and eighteen grandchildren, and they are very involved in growing and promoting family farming in the area. They had just returned from a recent gift getaway to Hawaii, and so naturally, he had lots of flora and fauna stories to share.  Then the talk turned to growing potatoes  above the ground in containers, and away I went.  I have two brown, plastic garbage cans that lost their tops some years back, and have taken the bottoms off and cut then both into two pieces, each about 18 inches tall. The idea is to use these as the sides for the potato containers, put clean newspaper on the ground, and potato eyes atop that, then slowly fill with clean soil or other planting medium as the vines grow upward.  When mature, the plan is to simply to pull up the container, allowing the soil to fall away, and there are your potatoes—no digging!   If potato bugs and blight leave my crop worry free, I’m anxious to try my hand at canning potatoes on the recommendation of a HyVee cashier, who said this is just the best pantry staple ever to have on hand.

I asked my farmer acquaintance if he thought growing the potatoes in clean mulch would work, as I had read about doing this in another gardening book. That book recommended using straw or dried grass clippings (untreated by herbicides, of course) and then I asked him if leaf mulch might also do the trick, as I have about half a dozen large brown bags full that I saved from last fall.  He thought that mold might be an issue with the leaves, and so I will take him at his word and just invest in some good, clean planting mixture, then simply incorporate it into the beds this fall.  I’ll use the leaves for mulch atop the ground around the vegetables and my perennials instead.  I’ve been saving crushed eggshells all year too, and am hoping they will discourage any slug or earwig activity under the leaf mulch.   

It surprises me how much anticipation the start of the Falls Park Farmers Market spurs in me, especially this year, our year with almost no winter.  I can already smell the bakery fresh bread and see bright jars of winter jam and tomato sauce and chutney, rows of local honey and homemade pastas.  With the temps so warm for so long this late winter and into spring, I’m hoping for a few surprises, maybe some early hothouse lettuce or asparagus, who knows?  Just read a recipe for radish pie, and so here we go again.  Fresh eggs, lovely chickens!  I can’t wait.  Chomping at the bit with everyone for  opening date for the market, and hoping to see all there before May!

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