This is the season of the year when the weather teases us with glimpses of spring but still holds the hook of winter ready to punch us at anytime.
Many gardeners are getting very anxious to start planting their hardy or cool season vegetable and food crops. The old-timers used to say the prime season for planting potatoes, onions, cabbage and other cool crops was from Valentine's Day in mid-February to St. Patrick's Day in mid-March across central Oklahoma.
Our state warms from south to north each spring so gardeners in southern Oklahoma can start their season about one week earlier and gardeners in northern Oklahoma probably should target about a week later than those dates.
Some gardeners get so anxious to produce their own fresh produce or to grow the first crops in the neighborhood that they start planting earlier, even now.
This is a great time to prepare your soil for planting. You can remove winter weeds, rototill or spade the soil to prepare for planting in the next few weeks. This is a great time to add more organic matter to your garden area as you work the soil. Add your own compost or purchase sphagnum peat moss, fine processed bark, cotton burr or alfalfa compost or well-aged manure products. It is a great time to take a soil sample to your OSU County Extension Office for testing at $10.00 for each sample so you can plan your fertilizer program for 2013. The best way to be sustainable and environmentally sensitive is to have a soil test and feed your lawn, vegetable garden and flower beds what they need but not to over feed the nutrients already present in sufficient amounts. Dig down about 6” deep in several spots in the area to be tested and collect a total sample of about a pint for testing. The results will help direct you to responsibly feed what your plants need this season and your fertilizer savings will usually pay for several tests. If you know your soil looks or behaves differently in different areas of your yard — consider investing in separate soil samples for each of those areas.
The hardy or cool veggie crops that we plant earliest are cabbage, cauliflower, head lettuce and onions. We can also plant onion sets, seeds for root crops like carrots, radish, or turnip and leafy veggies like Swiss chard, mustard, spinach or lettuce. Peas and kohlrabi also grow well from early seed sowings. Irish potatoes are started from 2 or 3 ounce pieces cut from full-size seed potatoes with at least a couple of “eyes” on each piece to produce sprouts. The seed potatoes at garden centers have not been waxed or treated with anti-sprout inhibitors like most of those sold in the produce section of the grocery store so make sure to buy real seed potatoes.
During this early planting season, we can also plant crowns of asparagus which is a perennial crop that will start producing harvestable spears in year two. For rhubarb pie, plant crowns of rhubarb, another perennial that will produce for years into the future. Spring bearing or ever-bearing strawberries are another nutritious and fun crop to add to your personal garden. Take your soil tests, get your planting beds ready and let's get ready to garden!
Rodd Moesel serves on the Oklahoma Horticulture Industrial Council and the Oklahoma State University agriculture dean's advisory committee. He is a former president of the Oklahoma Greenhouse Growers. Email garden and landscape questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.