It’s that time of year when it feel like it’s never going to be warm again. Everything outside looks dead, but my fingers are itching to get into the dirt. Seed catalogs come in the mail and make me even more anxious. I have too many seeds, but it doesn’t stop me from plotting and planning. What shall we do with the vegetable garden this year?
I always plant tomatoes. Okay, last year I didn’t. I let my whole veggie patch go fallow last year and it was overtaken by marigold volunteers. I usually have some in the garden for their benefits to the soil and pollinating insects, and I expect to be fighting them this year for space. Our favorite variety of cherry tomato is SunGold. It’s a hybrid, and they are golden, sweet, and not too acidic and always do pretty well in the garden. For some reason, larger varieties of tomatoes don’t do so well, but I suspect my soil is missing something. I’m not the best gardener in the world and I’ve never tested my soil, so I’m not sure that that is. This year I plan on fixing that by buying a test kit and I’ve got a nice, big compost pile started, safely fenced off from the chickens, for adding some good organic matter to the soil. As for large tomato varieties, I can recommend Cherokee Purple. I grew exactly one fruit a few years ago. It’s sweet and meaty and quite attractive. This year I am trying a variety of heirlooms, starting them by winter sowing. It’s an experiment, but I hope to at least have eight plants come from it. I’ll be sure to review them as they ripen, if they do.
My favorite spring crop are the radishes – the hotter the better. I plant Sparkler and Icicle, along with some milder varieties for my husband who is not as big a fan of their creep-up-the-back-of-your-nose hotness as I am. I purchased a “rainbow mix” to grow this year, along with the same of carrots and beets. I hope to have a very colorful garden this year.
Cherries are usually doing pretty well by this time, too. Last year we had a problem with some kind of worm getting inside the fruit. I need to do more research on what they could be so we can be sure to avoid them this year. You can still use the cherries, it’s just kinda gross cutting the pit out and discarding the worm. The chickens are happy, though – they get the bruised and otherwise damaged fruit. We grow a dwarf variety called North Star which are tart and perfect for pies. Or jams. Or just eating and puckering up your face.
The chickens start laying again in the spring. I don’t provide supplemental light so their bodies can rest during the winter. They spend a lot of energy laying eggs in the summertime and molting in the fall, so I feel they deserve the break. Spring brings an explosion of egg laying, though. I have two hens that go broody, which is a condition brought on by hormones that causes them to want to sit on a clutch and raise some babies. Incubation is 21 days after a period of laying up to twenty eggs, depending on breed. They don’t lay during this time, but I have seven other girls who will continue to lay, so it’s all good. The breeds I have lay a variety of colored eggs – everything from a gorgeous blue to green, speckled brown to a smooth, finely textured tan.
Spring also brings out a fungi that is worth it’s weight in gold. Like I’ve said, I don’t know if they even grow on my property, but I have good friends at work who sometimes share their treasure with us. I speak of morels. Driving through the country you will often see trucks and cars parked along the side of the road by a field or a stream with the driver nowhere to be seen. That person is out hunting these gems. They can be worth some serious cash if you can find a buyer, which isn’t usually difficult, sometimes going for over eight dollars a pound.
The chives start blooming around this time, too. We like to add their spicy flowers to salads and decorate deviled eggs with them. Their purple, star-shaped flowers have an onion taste like the green parts, but with just a hint of sweetness. I grow them for their flavor, but they are also a very pretty plant with their blueish hue and spiky texture. These grow in my flower bed, and they look lovely with broad leafed plants and set off the white columbines planted nearby quite nicely.
By June, the garlic I‘d planted the previous fall is about ready. This year, I will have a harvest of Inchelium Red and Siberian. The Inchelium is a softneck variety that comes from the Colville Reservation in Washington State and is a very mild garlic that stores for up to nine months, all the while the flavor intensifies. Siberian is a hardneck variety that is on the spicy side, which we use up pretty fast. The Siberian grows scapes, which I harvest for cooking. You can also make a delicious pesto with them. Some people say that removing the scapes makes for larger bulbs, but I don’t think that is conclusive. Most of my garlic ends up roasted and spread on toast, or mashed into potatoes, or in tomato sauce. We use garlic for everything, and usually a lot of it. When I see a recipe calling for a single clove of garlic, I scoff. SCOFF. And then add two to three more cloves.