by Daisy on 03/03/2011

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I’m excited about the first pea sprouts.

Here they are, almost not here, so tiny.  But here.

Vegetative growth.

In early March.

I’m starting to learn how to make cool season crops work here in zone 7 where we have a short Spring followed closely by a whole lot of hot, humid Summer.  I’ve grown a lot of stunted cabbage, pitiful broccoli, and early-bolting lettuce.

One way is to plant it late and keep it over winter.  The spinach, lettuce, and arugula have fed us since September, in spite of a couple short spells of single digit lows.  We were amazed these crops froze over and over again this winter and yet kept on cooking.

Another way is to start extra early, like these peas.  Most of the country waits to plant peas until St. Patrick’s Day, but here it’s Valentine’s Day.  I’ve also planted out other cool weather vegetables–cabbage, lettuce, and brussels sprout plants, and sown beets, mesclun, and mustard greens seeds.

I don’t have very high hopes for the cabbages or brussels sprouts, as usual, but they are in the ground a lot sooner than I’ve ever tried before.  Time will tell.  I keep experimenting and every year I find at least one thing worth learning.

Some things I learned last year:

1.  Eight okra plants take up a whole 8×4-foot bed.  I could harvest three or four pods every few days, but by the time I had enough for a whole batch the first-harvested ones were beginning to get tough.  If I were a gumbo person instead of a fried okra person, it wouldn’t be a problem.  But I’m a fried okra person.  Gumbo is okay, but it isn’t fried okra.

2.  I don’t need a whole bed of eggplant.  Eggplants.  Eggplant plants.

3.  Indoor seed starting is best left to others. I surrendered early and ended up with a brittle graveyard of peat pots, soil, and dried up seedlings that sat in my greenhouse window for six months. I don’t know why I do these things.

4.  Leeks are so seduisant and European-looking.  But I don’t really know what to do with them.

5.  Moles will eat cabbage roots and leave the poor little cabbages just sitting there not growing.  Ha ha, good joke, moles.

What did you learn from last year’s garden?

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessie March 3, 2011 at 7:43 am

Lucky! We’re still covered with over a foot of snow. No peas here, but I hope to start my tomatoes soon.
Last year I learned…
1. That I need a better cat-proofing system for my starts, if I leave them even remotely accessible my cat will eat them. Even not-so-tasty things like tomatoes.
2. Woodchucks, unlike my cat, do not like tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers.
3. I can’t eat as much chard as I think I can, and maybe I should cut back on my planting.
4. Corn is not worth it. Except popcorn, that might be worth it, I’ll find out this year.
5. Melons are really hard to grow in zone 4/5.

Emily March 3, 2011 at 8:34 am

Peas are pushing up here too. Very exciting!
1. Ditto on the okra. They grew great but were tougher than a stalk of wood by the time I had enough to fry.
2. Tomatillos also grew great but I don’t make enough tomatillo sauce to make even 4 plants worth it. Not even if I freeze them.
3. Got to find a better way to keep birds away from the tomatoes. Fake snakes worked for maybe a week.
4. Corn was great fun and the little mini-ears from the mini-plants matured quick enough that I could still plant something in their spot.
5. I just can’t seem to let melons stay on the vine long enough to ripen without something else eating them first. They may not be worth it.

Tanya Walton March 3, 2011 at 11:43 am

I really don’t understand these ‘zones’ that you all refer to…I’m a humble UK resident so could you all tell me where you are?

I have learnt that I have one extremely naughty cat but last year putting lots of pea sticks round my salad crops deterred him from digging in the nice soft earth where my salad seeds were.

Aubergine…or eggplants…need a warmer climate so grow them in the greenhouse.

I still have no idea what ‘Okra’ is.

I love leeks…they make great soup and can be substituted in any dish for onions which is a bonus for me as my hubby hates onions!!

pumpkinsx3 March 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Slice leeks is thin rings and add to brothy potato soup.

Brooke March 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm

@Jessie – I have the same problem with chard! Isn’t that funny? I guess just because it’s so pretty 🙂

I learned that our last frost date (April 15th here) is not the drop-dead date for getting stuff in the ground. Even my kale (planted towards the end of May) did great with a little shade from nearby tomato plants and produced all summer, through the winter, and didn’t go to seed until the weather warmed up again in the spring. I also learned that, hey, they’re just seeds, so give it a try. If something flops, try again in a different way!

Tomato Lady March 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Tanya Walton–I’m in the southern US, Tennessee specifically. Hardiness zones are explained here:
I’m still confused about leeks. I mean, I have them, I made soup with them last week, even, but I can’t really tell the taste from onions. I need a good leek explanation. If you don’t like onions, wouldn’t you have a problem with leeks, too?
Okra is a strange creature. Boiled, it is a slimy, mucilaginous, soft thing, with a taste I can’t describe. You either love it or hate it. Sliced into little rounds, coated in cornflour and seasonings and fried, it’s a tasty, crunchy thing you can’t stop eating. You can pickle it, too. Then it tastes, well, like a pickle. I like it in all its forms, although boiled whole okra is a little hard to take. Sliced and boiled in Cajun-style gumbo or vegetable soup it is very nice. Fried is my favorite, though.

Maria March 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I usually wait until the end of April to start planting here. My garden still is covered in snow.

Last year I learned:
1. I CAN grow herbs – my basil, parsley and rosemary were gorgeous – first time for parsley and rosemary for me!
2. My tomatoes just don’t do well where they are on the side of the house. I’m trying them in a new spot this year.
3. A raspberry bush can grow really fast, but the bluerry bush…not so much!

Lynnette March 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

1. Deer will eat tomatoes, pepper really everything that I work hard to grow. I am in their path to the river so I have to find a way to protect my garden.
2. If veggies grow better with watering so do weeds.
3. For all the work it takes to get the garden started I want to have something to show for it this year.
4. Give the kids their own patch of garden so they can “help” and grow something themselves.
5. re-start small until I understand how it will work.

Heather March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm

– a 5×5 plot of tomatoes can, in a good year, produce more than 40lbs of tomatoes in a week.
-I cannot grow sweet peppers. Five years after my first try, I am going to retire these veggies and stick with everything else.
-My dog is an endorphin junky, and will eat hot peppers, up to and including habaneros, so these must be planted in pots, and put out of reach.
-I don’t grow pretty little marigolds. I grow marigold BUSHES. Pick a dwarf variety next year.
– Late July is too late to plant squash at the last minute, because you found fantastic patty pan seeds, and should be left for the following year.
-Never leave the hubby in charge of watering the garden while you are away for a week. It will be the end of your tomato harvest, and you’ll come back to dead dead dead cucumber vines.

Laurel March 3, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Leeks – are onion family just a milder tasting, if onions are too strong or hard to digest for anyone just use leeks.
As with most things if you havent grown up with them you usualy avoid them. Spring onions are like a mini leek and are good in salad but can be cooked to.
In summer – autumn here and in a freeze free zone. Frosts are very rare.
Cheers – happy gardening.

Tomato Lady March 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Laurel–I think I’m getting it. I do like leeks. I just have to get the hang of them.

Naomi March 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I’m like you, I had never used leeks before, but had seen them prepared on some cooking shows on tv, so I got bold and made a quiche with potatoes and leeks, no cheese. It was delicious! The leeks are very mild. You have to cut them into a bowl of water and let the sand and dirt come out, it will sink to the bottom.

Something I learned about pumpkins – you can prepare the baby pumpkins like squash. I sliced one (it was only four or five inches across), peel and seeds and all, it was very tender just like other squash. Fried them up in the frying pan just like squash. Oh yeah! That doesn’t really have anything to do with what I learned in the garden, though, does it? Sorry. Just thought somebody might like to try that.

Portia McCracken March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Leeks!! Good grief, ladies–grill ’em, oven roast ’em, or add ’em to the pot with your chicken & other root vegs for a great pot roasted chicken or any other meat you can pot roast. Just make sure you wash them REALLY well, as they can be full of sand and will ruin your dish if you aren’t careful. They are well worth the effort, though–very sweet and hearty, much different from onions, especially if oven or pot roasted a bit dry so they can caramelize beautifully and become incredibly tender and good. YUM!!!

Portia McCracken March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Forgot to mention: fried okra is even better if you make sure you use only young, tender ones and leave them whole. Use your favorite recipe for batter/breading (I roll the whole pods in seasoned flour, then beaten eggs, then seasoned corn meal, then fry in bacon grease, if I have it); however, if you keep them whole they don’t soak up so much oil and are wonderful finger food–great for snax or appetizers.

BrownThumbMama March 4, 2011 at 12:53 am

I learned (for the second season in a row) that I’m a terrible potato farmer! Doesn’t matter if they’re in buckets or in the ground–nothing works. Thinking about going for broke and planting them in the front yard this year. Heck, the neighbor has a bunch of fake plastic deer with broken antlers, so it’s not like anybody’s going to complain…

On a brighter note, I harvested my first batch of snow peas today–all two of them. They were delicious though!

JavaLady March 4, 2011 at 1:03 am

What did I learn from last season’s gardening attempts ?? … mostly that our super duper extra hot summer last year, with temps over 110 for 28 days, will kill any and all plants. Burned them up. Crispy. Watering and shading did not help. The only thing to survive were the rosemary, mint, and basil — because they were in pots on the patio. SO… I hope for a much milder summer here in Texas this year.
I do know that this year I want to plant mesclun and get back to growing sprouts in my window sprout jar. Best thing about sprouts ? Moles and bugs and heat do not get them !! LOL

JavaLady March 4, 2011 at 1:06 am

Note to Lynette. Deer do NOT like human hair. They will stay away from your garden patches if you put some hair clippings in your mulch around your plants. Seriously. Next time you go to the hair salon, ask if you can take home a bag of hair clippings n trimmings. Sprinkle around your garden. You could also ask your local County Extension Agent for other ”deer repellent” ideas.

Silverilex March 4, 2011 at 6:38 am

Slice leeks into rings, then saute them with a little oil and/or butter, salt and pepper. Yummy. Can add a dash of cream at the end for creamed leeks. Look up English recipes for more recipes.

Valerie March 4, 2011 at 7:13 am

Heather-even dwarf Marigolds get bushy, don’t be afraid to trim back.

JavaLady, regretfully TX is expecting a long hot summer, I use companion planting and natural shading, planting taller plants by the shorter ones. AND, I use beds/boxes to put trelis’ on the North and South end of some boxes to shade lettuce, and cooler weather crops.

I went to the Library earlier this year and got my hands on a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Garden book, it is interesting to see what he planted and how many. This man LOVED peas, planted many many crops of them. It is also interesting to note there are no entries for his garden in 1776. This book includes entries from other books he kept, like his accounts book, and it also includes what was going on in our young nation at the time.

Candi March 4, 2011 at 7:33 am

We’re in zone 7 in Georgia and I’m still learning what I can plant when. This will be our 3rd year with a garden. Last year my lettuces and spinach bolted since I planted them in Late March, so I’m hoping by planting them March 1 will result in some pretty little lettuces by the middle of April. I can hope, right??? Thanks for sharing your pictures! Love to see the little sprouts!

Ann March 4, 2011 at 7:40 am

I learned a lot in my garden last year – all because of the garden planner that I printed from this website. It was a tremendous help. We live in zone 3-4, so we still have 2-3 feet of snow. We rarely plant before the first of June. However, I started my spinach, lettuce and some root crops as soon as the ground could be worked last year. It was the first time since I have been in New England that I have gotten more than once batch of spinach-I froze it and we are still eating it. Same with broccoli. We had lettuce all year. Many, many beets, carrots and onions (we are just now down to the last dozen onions). We had heard that you can plant potatoes in hay, but I don’t advise it. I always have good luck with potatoes, but got hundreds of potatoes about the size of a quarter. I’ll got back to soil this year.

Valerie, I think Thomas Jefferson was too busy in 1776 to plant a garden 🙂

Emily March 4, 2011 at 8:16 am

Oh speaking of leeks, I made a great tomato-leek pie recipe last year. Don’t know what I did with the recipe, though. That’s what Google is for, right?

FuzzyRaspberry March 4, 2011 at 8:16 am

More soil, more soil, more soil! And more repellents. I planted a nice full bed for salads last year, all heirloom with a few tomato seedlings. Lettuces, cabbage (I love cabbage salad…weird), tomatoes, cucumbers, even a vine of …something, maybe it was pumpkin, and about 5 big seed potatoes. Watered, weeded, loved on it daily for 4 months. Every morning I go outside and just gush over the little seedlings until my family thought I was crazy then head to college. Gardening was a welcomed relief from the social drama that was last semester.

All I got out of it were 10 baby potatoes and 4 small but extremely sweet tomatoes before the ants destroyed everything. This year, everything is going in containers. Even my sunflowers.

Heather March 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Yeah, I know the dwarf get bushy too, but this past season I managed three foot high marigolds, and *that* was ridiculous!

Tanya Walton March 5, 2011 at 2:50 am

Thanks for putting in the zones link..I will be having a good read of that and trying to get my head round it.

Okra sounds interesting…what are it’s growing conditions?? I would love to give it a try.

As for leeks, like Laurel said…they are kind of a mild onion. The reason my Hubby doesn’t like onions is because of that slimy bit in between layers…this you don’t get with leeks. Also because they are milder they are nice to have with meals other than burgers. I often saute a couple of leeks and we have them with a sunday roast.

Basically if you can do it with an onion or spring onion then you can usually use a leek in place of it!!

I personally love asparagus, chicken and leek pie!!

Martha March 6, 2011 at 12:28 am

What I learned? That I don’t need to plant tomatoes. I planted 3 tiny tomato plants two years ago and last year was tomato bonanza–so many plants came back and I’m in zone 5!! This year I’m gonna let the strawberries and the tomatoes duke it out and I’m going to plant a different bed with less unruly plants. Like broccoli and beets. I don’t mind unruly, mind you, its just I really like beets 🙂

Martha March 6, 2011 at 12:35 am

BTW okra is kinduva acquired taste. You have to get past the gagooey stuff that makes even strong stomachs roll a bit. That’s why it is best sliced, battered and fried. Unless you’re making gumbo. Don’t need much for gumbo because that goo goes a long way….

jan March 6, 2011 at 5:11 am

Love fried okra. Might try to plant some this year. I am absolutely going to plant more tomatoes this year. I want to have lots extra to can. I have given up on summer squashes, every year I get a giant, beautiful bush full on blooms….then the baby squash just shrivel up and fall off. It takes up way too much space for the bushes, and nothing produced. This year I am going to try eggplant, since we discovered that we like it better than the squash anyway. My acorn squash did great though and we were eating from those few vines all fall.
It just makes me feel so good to put food on the table that I grew. I remember when I was a kid, and mom would have me go to the garden and weed….I hated it! Now, I find it to be the most relaxing thing to do.

LJ March 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm

What I learned from gardening last year:
1. “Baby” Hubbard is NOT small. The plant took over half my yard, choked my beans, and crawled up to the patio to anchor down the tomatoes–cages and all. It was unstoppable, until…
2. Squash vine borers are impossibly hateful nasty things that can wipe out even the most voracious squash plants. I lost the battle and will not be planting squash for a few years.
3. I’m embarrassingly bad at growing beets, and I have no idea why, since all resources simply say, “Beets are the easiest plants to grow.” I got beautiful leaves and this tiny little woody root that looked nothing like a beet. I did find that I like beet greens 🙂
4. Unlike other posters, I will be planting way more Swiss Chard this year. We ate it all before I had a chance to freeze any for use in the winter.
5. Last year I had 4 okra plants that were so prolific I could barely keep up (Gurney’s Clemson Spineless). Cucumbers like to grow up their sturdy stalks, and lettuce like their shade in the heat of summer. We like it cut and pan fried (no breading, just seasoned) in the mornings to eat with beans and eggs. We also coat the whole pod in olive oil and sea salt and grill it on the BBQ. I’ll be planting a few more this year so we have some to freeze and pickle.

Carmen March 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I’m jealous. I’m in zone 4, so I’m just starting to think about my garden. I’d love to see it sprouting already.
I agree with you on #3. My attempts at starting from seed last year were less than productive. I still ended up getting set plants for most things.

What I learned last year:
1. Like LJ, we want more Swiss chard. It was the only leafy green that escaped from the dreaded bolt and it makes a wonderful addition to chicken lasagna.
2. Need more peas! And beans! These were the most productive and easiest to grow – and we could have used more.
3. Rabbits are discriminate little buggers. They left our entire garden alone (including the lettuce) … except for the beets. We only had a couple of squares dedicated to beets, but ended up with zilch. Very sad.
4. Like Heather, if you don’t get the dwarf variety of marigolds, they will take over your garden (but also look very pretty).
5. If it looks like a tree, then it is. It’s not the herbs you know you planted in that area that never came up.
6. I need to get past the idea of “throwing away” extra plants and just do it. You really don’t want to have multiple butternut squash plants (or any other vine) in the same area. It gets to be spaghetti-looking and you will be over-run with plants.

I have a recipe for a wonderful cream of leek soup. Yum! I just wish ours had survived last year.

Kathi March 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm

fried green tomatoes & okra in bacon grease. I feel my arteries hardening at the thought but, yum.

I’ve about concluded that I should quit planting tomatoes every spring because so many come up volunteer that I am overrun. I love home-grown tomatoes but no longer get the thrill out of canning them that I used to and know that, at some point, I’m going to be throwing them for the dog when I can’t find her tennis ball. I should be ashamed of myself…

One can never have too many clumps of garlic chives or thornless blackberry bushes.

Tag the danged peppers – I may have a cast-iron stomach and be able to see the differences between the varieties but the DIL and neighbors (who also raid my beds) do not and cry pitifully when they mistake a jalepeno for a sweet pepper.

Becky March 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Things I learned about gardening last year…
1. If living on the west side of WA State, learn to enjoy green tomatoes 😉
2. A farm girl from Iowa can always grow sweet corn!
3. Just because you grow up on the farm doesn’t mean your dogs won’t eat your chickens 🙁

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