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Early March For The Vegetable Gardener

This is the third article in a series by Sissy McKenzie, Behnke’s Beltsville Garden Center manager.  (In February there was “Time to start your cool-season vegetables indoors” and then “Select your direct-sow seeds now”).  She’s a life-long vegetable gardener.

March is Tricky
I know with the warm days you think winter is over, but this last week was a reminder that it’s not. For most of us, St. Patrick’s Day is the time to start planting. March is one of the months that will take you by surprise because the weather is so variable: it can be a lion to start, or a lamb—you never know. So be patient; it will show its true colors soon.

Here at the nursery, we check the 10-day weather forecast regularly. The main thing we keep an eye on are cold night temperatures, especially nights that are forecast to be below freezing. It has a lot of influence on what we put out for sale, and what we recommend that people plant.

Your Indoor Seed Operation
For those of you who have not started their seeds indoors, you should still do it now. (Or if you prefer to buy plant “starts” – the plants already a few inches tall – it’s still a bit early to do that – wait until mid-March.)

You’ll soon see your sown seeds emerge from the soil – this is germination. Remember sunlight is important (once the plants are up, you need as much as possible). Also, since these are cool-crop vegetable seedlings, temperatures below 65 are important. The best plan is to put them outside during the day, giving them a chance to adjust to higher light and wind, as described in the previous article. Think of these as newly-born children: you need to give them water, sunlight, and nutrition.

Prepping the Garden

Now your gardening pleasure begins, starting with tilling the soil in your vegetable garden. In my garden at home, we prepare the area by adding compost (a necessity if you have clay soil) and dolomitic lime (because our soil needed it) before tilling, around March 1st.

To find out if your soil needs lime, use a simple soil test, which you can find online. Lime serves two functions; it provides calcium and magnesium for your plants, two essential elements for growth, and it makes the soil less acid. That said, too much lime can cause problems, so follow the instructions and rate listed on the bag.

Also, don’t till or work the soil when it is muddy; wait until it has dried out some to avoid compacting the soil.

When March 15th comes you want your soil to be ready for your plants. We till on March 1st so that we can get a second till in before planting to make sure soil is nice and blended before we put in plants. It also allows us to plant a little earlier if the weather is going to be fairly nice.

So Come Get your Plants
It’s time for you to shop for seeds! You want the best selection of warm-season vegetable seeds, including tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and okra, plus a few flowering plants to mix in with the vegetables you will be growing.

Yes, you can mix vegetables and flowering plants! Why not have beautiful flowers along with your beautiful vegetables? We grow zinnias, marigolds, bachelors’ buttons, salvia and others for color, and they provide the centerpiece for our table. What a table of bounty: a beautiful harvest flowers and freshly harvested vegetables.

As I promised, here is the first of many of my family’s recipes. I hope you enjoy it.

Fried Cabbage & Bacon


1 1b of bacon

1 large or 2 small heads of cabbage

1-2 cups of water

1 large onion

Salt to taste

Fry the 1 lb of bacon in large tall skillet. While your bacon in cooking cut up your cabbage into large shavings. You can do this easily by cutting against the leaf of the cabbage.

Now chop your onion into small pieces.

Once you’ve cooked all your bacon set it aside. Once it has cooled, crumble it to mix into the finished dish.

Add the onion to the skillet of oil and bacon drippings. Cook on medium for a few seconds then put in your cabbage shavings.

Add 1 cup of water. This will help remove all those wonderful drippings off the bottom of the pan and onto your vegetables.

Bring to a boil let boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until cabbage is tender. Mix in crumbled bacon then serve.

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