March 20, 2015
One glorious March day, my mom suggested hiking to a spring on our Sonoma ranch. My siblings and I set off, our retriever happily setting the pace. At the spring, she called “Look what’s in season!” There at our feet was a carpet of watercress. We harvested as much as we could carry back. Supper that night was a deliciously piquant, creamy cress soup. I was learning to chase the season.
When soil temperatures begin to average between 40 and 60 degrees, usually March in Marin, conditions are favorable to germinate the seeds of cool season crops such as beets, carrots, peas, herbs and leafy greens such as cress, chard, spinach and lettuce. This is what to plant now in your vegetable gardens.
When soil temperatures rise to optimally between 65 and 80 degrees, usually the middle of May in Marin, plant warm season crops such as tomatoes, corn, squash and green beans.
Home vegetable gardens present a universe of gastronomic pleasures for seasonal feasting. In your vegetable garden, chase the season by foraging each morning to harvest something for dinner. Assemble the daily harvest on your kitchen counter and let the palette inspire you to make something wonderful.
Just-picked fruits and vegetables taste so much better. Planting your vegetable garden now means harvesting in one to two months; radishes in 30 days, leafy greens and peas in 60 days and beets and carrots in 60 to 90 days. Because fruits and vegetables require good management to thrive and produce, how you plant matters. In Marin, March daylight hours lengthen, soil temperatures rise and soil is moist, not soggy, permitting air circulation around young roots.
To plant, work 4 inches of compost into the soil, loosening and mixing the top 8 inches of planting area with a shovel. To plant seeds, follow the directions on the seed packet, paying careful attention to seed depth. Make a planting hole with your finger to the recommended depth, drop in the seed and cover with soil, firming the soil over the seed. If you are guessing on depth, stop. Take a brand new pencil and measure the eraser end of the pencil marking it with a black sharpie at different planting depths and poke your planting hole with it. After seeding, water like a gentle rain and keep the area moist as seeds sprout.
Don’t forget to exercise patience, especially with slow-to-germinate seeds like carrots that can take as long as 21 days to sprout. When seedlings are a couple of inches high, begin to water less frequently and more deeply. Protect your seedlings from pests (birds, snails and weeds) using barriers as needed.
March is also a good time to plant asparagus crowns, rhubarb crowns and artichoke crowns. Asparagus and rhubarb need three years to grow before you harvest, but they reward with years of harvests to come. Artichokes will produce a first-year harvest. Strawberries, blueberries and berries are also best planted now.
To learn more, go to www.marinmg.org and click on the home page link to “Growing Edibles”. On that next page, click on “Backyard to Belly”, a UC Marin Master Gardeners’ online publication of grow sheets for vegetables and fruits to get you chasing the seasons and enjoying fruits and vegetables grown at home.