Saturday, March 12, 2011

What to Plant Now? 3/12/11

An elementary school teacher asked me what can be raised on school grounds that can be harvested during the school year, and I thought my reflections would be of interest to others.

A blend of leaf lettuce, available from every seed supply company, is always plantable. It takes roughly six weeks from sowing to harvest, and each harvest lasts several weeks of pick-and-renew before it turns bitter. So I sow lettuce seeds about every three weeks almost year round. There is plenty of time now to enjoy the harvest before the end of the school year. If enough is sown, a class could go out and each student pick one leaf of the best lettuce she or he has ever eaten -- good motivation to go home and help start a family garden!

Pac choi can be sown now to expect a harvest before the school year ends. This isn't as pleasant for a variety of people to nibble as lettuce. I much prefer it cooked, and that means much of it "disappears."

I'm sowing Sugar Ann seeds now, for harvest in late May or early June. Sugar Spring will also do. Neither needs any staking and both are good for beginning gardeners. Peas and beans add nitrogen to the soil, which is good for a crop that might be planted later in the same place after the pea plants die (which is in plenty of time for a successor crop for peas the same year).

Broccoli is harvested before the school year ends IF it is grown successfully. The past two years woodchucks have eaten mine, but today I'm going to pick up human hair from the shop where my hair is cut. They seem happy to help me, and it has kept the critters off the crop in the past. The problems are two-fold: it must be replaced after every rain, and it looks -- well -- unsightly.

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant started now should still be available when school starts in September if they are well mulched for the summer. I mulch with grass clippings and practically never need to water my garden in recent years. Throughout my decades of gardening, I was free to leave the state for three weeks and experience little damage when I returned. Small tomatoes are great for kids (of all ages) to nibble; my favorites are Sweet 100 and sun gold. Peppers can be cut up and handed around raw. Eggplants are very pretty, but I haven't heard of anyone eating them raw, although I don't remember a health prohibition for doing so. I suggest that someone should visit such a garden at least once a month during the summer to renew the grass clippings.

People not on school grounds are welcome to use these ideas too! Some people vacation for the summer and may find them useful. If you go for more than a month, put down a very heavy mulch before you leave and see if you can get a neighbor to mulch occasionally for the reward of picking ripe veggies.

At least two Montclair schools are hoping to set up community gardens on their grounds this year; if you are interesting in participating, let me know, and I'll give your email address to the teacher-organizers.


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