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Early season wakes up green thumbs

Unseasonably warm weather has gardeners thinking about planting


The beautiful and unseasonably warm weather this February and March has turned everyone’s minds to spring. Gardeners start to think about seeds — buying them, germinating them and growing them into delicious vegetables (or beautiful flowers).

I believe that the major reward for garden work should be fantastic meals, so I hit the seed catalogs to find the most reliable and tastiest crops I can grow.

A number of seed catalogs sell seeds of vegetables well adapted to our climate. Territorial Seed Company (territorialseed.com), Nichol’s Garden Nursery (nicholsgardennursery.com), and Adaptive Seeds (adaptiveseeds.com) are based in Oregon and sell varieties that produce well even with our cooler summer nights. Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) and Fedco Seeds (fedcoseeds.com) in Maine also sell northern varieties that thrive both in the Northwest and Northeast. These seed suppliers provide some varieties of vegetables that have stood out for us in the past 25 years. They are adapted to our growing conditions, easy to grow and delicious.

Sweet peppers can be challenging to grow in western Oregon gardens, since they love heat. We have always had great luck with a variety from Johnny’s called Ace. Ace is a sweet bell pepper that starts green and ripens to red in August and September. The plants are compact, but they produce prolifically. Ace peppers are medium in size and tasty.

Growing flavorful tomatoes can also be challenging in a region with cool nights. I am never disappointed by the flavor of cherry tomatoes. One of my new favorite cherry tomato varieties, Pink Princess Gene Pool, is available from Fedco Seeds.

The size and shape of these cherries varies from one plant to the next, but the flavor is outstanding. It may even be better than Sungold cherry tomato! For gardeners at higher altitudes who struggle to ripen larger tomatoes or those that want earlier ripe tomatoes, New Girl from Johnny’s is a tasty early type. Similar to Early Girl in the size of the fruit and days to maturity, it has better flavor.

Don’t forget greens when you plan your garden. Kale is easy to grow in the Northwest and plants seeded in March will usually provide greens all summer and continue to produce through the winter as well, with no protection from cold temperatures. Nichol’s Garden Nursery offers Red Ursa, a frilly, productive and beautiful kale, which makes delicious kale chips. Lettuce grows especially well in the spring, but can be reseeded every two weeks or so for continuous harvest all summer. Two of my favorite varieties are Red Sails, an old-fashioned red leaf lettuce that grows well in almost all conditions, and Forellenschluss (also known as Flashy Trout’s Back), a green romaine splashed with burgundy, which grows best in cooler weather. Both varieties are available from Territorial Seeds.

If you are not able to start these vegetables from seed, you can buy starts to transplant later in the spring. Root crops, however, grow best from seeds started in your garden where they will spend their lives. Mokum, a delicious variety of carrot available from Johnny’s, is early, crunchy and sweet. Carrot seed takes a long time to germinate — usually about two weeks — but as long as the soil stays moist, it should emerge. Beets are a little quicker to germinate. Red Ace, available from Johnny’s or Territorial, is a variety that is easy to grow and pretty to look at. Make sure you tamp down the soil over the beet seed to aid germination.

It’s still a bit early to directly seed beets and carrots outside, but gardeners can plant radishes, turnips, bok choy, peas, lettuce, spinach, onion sets and early potatoes.

There are other outstanding seed companies that sell varieties that thrive in the Northwest. I like to buy from companies that do not sell GMO seeds and that supply organic seeds when they are available. Buying from small seed companies that support local seed growers helps to preserve family farms and farmland.

I will be teaching a gardening class at Portland Nursery. There will be a class at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 22.

Polly Gottesman runs Pumpkin Ridge Gardens, a year-round CSA outside of North Plains.

Make some kale chips

n Ingredients: Kale, olive oil, salt, pepper and grated parmesan cheese.

n Directions: Tear kale leaves off stems and into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently. Spread kale onto a baking sheet and place under a broiler set on high. Cook for 2-3 minutes (until kale starts to brown), turn kale over and replace under broiler. Brown other side of kale, remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. The kale will not all be crisp, some leaves will be limp with crisp edges but still tasty. Serve warm.

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