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Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentines Day - Time for Pea Planting!

Healthy pea seedlings.
Garden tips for Peas: In our region (Zone 8a - USDA Hardiness Map), its ideal to plant peas around Valentine's Day. This gives them the best head start for blooming in time for the longest possible harvest season. The problem is that, here in Alpine/Monroe, Oregon, the soil is often very wet and cold this time of year and, even if you get a good start sowing seeds directly in the soil, the March and April rains can retard their growth significantly, the seedlings can rot off at soil-level, or slugs can decimate your starts.

If you have raised beds, direct sowing shouldn't be an issue but if, like us, you don't have that luxury, here's a method we've used successfully for several years  to deal with these challenges:

You'll need:
  • Seeds (link to article on saving your own pea-seeds)
  • Soil
  • 4" pots (6" deep) - the deeper pots give more time before plants become root-bound.
Fill pots to within a half-inch of the top. Gently tamp down soil so it doesn't settle too far when you water it.

Poke two seeds, in opposite corners, about the depth of one knuckle (3/4" or so). That's two seeds per pot. This gives each plant enough soil to germinate and grow to several inches in height before you transplant. Cover the seeds with soil so they're not exposed to sun. Water them gently. Do not over-water. Seedlings can rot if soil is too damp.
Note: Since having written this article, we have now shifted to planting two seeds per pot but do not have photos to reflect this.
Keep the potted seeds protected from marauding slugs and mice by putting them up on a table, or putting a milk-carton collar around them. (Link to post on Re-Purposing Things - including milk-cartons as collars). If you're planting earlier than mid-February, you'll need a greenhouse to protect them and keep soil in pots warm enough for germination. If you wait until mid-February, pots can often be outside in a sunny place, protected from north winds.

When they are at least 6", and no longer than 12", you can put them in your garden, or greenhouse beds. Best to wait until their root-systems are quite dense in the pots -- almost "root-bound". They will be easier to transplant without damaging the plants. On the other-hand, if you wait until the stems are too long, you risk breaking stems during transplanting so it's a matter of finding the right balance.

Pea-seedlings in pots.
Transplanting: Plant each 4" pot (with its two seedlings) about 8"- 10" apart with bamboo stakes or other climbing trellis in between each clump of starts. Pea-plants are not typically transplanted but sowed directly in place. They are very susceptible to shock so be gentle with the roots and stems. Best to have your trellis in place before you transplant so you don't injure roots driving in the stakes. If slugs, bunnies or birds are a big issue in your area (they all love to nibble pea-seedlings!), planting them in the milk-carton collars can make a big difference. We also typically sprinkle about a teaspoon of iron-phosphate ("Sluggo") around each bunch of plants. This is an organically-approved way of dealing with slug/snail infestations in your garden. (LINK to article about iron phosphate).

Good idea to have trellis in place before you transplant peas (so you're less likely to damage roots).
The plants will go through a little stress from transplanting but once they acclimatize to their new environment they'll be well along the way to yielding a bounteous and long-term harvest!

Chris and Jesse transplanting in the Alpine Garden - 2010.
Pea-vines headed for the compost pile. Peas, being legumes are able to add nitrogen to your soil through a symbiotic relationship with organisms that grow on their roots. This will help improve your soil, particularly if you leave the roots in the ground when you cut down the "greens" to add to your compost pile.

Other relevant posts for early-spring gardening:

Sprouting potatoes? What to do.

Onions - Growing From Seed


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Can I Speed Up Potato Sprouting?

Sorted potatoes and ripe Roma tomatoes
 Here's another question about growing potatoes:
"We just discovered that we can plant Irish potatoes at the end of this month, and were wondering if it is possible to sprout some of the ones from the grocery store (to have them ready by the end of this month).  I checked my potato bin in the pantry, and some potatoes have little eyes.....could I put a potato in some water, or would that just make them rot?" Ginny Lindsay - Paris Tennessee
Potatoes have a natural dormancy from the time they are harvested to when they begin to sprout, starting their next growth cycle. This can only be modified slightly by storage conditions. Though this dormancy varies from variety to variety, six-months is about average.

Sprouting potato, before dividing.
You can speed up the sprouting process slightly with increased moisture and warmth but putting them in standing water would lead to rot. We have had good success at layering potatoes in damp leaves and bringing them indoors to induce sprouting. Potatoes like to sprout in the dark however so don't expose them to light until the have begun to sprout. When the sprouts are about a half-inch (1 cm) long, they are an ideal length for "chitting". (See this blog-post for more details on chitting).

It is always best to use organically grown potatoes for seed as chemically grown potatoes have often been sprayed with a sprout retardant. While it doesn't usually stop potatoes from sprouting entirely, it can seriously slow them down.

Sprouting potato, after dividing. Each chunk is at least as big as a chicken's egg and has one or more sprouts.
Most varieties of potatoes take about 13 weeks to 17 weeks to mature. We like to stagger our plantings for several reasons. Planting succession crops gives you fresh-dug potatoes over a longer season. Also, if you save the seed-size potatoes out of each digging, they will naturally begin to sprout in succession too meaning that you will always have sprouting potatoes, ready for planting for next year's cycle of staggered crops.

Links to our other potato blogs, go to:
Sprouting Potatoes? What to do.

How to Plant Potatoes 
Planting Potatoes in Clay Soil

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