Creek County Master Gardener: Cool Season Crops

Kathy Berryhill
Creek County Master Gardener

Mother Nature is teasing gardeners with periods of sunshine and some temperatures in the 60s.  With the warmer weather, a gardener’s thoughts can quickly turn to planting and cultivating.  However, we all know that true warmth is several weeks away and annual plants cannot tolerate the freezing temperatures that will be interspersed with our warming weather. 

Red Potatoes

Growing cool-season vegetables is a valid consideration though.  Just be prepared to cover if temperatures take an Arctic plunge.  There are many choices of produce that can be successfully grown now.  The OSU Extension Fact Sheet HLA-6004 lists February 15 through March 10th as the correct time of planting for cool-season crops.  So what vegetables can be grown now? 

Potatoes:  Gardening lore suggests planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day. Is there truth in this myth?  Knowing that the 4” ground temperature needs to be 50 degrees or more for potatoes helps verify when to plant. reports our ground temperature as 45 degrees, so it’s still a little early.  The Farmer’s Almanac publishes a gardening calendar based on moon cycles, which have an effect on the internal circadian rhythms of plants (who knew?). The Best Planting Days Calendar suggests that planting root crops on March 15-16 will do well.  Combining the data from these sources help gardeners know when to plant. 

Potatoes: Prepare for planting by purchasing seed potatoes, which are available from local sources now. (Store bought potatoes may have a sprout inhibitor sprayed on them that prohibits growth).  Examine the potato for “eyes”.  An eye is an indention on a potato, from which will produce a sprout.  Potatoes can be planted whole or in sections.  If you are wanting to plant sections, prepare the potato 1-2 days ahead by cutting the potato with a sharp knife.  Each section should contain one or two eyes.  The cut potato will “heal” by forming a protective layer over the cut surface, which will help rot resistance.  Potatoes should be planted in a location with at least 6 hours of sunshine.  Potatoes can be planted in rows about 3 feet apart.  Dig a hole 6’ wide and 8” deep.  Place a potato section, cut side down, every 12″ and cover with 3″ of soil.  A couple of weeks later, add more soil.  Repeat until the trench is at ground level or mounding.  Mulching between rows Helps to conserve moisture and controls weeds.  Potato harvest can begin in late June when the foliage has died back.  Potatoes do not have to all be harvested at the same time and should harden off in the ground, which will prolong storage.

Onions:  Sets or bunches?  Good question, but not as important as making sure that onions are planted in nutrient rich soil.  To differentiate between sets and bundles, know that onion sets are small, dry onion bulbs which had been grown the previous year.  They are so easy to grow!   Just buy a small bag of small,  compact onion sets.  Then push each bulb 1” into rich, damp soil (pointy side up).  Make sure just the top of the bulb is showing and it should quickly begin growing.  Onion bunches are groups of onion plants with tops which are usually secured together with a rubber band.  The onion bunch may appear dry and pale but that is because it is dormant.  Each plant should grow well once planted.   As the green tops grow, it can be snipped off and used as scallions (green onions).  Onion crops have shallow roots, and consistent moisture is important.  Harvest when the bulbs are big and the tops begin to turn yellow.    

Asparagus:  Homegrown asparagus is very flavorful.  New hybrid varieties like Jersey Hybrid resists most diseases.  Plant asparagus at the back of the garden to enjoy the tall, fern-like growth.  To plant, dig a large hole (8”-12”), k[;ace the root in the ground and backfill 1/3 of the depth with soil.  Follow up with additional soil as asparagus grows.  To allow for root development, harvest very little of the plant the first year.

Lettuce crops:  Arugula, spinach, head lettuce, romaine, and loose leaf are among some of the favorites.  Straight row sowing is utilized in larger farming environments to allow for machinery, but seeds in our gardens can be broadcast over prepared soils. It is important to read and follow seed packet directions, especially adhering to the practice of thinning seedlings.  Plants need adequate space for growth and use of nutrients. Lettuces will bolt (go to seed) as temperatures rise.    

Strawberries:  This fun, tasty, easy to grow crop can be planted now, and most varieties are June bearing.  Some varieties will keep producing.  It is recommended to remove the buds of any variety the first year to encourage roots.  With patience, the purchase of one plant could result in multiple plants next year.  Strawberries spread by runners that travel away from the mother plant. 

So yes.  Gardeners can begin our favorite activity of digging in the dirt now!

Mark your calendar!  The Creek County Master Gardeners will hold a seed starting class on Saturday, March 18th.  The class will begin at 10 AM and will be held at the Creek County Fairgrounds Dining Hall.  Seeds and soil will be provided, but if you have containers like cardboard egg cartons please bring them.  Light snacks will be provided.

WATCH THIS SPACE: Regular updates from our Creek County Master Gardener start next week! Tune in to see Kathy Berryhill give all the best gardening advice as we head into spring!