Kachemak Gardener: Will a pandemic inspire you to plant a vegetable garden?

So, a pandemic. Is this what it will take to convince you to plant a vegetable garden? A well thought out vegetable garden, not a panic garden. A garden that will nourish your body and soul in troubled times. A garden that is manageable; that is suited for our long days and short cool nights; a garden that makes your heart sing. You can do this and I will do my best to help you along the way. The time is now.

I stepped away from Homer and had a visit with our daughter Andrea and her family in the Bellingham area. Always a good thing to stay in touch with granddaughters, but that meant the tomatoes wouldn’t get started until this week, putting them almost a month behind schedule. Hmm. I do love our tomatoes. My neighbor, Karen, came to my rescue. She is an excellent gardener and offered to take the freshly planted seeds and let them germinate and, ultimately, live on her dining room table. No lights, just the windows.

Now, if you have been reading this column since 1990, you will know how strongly I feel about supplemental lighting when starting seeds. Strongly. But, there I was, in a difficult situation, wanting my own tomatoes, not being here. Get the picture? I was holding my breath when I retrieved the seedlings, not knowing what to expect. They are just fine and I thank Karen from the bottom of my heart. I hope you all have a neighbor that can tend your plants in a pinch. I have two and try not to lean on them, alternating between the two when March gets oppressive and I need to flee.

I took the seedlings and potted them into rectangular containers about three inches by two by an inch and a half. I filled them with potting soil, laid the seedling on its side and covered the stem with soil. Roots will develop along the stem. When I plant them in the greenhouse about the first of April, I will bury the stem again, reinforcing the root system that much more. For now they are under lights in the guest room.

If you are using lights, be sure to check the moisture level every single day. Lights can dry out seedlings fast and that is perilous.

Now that the tomatoes were under control the alliums were the next seeds to be addressed. Once again, I’m running late, the price to pay for stepping away. But I have been thinking the last two or three years that I start the onions, shallots, and leeks too early so this is a good time to experiment.

Last year I had a disaster with the alliums. They were too crowded and I didn’t do anything about that. I needed to transplant them to larger containers but I didn’t want to use more potting soil, and I was running out of space in the greenhouse. They languished. They suffered. They almost died. Horrors. This will not happen this year.

That said, if you are determined to start plants from seed, the above mentioned are all you need to get started now, oh — and artichokes. Remember, you will use the local nurseries to buy your starts this year. They will offer you gorgeous, strong, healthy seedlings that will thrive instead of weak, floppy, miserable specimens that you have started yourself. Keep this in mind.

Here at elevation 396 feet I shoot for the middle of May to set out seedlings that will be covered with floating row cover. Put floating row cover on your list; it is invaluable. It will increase the soil temperature by about 4 degrees and protect the tender plants from wind and pest damage.

But this brings me to seeds. There is so very much that you can start directly in the ground from seed. Any and all of the greens that you can appreciate in salads, radish, potatoes, carrots, fennel (plant a short row every ten days), peas — always peas — beets. Cover the whole works with floating row cover and wait for the magic.

Quite frankly readers I’m having trouble writing this column tonight, so I looked back at what I was doing last year. Well, there you go. I was pruning trees and shrubs because there wasn’t any snow. This year we’re faced with a real March. Real snow, deep. There is no fussing with the roses. John has packed down a trail to the greenhouse and dug out the door. This hasn’t been necessary in about five years. We gardeners have been spoiled by climate change. And, worse, we don’t know what to expect. March is a mean, backhanded month at its best. It has even inflicted a pandemic.

Good luck.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.