The Garden Patch: It’s time to smell like dirt

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Here’s some advice from Margaret Atwood: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Spring is here!

As we travel along through the plants in the garden, let’s visit about an old standby – asparagus. Love it or leave it … I used to not touch the stuff but now I have a four-foot by eight-foot garden dedicated to it and just can’t wait till the first spears are ready! So, here we go …

Asparagus is a perennial crop that can produce for 20 years or more and requires little care. Your local extension office can recommend the best varieties for this area, and so can some of the seed catalogs that seem to clog your mailbox early in the year. When purchasing, be sure to select varieties that are resistant to serious diseases like rust and Fusarium wilt. Also, there are male and female plants to select from. Select ONLY male plants because they will produce more. Asparagus does best in full sun but can tolerate a little light shade and it likes fertile soil – but it does best sheltered from strong winds. Choose your site accordingly.

Plant one-year-old dormant asparagus crowns in spring as soon as your ground is dry enough to dig in. Dig a furrow 6 inches deep and at least a foot wide for the crowns. Use your spading fork to make certain the soil is loose to a depth of about one foot below the surface.

Add a 1-inch layer of compost to the furrow along with a pound of bone meal per 20 square feet of area. Mix the above amendments into the soil at the bottom of the furrow. Also add compost to the soil you have removed from the trench.

Ruth Stout sez, “I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose, I’d always greet it in the garden.”

050814-cabbageCabbage

Yours truly happens to be of German descent, so one of my favorite veggies is CABBAGE! Pac choi, napa cabbage, choy sum and tatsoi are some of the most popular Asian cabbages. Compared to the familiar heading “cabbage,” they have subtly different flavors and textures and are easier to grow. Why not try more than one cabbage type this year?

Cabbage needs full sun and rich, well drained soil. Add one shovelful of compost to each planting hole as you plant your transplants. If you’re working with poor soil (did someone say “clay”?) amend the planting area with about 3 pounds of alfalfa meal per 100 square feet of planting area at planting time.

Check the seed packet for specific planting times. Asian cabbages may be direct-seeded as soon as the soil can be worked outside. If you want to grow the cabbage in the fall, timing will vary with the variety you are planting.

When planting time arrives put a cut worm collar around each transplant. On hot days, shade the seedbeds or young plants until they become adapted to the garden. Rotate cabbage family crops each year because they are heavy feeders and you will lessen the chances of soil borne diseases. You can cover the seedbeds or transplants with row covers and seal the edges to keep out pests. If you can’t seal the edges or cover the crops, spray a garlic or hot pepper spray to deter aphids and other pests … but do not use on leafy crops that are close to harvest.

Problems? If you have large holes in your cabbage leaves, cabbage loopers, imported cabbage worms or slugs or snails may be chewing on them. Look for green caterpillars with white stripes on your plants – these are cabbage loopers. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars and should be handpicked as you find them. Since snails and slugs feed at night you may not find them on your plants – but you’ll probably find silvery slime trails on the plants. Battle these guys the same as if they were on your asparagus.

When do I harvest? When regular cabbage heads reach the size of a softball, squeeze them to test firmness. On napa cabbage, check when heads are about 12” tall. A firm head is ready to be cut. Begin cutting individual outer leaves of leafy types about one month after planting or use the cut-and-come-again technique.

OK! Now you’re ready for asparagus and cabbage! These are two favorites that you don’t want to miss! Remember that asparagus needs to go in a year before the taste buds are ready for it so start planning and digging!

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading! Till next week!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.


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