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So here we are, in the heart of winter, or what we desert denizens call winter, and that means it’s time to start planning the spring garden. I spent the holidays in way upstate New York. Up there, the best anyone can do now is ogle gardening catalogs. Not that we Mojave gardeners don’t do that too, but here, we can grow things pretty much anytime. For us, it’s more like – look at the catalog, buy the seeds, plant them right away. During late winter and early spring, it’s possible to plant a whole range of different things. When I teach, my mantra is – cool for roots and leaves.

If you love turnips or turnip greens, you should be delighted, because this is your time. In fact, almost all members of that family have edible leaves – cabbage, collards and kale, of course, but even broccoli leaves can work well in a stir-fry, or a salad when they’re still young. All those things we love for their leaves, lettuce, chard, spinach, or root vegetables, (think about carrots, parsnips, beets) they thrive when the weather’s a bit chilly.

As long as nighttime temperatures aren’t any cooler than about 40° Fahrenheit, seedlings of most of these veggies will flourish. It’s a good idea to start the leafies indoors, just to give them a solid beginning. Root vegetables aren’t generally good candidates for transplanting, though. Better to put them in the ground directly.  

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Since most of us aren’t growing veggies for profit, we don’t need to be too terribly fastidious. We’re allowed to make the occasional mistake. How else do we get those happy surprises? For instance, I planted a few lettuce seeds in a raised bed the end of last August. Never would I advise that, but I finished making salads with those plants in December. They were fine.

Even though we can rarely give them ideal conditions outdoors, many vegetable plants, especially the cool season ones, are pretty forgiving. Provide them with cool (not freezing) and moist (but not wet) conditions; that’ll satisfy most of their needs.

It’s no secret - I’m a true believer in edible landscapes. Why grow something if you can’t eat it? Fortunately, so many veggies are lovely – deep purple leaves (lettuce, beets, basil) intermixed with green - that’s a delight to see. I’m not crazy about the taste of rainbow chard, but I’ll always plant some, because it’s gorgeous.

To keep these all these things growing through chilly temperatures, and prevent pests from eating them later, many people recommend using a light row cover, which you can buy online. It’s a bit warmer under the cover, and many insects don’t perceive anything tasty underneath. With our winds, though, row cover can take flight, so use some kind of peg to hold it down. There’s a few different stakes available, but I just take a wire hanger (the type you get at the dry cleaners) cut it into 10” pieces, bend them over and poke them in. Not elegant, but effective. I also use them for holding down irrigation tubing in my raised beds.

When you’re growing anything for its leaves, make sure the soil is well amended. Remember, compost is your good friend. Always stir some in before you plant.

Once things are in the ground, place mulch between the rows. You’ll conserve water and keep your soil temperatures from dropping quite so much.

Ok. Now that it’s legal, several people have asked me about growing marijuana. I’m no expert on cannabis. It is certainly a plant, and in its earlier incarnation, was called “ditch weed”, which may give an indication of how easy it was to grow. That’s not what anybody’s looking for now, so most information on production is for hydroponics or greenhouses. 

It isn’t criminal in Nevada, but the federal government still has it listed as a dangerous narcotic. Cooperative Extension is partly governed by the USDA, so until the feds come to their senses, I need to be a little hands-off. Sorry.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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