Lowenfels: Start stepping up the gardening prep

Jeff Lowenfels
John Alvin

There is so much more daylight these days that I swear even the hair on my head has started to grow. Things are melting out there, believe it or not, and even things under snow are reacting to the light. Finally, there are enough hours of it the indoor plants don’t really need to be supplemented any more (that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to continue supplementing both for germinating and for growing seedlings, as you will get better plants).

You know the rule. If you are going to call yourself an Alaska gardener, you have to grow something from seed or start. This week, things really get into swing and the choices open up, not just because the lights requirement has been dropped. Not only can tomatoes and peppers be started, but all sorts of other goodies that don’t require a greenhouse for summer support are also up to bat.

First, as all who listen to The Garden Party (hey, good excuse to peddle the fact that it is starting up again for the season, 10 a.m. Saturday, April 6,  on KBYR AM-700), knows I am crazy about baked kale or kale slathered with olive or coconut oil and baked for five minutes at 375 degrees or so. Nothing is better, however, than fresh, home-grown kale. Now is the time to start yours, and it is a no-fail plant to grow.

There are lots of varieties of kale available, and each and every one will be attractive in a container setting should you desire to mix and match edibles with ornamentals. You are not limited here by either greenhouse or garden and can grow yours on the deck. Don’t limit yourself to one variety, either. Crinkled, smooth, variegated, red and white — the world of kale has gone crazy in the past few years.

This is also the time to start Brussels sprouts (which by the way, can be cooked exactly the same way: single leaves dipped in olive oil and baked). These are really a late fall crop, so they are going to be around a long time should you decide to start your own. Don’t bother starting them unless you are going to give them the care and feeding they require to produce. We still have eight weeks or so indoors before transplanting.

Still, if you want a special variety of Brussels sprout, now is the time to act. Local nurseries have starts and seeds. All will do just fine here. Incidentally, I did see an interesting set of container gardens with Brussels sprouts providing the vertical element. They looked great and added the edible element that is becoming the rage in display containers.

Lots of folks try their hand at lupine once they see the displays along the highway. These are nitrogen-fixing legumes and can put on quite a display. Unfortunately, they are a bit finicky to get growing and take up a bit of room when they do. They don’t like transplanting. Still, if you can find a  big container, it is possible to grow a spectacular display if you start now. Use local soil if possible in your mix. Roll seed in mychorrizal fungi and nitrogen fixing bacteria. Soak seed for 36 hours in warm water (use a thermos).

I love pansies. Perhaps it is because they usually come in colors that my color blind father could see ,so we had them all over the place. Now I wonder if it was their color or their ease of growth that made dad like them so much. 

Pansies take a bit of time to germinate and grow to decent size, so get going on them now. There are literally hundreds of different color combinations to choose from. Look for your school colors to put in pots or something that will fit in with your landscaped gardens. Who knows, maybe you will find one that does both. There are plenty of choices.

Parsley is another plant that takes a long time to get growing but is well worth the effort once it does. Again, this is a seed that will grow into a plant that will do great in a large container or out in the garden. Personally, I love munching on a sprig while puttering around and little ever makes it to a plate. 

Finally, if you are so inclined, head lettuces need a long start, so now is the time. These fit in to what seems to be a theme: edible plants that you can grow with ornamentals. Its a direction that gardeners seem to be heading. (Read Rosalind Creasy’s blog, rosalindcreasy.com, and her book “Edible Landscaping.”) 

Anyhow, head lettuces are beautiful. They take some care to be that way, so they are not for everyone. Still, the hues of green and red available make them blend in or stand out in a container garden. Some would say success depends on what kind of slug season we have, and that may be correct, but at least with a container full of other plants, you have a fighting chance for a decent salad no matter what.


Jeff Lowenfels is author of “Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to The Soil Food Web.” 


 Garden calendar

Veggies to start: Peppers, tomatoes, kale, Brussels sprouts

Herbs to start: Parsley

Flowers to start: Tuberous begonias, pansies and viola, petunia, cosmos, aster, phlox, celosia, malva, salvia, lupine,snapdragons, ageratum, seed dahlias, godetia, matricaria

Alaska Master Gardeners Conference: Saturday, April 6, Palmer Community Center. Keynote speaker is Tim Meyers of Meyers Farm in Bethel and topics will include sustainable Alaska agriculture, backyard seed collecting, chickens, native pollinators and fruit growing. Space is limited. Go to www.matsumastergardeners.org to register and see the complete schedule of events. 

Garden Lessons Learned Along the Way: 10 a.m. Saturday. Alaska Mill and Feed. Robbie Frankevich has been designing, installing and managing gardens in Alaska for more than 20 years. Get inspired by a great slideshow and learn some of the secrets of this inspired gardener. Class is free; call 276-6016 to register.

Dahlias, DahliAs, Dahlias: 10 a.m. April 6, Alaska Mill and Feed. Join Alaska State Fair winners, the Morrows, to learn to divide, plant, grow and store beautiful tubers. Dahlias make a great cut flower and bright addition to every garden. Class is free; call 276-6016 to register.