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Lowenfels: Flowers can wait; it's time to think about vegetable seeds

Jeff Lowenfels

For some reason, most folks don't think twice about starting flower seeds this time of year. No doubt this has to do with our primal need for color and garden beauty. Consequently, I get all sorts of requests for information about starting flower seeds.

Vegetable seeds, on the other hand are difficult to sell right now and almost no one ever asks when to start them indoors until it is way too late. Perhaps this is because Alaskans feel they have no need for fresh produce from the garden, our requirements finally satiated (even in the winter) by local supermarkets and specialty markets. Let me try and push two, nonetheless.

First, as my grandfather would say because it was so risqué to do so in front of his grandchildren, "How about a good pea?" More specifically, why not start some seeds of any of the peas, particularly the pod ones: snap peas, sugar peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas and Chinese peas. Any and all of these can be purchased locally, and all of them can be started now in individual containers or cell packs. They are all easy to grow.

You may have already started sweet peas specifically because they can be pinched back to increase flowering branches, and more and more of us now mark them as the first seeds of all to start. Vegetable peas are almost the very same plant. And, just as planting sweet peas early results in earlier flowers, the same is true with peas. As with sweet peas, you actually should pinch off the growing tips of garden peas so that you will increase yields when the flowers start to develop into pods.

Again, the list of pod peas is almost endless. It didn't use to be so. Take advantage and grow several different types. Just be warned that most won't make it to the table as they all be eaten fresh off the vines. Any of the snap peas you find will do very well here. I like the bush varieties over the pole varieties because they seem to be easier to start indoors.

The second vegetable to consider is the fava bean, also grown in individual containers such as used coffee cups. You may know them as horse beans, faba beans or broad beans. These like to be started early, as it takes around 85 days or so before you can harvest their pods.

Fava bean plants can grow to four feet, large for any garden plant, nonetheless a vegetable. The pods tell you when they are ripe. While growing, they point somewhat upward and outward. Once they are ready to harvest, they droop. These beans should not be eaten raw. Some gardeners or members of their families are allergic to them, so always cook your harvest.

As for germinating, It is always best to soak peas and beans in warm water for 24 to 36 hours. Remember that the water can be kept warm by using a thermos bottle. Or, place the seeds in a container and put the container in the furnace room. A pea is a legume and so are beans, and all of the ones we plant here will benefit from a roll in rhizobia bacteria that will fix nitrogen for the plant. Mycorrhizal fungi, the endo kind, are also a must for peas and beans.

When planting anything, use good compost, humus or potting soil with lots of organic matter. Don't forget labels. You have to label what you plant so you know what it is before it produces those wonderful peas or beans that will be the giveaway. Label with an indelible marker. Pencil doesn't cut it.

Finally, in the Lower 48 folks plant peas and beans very early outdoors. Both can survive a bit of frost and cool soil temperatures and actually do better if planted earlier when it is much cooler. If you believe in global warming, why not save a few seeds for direct sowing as soon as the soil can be worked and then compare those started indoors with those started outdoors?

JEFF'S ALASKA GARDEN CALENDAR

--Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Seminar: This annual event is a must-do for all area gardeners. This is where you will learn the latest trends from all sorts of local and national speakers. This year's conference features a great gardener and sustainable gardening expert, Roger Doiron. Doiron founded Kitchen Gardeners International, an organization that is relocalizing our food supply. There are a few slots left but you have to make reservations an you have to do it now. Go to alaskabg.org for details and tickets. This is a must-do event. You really must.

--Glads: Plant a few every week for the next four weeks.

--Overwintered fuchsia: Expose to sun, water and grow.

--Tuberous begonias: Buy tubers but don't plant yet. Expose them to sun. The concave side should be facing up. Lightly spritz them with water every few days.

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." You can contact him on his website at teamingwithmicrobes.com

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Seminar: This annual event is a must-do for all area gardeners. This is where you will learn the latest trends from all sorts of local and national speakers. This year's conference features a great gardener and sustainable gardening expert, Roger Doiron. Doiron founded Kitchen Gardeners International, an organization that is relocalizing our food supply. There are a few slots left but you have to make reservations an you have to do it now. Go to alaskabg.org for details and tickets. This is a must-do event. You really must.

Glads: Plant a few every week for the next four weeks.

Over-wintered fuchsia: Expose to sun, water and grow.

Tuberous begonias: Buy tubers but don't plant yet. Expose them to sun. The concave side should be facing up. Lightly spritz them with water every few days.


By JEFF LOWENFELS
Gardening in Alaska