Blackwelder column: Time is right for cool season vegetables

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

SALISBURY — Now is the time to consider planting cool season vegetables. Transplants are appearing in garden shops and other retail outlets throughout Rowan County.
Cool season vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, lettuce and onions are just a few of the vegetable plants available. These vegetables grow best when planted as transplants. Transplants offer a quick start in the spring. Direct seeding into the garden soil generally is not recommended in the spring due to cold, wet soils. Seeds will decay in the soil under these conditions.
It is important that the transplants are “hardened off” or acclimated to the cool weather before planting. Some plants for sale at retail outlets may be tender and will not survive hard frosts. Harden transplants by gradually exposing trays or flats outdoors in cold weather. Do not fertilize the plants during the hardening off period. Let the soil dry out, but not enough to kill the plant. A few days of cool weather prepares the transplant for harsh conditions that exist in early spring vegetable gardens. Monitor weather forecasts and move plants inside for protection if the weather becomes bitter cold.
Irish potatoes and onion sets can be planted in early spring. Try to buy certified seed potatoes that are disease free and of good quality. Cut potatoes into blocks about the size of a walnut. Make sure that each block has at least one eye or bud per block. Lay the blocks out in a cool, dry location for a couple of days to form a cuticle over the cuts. The newly formed cuticle will prevent decay.
Onion sets are actually bulblets that are planted directly in the soil. These bulblets gradually mature into larger bulbs or spring-type onions depending upon the variety, weather and maturity of the bulb.
Transplant solutions generate rapid root growth and expansion. An application of house plant fertilizers with a high phosphorus ratio such as 10-30-15 or 9-45-0 are recommended as transplant solutions for vegetable plants. A cup of this pre-mixed house plant food solution can be poured around the plant at planting. Simply mix the solution as to feed house plants.
Cool season crops need to be planted soon. Late plantings produce poor quality vegetables. A short spring can also pose problems. Keep your fingers crossed for a normal spring.
Darrell Blackwelder, Rowan County Extension Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension; 704-216-8970.