Seems like one or two days of warm weather here in Chicago and everyone is itching to get out in the vegetable garden. Well while real vegetable gardening will not begin for another month or two there are things that can be planted in March. Onions and Potatoes are two items that will do well in the very early Spring garden.
Onions are a cool season vegetable that can be grown in almost all North American locations. Onions can be grown from seed, transplants, or sets. Onion sets are the easiest for the home gardener and should be purchased early before they sit in the warm garden center store for too long. If they are not going to be planted right away then store them in a cool dark and dry location. Onions that are grown in the north are long day varieties and those grown in the south are short day varieties. Onions will start there bulb development when the daylight hours reach the right daylight length. So by planting early you will be able to get the biggest bulbs.
Onion sets should be sorted before planting into two groups, those that are dime size and smaller and than anything bigger than a dime. This may sound backwards but this is how it works. The smaller sets should be used for dry onion bulbs that will be harvested in the end of summer and the larger sets should be used for green onions that will be harvest in the spring.
For green onions plant the bulbs 1″ deep with the bulbs touching each other. For dry onions plant the bulbs 1″ deep 2″ to 4″ apart. If planted 2″ apart pull every other plant and use as a green onion to avoid crowding the bulb development. Allow 12″ to 18 ” between the rows.
Onions have shallow roots therefore do not compete well with weeds. Shallow cultivation and hoeing is very important. To grow green onions pull some of the soil up around the plants after they have reached 4″ and hill slightly. For dry onions do not hill.
Green onions can be pulled at anytime after they reach 6″. The latter in the season the the stronger the flavor and may not be suitable for eating raw but can be used in cooking. For dry onions let the tops fall over naturally usually late July to early August. Pull the onions early in the morning and let them dry in the garden most of the day. Move them undercover before evening. Space on drying screens or braid in small bunches and hang in an area with good air circulation for 2 to 3 weeks so they will dry completely. Store in a cool dry location. They can last until late winter
Early, mid-season, and late varieties can all be planted in Mid to late March And April in the garden. If the soil stays too cold the pieces may rot before they have a chance to grow. There is also the chance that a late freeze may kill back the top growth to the ground but the plants should recover. Potato tubers formation occurs at soil temperatures between 60Ã‚Â° and 70Ã‚Â°F. When the soil temperature reaches 80Ã‚Â°F The tubers fail to form. So the earlier the planting the better. Mid-season and late varieties may be planted up to the first of July. Late season varieties tend to store best over the winter.
The soil should be fertile and well drained. If you have clay soil it should be amended with organic matter and compost. Potatoes are started from “seed pieces” rather than from true seed. Each piece should be about 2 ounces and contain an eye. The pieces should be planted soon after they are cut. Place the potato pieces in a furrow about 3 inches deep and cover. Space the pieces between 10″ and 12″ apart and make the rows about 24″ apart.
After the potato sprouts gradually start to build a ridge of soil around the plant by hoeing towards the plant. Be careful when cultivating because the tubers are only 6″ below the surface and can be damaged easily. By th end of summer this ridge maybe 6″ high. This soil ridge helps to sheild the tubers from the sun and eliminate green spots on the tuber caused by exposure to the sun. It is important to irrigate regularly while the tubers are forming. Mulching with compost will also to help to conserve moisture as well as keeping down weeds and keeping the soil cool.
Harvest the potatoes after the vines have died. A spading fork or shovel is used to dig the tubers up.
If you would like new potatoes you can dig up the plants while still growing in July. You will have the small tender 1″ to 2″ new potatoes to be eaten right away. Storage or late potatoes are usually dug in August or early September. They can be stored in a dark room with a high humidity and a temperature between 38 and 40 degrees. Tempratures below 38 degrees can damage the potatoes.