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Plant some vegetables in cool weather

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. My prickly pear cactus seems to have taken a beating from the ice and snow. It is bent over and looks bad. Is it gone?

    A. You will have to wait and see. Give it a chance to straighten up and look better. In the meantime, look over the plant carefully for evidence of breakage. Where you see this, prune below the breakage.

New gardeners may be surprised to learn how early the gardening year begins, especially where vegetables are concerned. But early March is not too soon to think about them and select the seeds that can go into the ground from now until mid-month.

The days are getting longer. The sun is getting stronger. The temperatures are climbing.

And while tomato time is a long way off, certain vegetable crops benefit from these early spring conditions and grow beautifully until heat clamps down in early summer.

The best ones are leafy greens that are so important for home gardens. These include spinach, leaf lettuce and the mix of leafy greens called mesclun. These are simple to grow from seeds sown in a well-prepared garden bed with loose, rich soil.

Seed racks are brimming with choices in leafy greens, including such established favorites as Black Seeded Simpson, which produces in about 45 days; Buttercrunch, which produces pretty heads of soft-textured leaves in about 75 days; and Salad Bowl, a crispy lettuce ready in about 45 days. Many more exist, including some mixes that possess several different kinds in one envelope.

Not to be ignored at this time of year are the outstanding snap peas, such as Sugar Snap, which has been around for more than 30 years and remains a favorite among spring vegetable gardeners. It is ready in about 70 days and requires a trellis such as your backyard fence. The peas it bears are tender enough to be eaten raw, but they can also be cooked by steaming.

Young plants of such crops as cabbage and broccoli will be in garden centers as well, ready to set out. These are hardy crops that will establish and grow in cool soil temperatures and are best grown from purchased plants set out in cool, early spring weather.

Other players in this ensemble include root crops, such as carrots, beets, both grown from seeds, and onions, from bulbs set into the ground. Because these are root crops, they require well-dug soil that is enhanced with compost, which has the ability to hold moisture that plants require but shed the excess.

One major reason raised beds have become so popular is that they lift the crops above the surrounding ground, which may stay wet, and they allow the gardener to make the soil really good. The effort pays off through the year.

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