March is a busy month for planting a veggie garden
“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Although Robert Louis Stevenson is frequently credited for these words of sound advice, apparently he never actually wrote or said them in any of his novels, poems or lectures. He did, however, invent the sleeping bag without recognition, so perhaps it all evens out.
It’s true. Before Stevenson became famous, he was a travel writer and frequently camped outdoors with his donkey, Modestine. In 1878, Stevenson designed what he called a “sleeping sack” that was six-foot square and made of “green waterproof cart-cloth without and blue sheep’s fur within.” He wrote about the sleeping sack in his book "Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes," and the rest is camping history.
Even if we can’t thank RLS for the seed quote, gardeners can certainly follow its words of wisdom in March by sowing lots of seeds for spring and summer vegetables. At this time of year in the Rogue Valley, the trick to gardening is working through all kinds of weather. I’ve learned that if I wait for several “good” gardening days in a row to plant, the window of opportunity slams shut before I’ve planted diddly.
So dodge the rain (or snow!) and freshen up your garden beds by tilling in your cover crop or leaf mulch and adding a few inches of compost and some fertilizer (3-4-3 or equivalent). It’s also a good time to test the pH of your soil and amend accordingly.
Next, measure the soil temperature at two inches deep at a few different places in your bed and calculate the average for your baseline soil temperature. Keep in mind that cool-season crops will germinate best when the soil temperature is at least 45 to 50 degrees. In addition, the soil should be moist but not sopping wet for sowing.
I follow the planting calendar recommended by the OSU Extension Service in the "Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley" (revised in 2017). I choose from the following to direct seed in March: arugula, carrots, chives, cilantro, kohlrabi, leeks, leaf lettuce, mustard and turnip greens, onions (bulbs and bunching), parsley, peas, radishes, Swiss chard and turnips.
Seeds to start indoors this month include: cabbage (mid-season variety), Chinese cabbage, peppers and tomatoes. Sow Asian greens and eggplant seeds in peat pots to transfer into the garden in April.
After sowing the seeds outside or indoors, be prepared for March weather fluctuations by keeping a vigilant eye on the weather forecast. There typically are nights when row cover will come in handy to protect the seedlings from freezing. A cover will also keep seeds from drowning during a downpour.
On the other hand, there are usually warm days in March when a greenhouse can heat up alarmingly. On days like these, be sure to remove the covers from seed trays, open the greenhouse doors and turn up the fans to help keep seedlings from burning up.
Three or four weeks after the seeds have sprouted, they will benefit from another fertilizer application (7-4-5 or equivalent). Remember that fresh sprouts are irresistible to all manner of night-trolling varmints, so be ready to protect your young charges from predators.
You might even camp out in the garden in a sleeping bag — we have Robert Louis Stevenson to thank for that!
— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.