PRAIRIE GARDENER: 2011 will be another big year for home-grown veggies

May Day, which is observed today, brings back memories of trekking through the forest, searching for the elusive May flower. These tiny white, pink or blue flowers were the first to emerge from beneath the forest floor of rotted leaf mold.

Darrel Koehler
Darrel Koehler

May Day, which is observed today, brings back memories of trekking through the forest, searching for the elusive May flower. These tiny white, pink or blue flowers were the first to emerge from beneath the forest floor of rotted leaf mold.

The correct name for this plant is hepatica, although some call it "liverleaf" from its leaf shape. These simple wildflowers are popular among Japanese collectors, although they are rarely included in our plantings. Besides gathering the delicate flower for our mother, we often found the first wood ticks of the season as a bonus.

So far, cold and snow have kept garden activity to a minimum. Nothing has been planted, the yard will need to be raked once it dries and tilling gardens and flower beds probably won't occur until mid-May.

The Prairie Gardener was able to dig up a row of parsnips that he successfully over-wintered in the garden. The roots have been dug and cleaned and have been turning up on the dinner table. Parsnips are the easiest of vegetables to over-winter, requiring only minimum protection. If you plan to add this unusual root vegetable to your garden, check for seed early Seed supplies are few and hard to find. Seed must be fresh, so check labels. To hasten germination, soak the seed for 24 hours before planting. Be warned: Parsnips have tap roots that can go half-way to China, so be prepared for some heavy tugging when harvesting.

Veggies popular


The 2011 growing season will be another big year for home-grown veggies. There are several reasons for the soaring interest in vegetable gardening, including the slow economy, skyrocketing food prices and health concerns.

Michelle Obama has planted her third vegetable garden on the White House grounds. The first lady was assisted by school children in her endeavor. She even plans to write a book about it for publication in 2012. The garden has been expanded from 1,100 square feet to 1,500 square feet and raised beds were introduced this year, resulting in easier weeding and harvesting.

Produce turns up on White House menus. Surplus produce goes to charitable groups for congregate meals. This year the garden will include beets. President Obama doesn't like beets, so they weren't included in the first two gardens. President George H.W. Bush had a similar dislike for broccoli. But that's grist for another column.

Local gardeners may be in for late planting this year unless weather conditions improve. In the meantime, we can line up our seeds and plants so we will be ready when the time comes. Normally, mid-May is a good time to get most vegetables planted. Even if planting drags into early June we will still be in good shape. Vegetable seeds, especially some sought-after new varieties, may be in short supply. Seed racks are well-stocked now. Purchase extra seed for double-cropping as it may not be available later.

Garden tips

Survey your soil. If you have a traditional garden, your best soil is loam. It should be soft, dark and crumbly. Loamy soil retains moisture, but drains so it won't become soggy. If you have clay soil, such as around here, amend garden soil with well-rotted compost or livestock manure. You can also haul in some black dirt. It may take several attempts to accomplish the task. If soil is cold or you can form a tight ball with it, hold off tilling and planting.

Plot size is also important. Make sure your plot is large enough to yield the harvest you want. Your plants will need room to mature. Allow for good air circulation, which reduces pest and disease problems.

If gardening space is limited, or you have none at all, grow vegetables and herbs in containers on a deck, terrace, balcony or windowsill. Vegetables will need plenty of sun -- at least six hours per day.


Pick vegetables that are expensive to buy in the grocery store or at a farmers' market, such as specialty tomatoes and sweet or hot peppers. You also can grow multiple crops of salad greens throughout the growing season.

More produce

To make better use of your garden plot, you might want to try succession sowing. Succession planting is ideal for such crops as beans and salad greens. Staggered planting will yield continuous harvests as long as the weather is suitable. It's a great way to get the most out of your garden space and makes growing your own veggies more satisfying and useful in everyday meal planning and cooking.

You can also use the same garden space to grow several different vegetables through the growing season. Start in spring with a fast-maturing, cool-season crop, and after it has been harvested, plant a summer crop that prefers warmer soil and hot weather in that same space. Later in the season, when temperatures drop, use the same space for seeds of cool- season vegetables.

Inter-planting is also a good way to use your garden space to its maximum. Plant fast-maturing crops among ones that mature more slowly. For example, plant lettuce between your tomato seedlings or radish seed in alternate rows with carrot seeds. You'll have harvested the lettuce and radishes by the time the tomatoes or carrots need growing room.

Garden tidbit

The Home Garden Seed Association, Maxwell, Calif., reports the top 10 easiest plants to grow from seed are the following: Green or yellow snap beans, cosmos, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, pumpkins, radishes, summer squash, sunflowers and zinnias. These are all good choices for a child's garden.

Top plant


The Perennial Plant Association has named Arkansas blue star or thread-leaf blue star as the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year. This multi-season perennial has blue flowers in late spring to early summer and a bright yellow-gold fall color. Unfortunately, it has a hardiness range of 4 to 9. It might make it with winter protection.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 1:10 p.m. Tuesdays on KNOX Radio 1310 (A.M.).

What To Read Next
Get Local