March is a time of rebirth in the garden and greenhouse, and can be one in the kitchen as well. Winter root crops are still available, so many of us can still make warming potato soups and stews with carrots and onions. Leafy crops are still going well, offering spinach and cabbages as well as some nice tender salad greens.
March is also time to start work for the coming busy spring and summer- sowing now for warmer weather’s benefit. It’s an important time that will shape the rest of the year in the garden as well as the kitchen. Keep meals in mind when planning plantings, and even a greenhouse can be organized along meal themes, with tomatoes and a variety of herbs in one section; Asian greens and green onions in another.
Herbs can be started now, in the protection of a a greenhouse or windowsill. This will give an early start to the summer’s basil, extending the delicious fresh pesto season. Rosemary, parsley, sage and other herbs can overwinter in greenhouses or hoop houses in colder or wetter climates.
One of the nicest things that can be planted now for enjoyment as the weather warms is peas. Food lovers and writers the world over have waxed rhapsodic over the enjoyment of nothing more exotic than garden fresh peas with butter and perhaps a kiss of salt and pepper. Few vegetables symbolize spring and newness the way peas do, and there are several types to enjoy in different ways.
The main division in pea types regards the way in which they are eaten; there are green garden peas, which require shelling and edible pod types, which feature a less fibrous container for the peas within. Snow peas should be harvested before the peas inside begin to mature which leads to a flatter pod, while the sugar snap types are plump and entirely edible. Some podded types have fibers that develop along the length of the pod that must be removed before cooking. Prompt harvest is recommended as peas turn starchy with maturity. Snow peas can be shelled and used as garden peas if left on the vine too long. Overgrown pods should be removed from plants to prolong the plant’s production.
Most important at this point, however, is the care of pea seedlings. Germinating seeds and seedlings are sensitive to contact with chemicals and soil disruption. Treat emerging plants gently, especially as regards cultivation and hoeing; both should be done shallowly. Vining types will benefit from extra support and having these plants utilize vertical space will open up floor or ground room for other plants. Smaller varieties often require no support, but have a tendency to become bushy.
Dwarf Grey Sugar Pod are prolific and compact with shorter vines that don’t need to be staked; Oregon Giant is a sweet flavored, large podded snow pea, producing many 4 1/2 inch pods.
The Sugar Snap variety is probably the best known of the fat podded peas, and freezes well after harvest. The larger plant requires staking and the pods do develop strings at maturity. Sugar Sprint has a much less pronounced string and does not require support.
Alaska is an early maturing type that is versatile after harvest; peas can be prepared fresh as well as frozen or canned, though they are not known for an overly sweet flavor. Caselode is known for a sweet flavor and longer harvest. Both of these types can be grown with or without support.
What to do with the remaining winter bounty? Roasting is a simple and delicious way to eat most cooler weather vegetables, and there’s no recipe needed. A roasting pan, olive oil and a hot oven (400-425 degrees) is really all that’s required to successfully roast vegetables. Cut vegetables as necessary to even size to equalize cooking time. Roasted carrots and potatoes are a nice side dish to a roasted chicken, of course, while roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower and garlic would grace a plate of pasta, garnished with parmesan cheese. Brush or toss vegetables with oil, shake on some seasoning and roast until tender.
Amy Ambrosius is a regular Garden & Greenhouse contributor.