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Winter garden ideas that are water conscious

Leafy greens can be grown from seed in containers.
Leafy greens can be grown from seed in containers. KRT

The severe drought has put home gardeners into a holding pattern with regard to planting. We are limiting or completely curtailing putting in replacement or new plantings until rain and snowfall amounts are sufficient to refill the seriously depleted reservoirs. We can’t plant much this fall but we can put in a few winter vegetable crops from seed or transplant with water conservation topmost in our planning.

Leafy greens can easily be grown from seed in containers placed in a sunny spot near the kitchen or the back door. Growing greens in containers filled with sterilized potting soil keeps the leaves cleaner; splashing raindrops won’t cover them with garden mud. Growing leafy greens close to the house makes harvest quick and easy when cutting lettuces or arugula for sandwiches or salads in frosty weather. Shower water and unsalted water from boiling eggs or cooking pasta can be cooled, collected and used for irrigation in pots that are just a few steps away from the house. Using gray water or water from pet bowls is not recommended for edibles.

Arugula (35 days), small-leaf spinaches ( 25 to 40 days) and microgreens (30 days) are the fastest to mature. When buying seeds for these greens, look for terms such as “slow to bolt (set flowers and go to seed)” or “heat tolerant”. These varieties will be better able to tolerate our September and early October hot spells. Several twelve-inch wide, shallow containers about the size of a large salad bowl can continuously produce enough greens for a couple of sandwiches and a daily salad. Use small sharp scissors to snip off the outer or larger leaves; plants will continue to sprout new leaves through the winter and into the spring months. Keep seed packets cool and dry and resow bare spots into early November.

Larger-leaf lettuces, chards and kale will need more space and more time to mature (45 to 75 days). Containers needn’t be deep (these plants’ roots extend about six inches deep). Seeds can be sown thickly; young plants of leaf lettuces can be harvested whole, making more space for the others to mature to full size. Head lettuces such as Iceberg are harvested whole when they are mature.

Larger pots can provide enough space to put in a small trellis for garden peas, sweet peas or fava beans: they’re winter crops in our climate. Peas and beans fix nitrogen into the soil; if adding them to your container gardens, make sure to feed with lower nitrogen fertilizers. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two, depending on pot size, of a lower number (such as 4-6-2) powder or granular fertilizer every two weeks. Forego fertilizing for the few weeks in late December and early January when temperatures are coldest and growth stops. I prefer to use organic fertilizers on edibles.

Viola flowers are edible if fed with organic fertilizers. Add a couple of viola plants to your containers and maybe place a few spring-blooming bulbs at the bottom of the shallower pots for a touch of spring color. Small size kitchen herbs-parsley, thyme, sage, chives-can be grown in the salad bowls as well.

Send your plant questions to Elinor Teague at etgrow@comcast.net or features@fresnobee.com (“plants” in the subject line).

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