What works best in the garden today

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2008

If you have little or poor experience gardening in Juneau, here is a tip. When a dandelion blooms in your yard, it's planting time in the vegetable garden. Do it immediately. This works for both transplants and seeds.

Dandelions are excellent indicators that soil temperature and sunlight conditions are favorable to start domestic plants. Don't worry over lost days, plants actually suited to Juneau will catch up in our longer sunlight hours.

The basic plant selection that works best today is the same as when I worked on commercial farms in the Mendenhall Valley in the 1950-'60s. Examples are the cabbage family (broccoli, caulifower and cabbage), leaf lettuce, turnips, potatoes, carrots and peas - all hardy stuff. The cabbage family and turnips do have insect issues. Beets will work in ideal local locations, but are likely to stunt if planted too early.

If you are impatient to begin spring gardening, pull weeds while they still come up effortlessly and completely. This is possible before their root runners develop the root hairs that bind the weed to the soil. The absence of root hairs on emerging weeds is a certain sign domestics would not yet survive. Make sure the garden soil drains well, else take a sample to someone knowlegeable like the local University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension Service for advice.

Good transplants have a straight, healthy stalk in good proportion to plant height. If the stalk has become disproportionally thin and twisted from trying to hold up the leaves, toss it. Good soil is more useful than bad transplants. It is probably overly root-bound - and almost certainly the thin stalk will never develop into one that's capable of supplying the nutrients necessary for a robust adult plant.

Bigger is not better for transplants. However, there is a possible work-around which you might try next year. Start some seeds in a flat with soil 2½ to 3 inches deep. That way your transplants can grow larger than ideal but still maintain good structure. This will ensure that you will have some transplants useable in a delayed spring. Good luck.

• Larry Hurlock was raised on a farm in Juneau's Mendenhall Valley. He worked every summer as a field hand on his neighbor's multi-acre truck farm owned by the Cox's. His last hobby garden in Juneau was 5,400 square feet from 1998 to 2000.

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