What do good cooks plant in their gardens this month? Crops that taste better than grocery store fare are the goal ofevery good gardenercook. Here are three nominees to start now inmild-winter areas. Seeds are widely available on nursery racks or frommail-order catalogs. Many kinds of lettuce are also for sale insixpacks this month. Lettuce. Most home gardeners find butterhead and leaf lettuceseasier to grow and better in flavor than romaine and iceberg types.
Thethick-leafed, flattened heads above are “Bibb’, a top choiceof many readers. Says Steve Dean of Willetts, California: “Whenit matures quickly in cool weather, it’s so good I even slice up the core and use it like a cucumber.’ You can sow directly in the ground and thin every few weeks untilplants are 8 inches apart; use the thinnings for salads.
Or sow into ashallow seed box and transplant 6 to 8 inches apart when seedlingsdevelop four leaves or reach 2 inches tall. Either way, your crop will mature faster and taste better if youkeep plants growing quickly. Thin or transplant so that plants arenever stunted by crowding.
Keep soil moist but never boggy. Provideextra warmth at night and on cold days by covering with glass or aplastic tent. Be sure to remove any covering on warm days or plants mayburn. Kohlrabi. “This is my favorite winter vegetable,’ writesLewis Headrick of Redway, California. “The flavor is like a mildcabbage with a crisp texture.
We use the thinnings and leaves inOriental stir-fries, the small “bulbs’ and chopped leaves insoup. Or we steam and marinate them for a treat that’s better thanartichoke hearts.’ Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in full sun and rich, prepared soil.
Thinseedlings to 4 inches apart. “Early White Vienna’ matures in1 1/2 to 2 months; “Early Purple Vienna’ takes about a weeklonger. To salvage overmature, tougher kohlrabi, peel off the tough skinand discard it, slice the center thinly, and steam or saute. Or scrapeout the center, stuff with a meat or cheese mixture, and bake untiltender. Add a little butter and water to the pan to keep kohlrabi fromsticking.
Baby carrots. Some favorites are “Little Finger’,”Royal Chantenay’, and “Short ‘n Sweet’. Asone reader comments, “Baby carrots are easier to grow than regularcarrots and stay sweet longer. My boys like to eat them because theycan pop the whole thing into their mouths in one bite. With shortkinds, you get results in a few months; regular varieties takeforever.’ Sow seeds where they are to grow, barely covering with soil. Thinto 2 inches apart when they reach a few inches tall. Harvest and usethe largest ones in crowded clumps first.
You can tell which ones areready by brushing dirt away from the base to expose the shoulders. Photo: Warmth and space speed growth: larger seedlings weretransplanted about three weeks earlier from crowded cluster of smallseedlings; glass cover holds heat at night and on cold days Photo: About seven weeks after transplanting, “Bibb’lettuce is ready for harvest to begin: cut off at soil level. Spaced 6to 8 inches apart, mature heads occupy every available inch Photo: Tender, delicately flavored kohlrabi is prime eating size at2 1/2 inches wide. Harvest soon after, or it will mature into tough,elongated trunk (right) Photo: Snack-size “Little Finger’ carrots are ready toeat about two months after planting; they grow well even in containersor poor soil