Originally published in Between the Rows
In February the vegetable garden at Potomac Overlook was so wet and cold that we decided to delay bed preparation and work parties until March. Some beds had patches of snow and ice or puddles of water. Many overwintered crops were frost damaged, but spinach and Red Russian kale survived, as did parsley and many cover crops. The green tops of garlic planted in a raised bed looked ready to thrive when the weather warms. (The photo to the left is of cover crops and one lone Tuscan kale plant.)
In March, our first task will be to clear the beds of weeds and the dead and diseased remains of last season’s crops.
Next we will cut down any cover crops in beds where we will plant our spring crops and spread these cuttings over the bed to dry for a week or so when they will be easier to fork into the soil before planting seeds. In addition to enriching the soil by incorporating cover crops, we may also amend the soil as necessary at the time of planting with compost and any natural fertilizers (such as alfalfa meal or soy meal) which may be needed for a specific crop.
Before disturbing the soil, we will check to see whether it is dry enough to prevent compaction If the soil stays together when squeezed in the hand, it is too wet to work. If the soil crumbles, it is ready to be prepared for planting. We consider the soil temperature and the temperature needed for seed germination before planting. The earliest crops we plant are peas, radishes, and spinach. They require a minimum soil temperature of 40 to 45 degrees to germinate successfully. They should be planted as early as conditions permit so that they can provide a meaningful harvest before their season ends in the heat of June.
Order seeds as soon as possible if you do not already have them. Even in January we found some seed varieties already sold out. We will plant snap peas such as Sugar Snap or Sugar Ann rather than shelling peas, which have been unproductive in the heat of June. In our experience, French Breakfast and Cherry Belle have been the most reliable radish varieties, forming plump, sweet roots in time for harvest before flowering turns them sharp and woody.
We will plant onion sets, as early as conditions permit. They have proven to be very productive in providing a steady supply of green onions of increasing size over an extended period.
Later in March, when the soil warms to about 50 degrees, we will sow seeds for beets, carrots, swiss chard and kale. This year, we will plant Detroit Dark Red, an old reliable beet variety, as well as Boldor, a bright golden beet; Chioggia, a pink and white variety and Zeppo, a round red beet. We will plant several varieties of orange carrots, as well as a yellow one. Our Swiss chard plantings will include Bright Lights, a colorful mix of red, pink, orange, yellow, and purple leaves and stems, a dependable favorite. We will also plant a mix of red and green baby kales for spring harvest before the insects arrive that plague cole crops in the summer.
Before the end of the March we will also try to plant lettuces and arugula. This year, we have a colorful variety of lettuce mixes, as well as Black-Seeded Simpson, a favorite old reliable green leaf lettuce. March is also the time we start seeds indoors for the peppers and tomatoes that will not be transplanted into the garden until May. Peppers should be started about 8 to 10 weeks before they are planted outside. Tomatoes should be started 6 to 8 weeks before planting. In Virginia, March is a busy month for the gardener!
Pepper Fest at the Organic Vegetable Garden
September 18 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDT
2845 N. Marcey Road
Arlington, VA 22207 United States
(Park in the lot and walk past the Nature Center to the garden.)
- Explore the beautiful pepper beds, filled with mild to hot varieties.
- Sample fresh peppers: Anaheim, Shishito, Lunch Box, Mad Hatter, Jalapeño, and many more.
- Taste dishes prepared with peppers grown in our garden.
- Consult with Extension Master Gardeners on growing and caring for peppers, vegetables, and cover crops.
- See our vegetable beds, including our edible and square foot gardens.
- Enjoy the flora of Potomac Overlook Regional Park.
Visit the Organic Vegetable Garden!
One of the best ways to learn about vegetable gardening is to see long established gardens in action. Make time this year to visit the Organic Vegetable Garden in north Arlington at Potomac Overlook Regional Park, one of the seven demonstration gardens operated by Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.