Get your gardening gloves on

It's that time of year again: Time to put the garden gloves back on, browse the plants at the local greenhouse and plant seeds for some of the hardier vegetables.

Roger Mattson prepares to transplant some raspberries. Photo by Jana Peterson/Budgeteer News.

It's that time of year again: Time to put the garden gloves back on, browse the plants at the local greenhouse and plant seeds for some of the hardier vegetables.

Gardening is no longer the sole purview of those folks who prefer seed catalogs as winter reading material.

St. Louis County Extension agent Bob Olen said he's never seen so many people interested in growing their own vegetables and fruit, although he did say it's an interest that's been trending upward for a few years.

"I don't know if it's the economy or a return to more basic things," he said, "but I'm getting so many calls and questions, I can't keep up."

Here's a quick garden primer if you're one of those with unanswered questions or just venturing into vegetable gardening.


Soil temperature has warmed quickly this year and is already at or past 40 degrees Fahrenheit, said Olen, so it's OK to "direct-seed" a number of food items.

He listed vegetables he would plant this weekend. First on the list were onions and spinach: onions because they have a long growing season, spinach because it bolts early.*

Add to the list, parsnips and lettuce, followed by beets, carrots, Swiss chard and kohlrabi.

Olen said folks could try seeding members of the cabbage family, like broccoli, cauliflower,

cabbage, brussel sprouts, radishes and rutabagas -- or you could wait and buy plants in two or three weeks.

Do not plant warm season crops, he noted, such as snap-and-pull beans, cucumber, squash, melons and super-sweet corn, which "doesn't like its feet wet," he said.

Olen said folks who are worried about plants not being available in two or three weeks could go out this weekend and buy things like tomatoes and pepper plants, but those should not be put in the ground until after Memorial Day at least.

"You could purchase them and put them on your little red wagon in the garage and bring it out during the day," he said, "but I'd be more tempted to let the greenhouse worry about them for another three weeks."


The yard and garden guru also recommended transplanting or planting "all perennial fruit material," including strawberries, grapes, fruit trees and Minnesota half-high blueberries (the result of a blending of low and high bush blueberries that are more suited to our climate).

Spring is the perfect time to transplant rhubarb and raspberries, noted avid gardener Roger Mattson, who grows plenty of both.

Mattson was selling off his spare raspberry and rhubarb plants this past week for a dollar a plant -- before they completely took over his wife's prized hostas.

Between the two of them, the Mattsons quickly settled an oft-cited bit of rhubarb mythology: You can pick rhubarb after July 4. In fact, Roger's wife Karen said, she's usually picking until late August.

"If you keep watering and picking, it'll keep growing," she said. "After August, it does seem to get a little woody."

By Roger's estimation, they pick 200 pounds of rhubarb from their garden each year. (He divides his rhubarb plants each fall.)

What do they do with all that rhubarb?

They make rhubarb sauce (great on its own, in oatmeal or over ice cream), rhubarb bars, rhubarb custard pie and rhubarb crisp, among other things.


They also give Bea Ojakangas about 40 pounds for the annual CHUM Rhubarb Festival (scheduled for June 27 this year) and they donate more to the Damiano Center every summer.

One of the best things about rhubarb is that this perennial will come back year after year -- and it likes cool climates.

For those who want to know more, the St. Louis County Extension office has lists of variety recommendations for northern Minnesota that are available for purchase (price covers cost of publishing).

"Fruit Varieties for Northern Minnesota" costs $3, and "Vegetable Varieties for Northern Minnesota" is $4. The vegetable list has been updated for 2009. These publications will help you make the right choices when purchasing plants and seeds for your garden.

Call 733-2870 to purchase or stop by during work hours at Suite 111, Government Services Center, 320 W. Second St. Postage for each is $1.

For more information, go to ., and find county extension service.

* Spinach can be harvested in 4-6 weeks from seed in the cut-and-come-again method of harvesting lettuce. Cut individual leaves, starting with the older, outer leaves, and letting the young inner leaves remain and continue growing for a later harvest.


You can also cut down the whole plant, for a larger harvest. If you cut about an inch above the crown or base of the plant, it is very likely the plant will send out a new flush of leaves.

BONUS: Rhubarb sauce recipe

Here's the Mattson method for making rhubarb sauce:

Chop rhubarb and cover with water.

Boil until soft.

Add a package of strawberry gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O or Royal-brand gelatin.

Sweeten to taste with sugar or sweetener. Thin with water if needed.

Want to buy some rhubarb or raspberry plants? Call Mattson at 724-3687.

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