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Hardy Vegetables and Fragrant Flowers 

Planting a feast for the senses in early spring

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As springtime sunshine beckons us outdoors, here on the home farm we are rolling up our sleeves and heading out for some serious time in the garden. Daylight hours grow and the mercury is rising. It's prime time to develop garden fever. Lush winter rains combined with fall and spring fertilizing and mulching created primo planting conditions. While it's still frost season until May 1, we want to give our veggie and cut flower gardens a jump-start. We're prepping our raised vegetable garden beds for early spring planting and vegetable starts are tucked away in the greenhouse. We've found a great source of local organic seeds to add to our vegetable patch and we're expanding our fragrance garden to intoxicate visitors and passing neighbors.

For those gardeners out there looking to score some affordable organic heirloom seeds, check out the Stone Spirits Bead Supply across from the Arcata North Coast Co-op. There are countless varieties available by donation provided by Free Heirloom Seeds (www.freeheirloomseeds.org), a grassroots organization that empowers our community to become self-sufficient by growing our own food and seeds. Start with just a few hardy vegetables (see suggestions below) that can be planted now. Once those have happily germinated and are thriving, go back for another round. Tap into this great local source of gardening knowledge and also check out the power of crystals while you're there. From a qualitative perspective, we've noticed a distinct difference in seedling vitality when they've germinated in close proximity to quartz crystals, which are high in silica. Silica is a biodynamic preparation sprayed onto plants at vernal equinox to boost photosynthesis. Why not use all the tools available to jump start this year's vegetable patch?

Early spring is a great time to plant easy to grow cold-hardy vegetables including artichokes, spinach, peas, potatoes, beets, carrots and lettuce. The artichoke thrives in our lush North Coast climate. This plant likes room to roam and creates dinosaur garden texture with its spiky silver green leaves. Once planted, it can be left as an ever-expanding perennial patch that produces deliciously tender buds. Growing up to 6-feet tall, these domesticated thistles are yummy boiled, steamed or stuffed. If left past eating stage, they flower into beautiful purple thistle-like flowers without spikes.

Spinach thrives in the temperatures of spring and fall, so plant now to enjoy until the bright days of summer when it will bolt and flower. Peas and lettuce can be sown directly into the garden now, or started indoors and hardened off prior to planting.

A great variety for the veggie patch is to grow a mix of leafy greens and above ground vegetables, as well as root vegetables. Potatoes offer an easy option for getting some root vegetables going, producing up to 50 pounds of homegrown bounty from just two pounds of potato seed. Growing potatoes on a small scale offers the home gardener a delicious addition to cold storage items along with garlic, winter squashes and apples. Many interesting varieties are available, offering abundant color and texture. Make sure to start with seed potatoes to avoid disease and plants susceptible to pests. Cut seed potatoes into 2-inch cubes with at least two eyes each, and let them sit a couple of days until the edges become dry. As plants grow, you can heap straw or loose soil around the lower stems and leaves to increase harvest yields. Harvest early potatoes when the plants first blossom; dig up large tubers when plants die down in the fall. You can also sow beets and carrots directly in the root garden bed now. Make sure to keep the seeds moist until germination and water a couple times a day until the plants are established.

Stepping outside of the vegetable patch, we're expanding our fragrance garden this year. Fragrance offers lingering mystery to any corner of the garden and early spring rains and mild temperatures offer a great time to establish perfumed plants. From the sweet star jasmine climbing over the front porch to the citrus-floral Daphne, the luscious purple lilac or our sweet pea fence, our entryway tempts the nose and offers a fragrant welcome to all visitors. Depending on which way the breeze blows, calm evenings may carry scents of spicy carnation and nasturtium, sweet pea perfume or wafts of delicate rose.

There are many easily grown fragrant additions to any garden large or small. If just a small area is available, flowering vines, including star jasmine, wisteria and honeysuckle, offer beautiful scents and texture. All these grow well on any kind of trellis, fence, arbor or wire. But they need consistent pruning to keep vegetative growth in check and maximum blossoms. If more room is available, shrubs such as purple lilac, Daphne, roses, lavender or azalea shouldn't be passed up. Tucked into a corner of the yard, they radiate amazing smells for weeks on end. Lilac can be a roamer so heavy pruning will keep it within reasonable size. Or let it grow wild and form a lilac hedge. Daphne and azalea both require partial shade and are slow growers. Lavender and roses do best in full sun with annual pruning. Perennial flowers such as iris, nasturtium, violets and alyssum bring beautiful layers of sweet fragrance and add delicate texture. Iris make great cut flowers and offer spicy sweet wafts of intoxicating delight. Nasturtium, with its spicy scent, adds a casual touch to the yard, climbing over rock piles or up walls. Violets and alyssum make a charming border for walkways or flowerbeds. Nasturtium and violet blossoms are also edible, adding a spicy zip to salads or a beautiful touch to baked desserts. Layering several scents in one concentrated area of the garden maximizes the fun of this garden feature, leaving no doubt it's an intentional design.

Katie Rose McGourty is the owner of Healthy Living Everyday at  www.healthy-living-everyday.com.

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