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Planting with the Irish

This hurry-up winter is pushing spring

I am told that in Ireland, potatoes and peas are always planted on St. Patrick’s Day. Here in Southern Maryland, our soils are generally wet and cold and impossible to plow, rototill or cultivate in mid-March. This year may be different.
    On February 20, I rototilled my asparagus bed to get rid of the winter annual weeds and cut down the mustard plants that were beginning to flower. The soil temperature was already up to 45 degrees and might well be ready for potatoes and peas on St. Patrick’s Day. The earlier we can plant peas, the longer the harvesting season — providing temperatures don’t rise too fast.
    If you are going to plant potatoes, do like the Irish do. Cut your potatoes into seed pieces at least a day in advance of planting. Spread the seed pieces on a layer of newspaper in a warm room. The cut surface will callus, making the seed pieces more resistant to rot. That’s especially important in cold soil.

Keep Your Ornamental Grasses from Clumping

If you have ornamental grasses in your landscape, you need to cut back the old stems ASAP, because new shoots have started to emerge. I generally delay doing these chores until mid-March — but not this year.
    If the clumps of ornamental grass have become too large, you’ll have another job to do.
    When clumps grow larger than two feet in diameter, the center begins to die out, the plant becoming donut-shaped. Using a sharp pointed shovel, dig along the outer edge of each clump and lift it from the ground. Using an ax and a heavy hammer, cut each clump into four quarters. Then cut each quarter in half and discard the portion that was in the middle of the clump. This is the oldest part of the plant and has likely started to rot because of old age.

    Each seed piece should have at least one eye. The bigger the seed piece, the bigger the plant. My mother was very stingy and made my father plant the potato skin. One day he watched my mother discard a bunch of potatoes too small to peel. He planted those potatoes, and they gave him the best crop he ever had. From then on, mother always gave him the smallest potatoes for planting in the garden. If you can plant a small potato without cutting it into seed pieces, all the better.
    If you are going to try an early planting of peas, first make a small ridge of soil with the hoe. The ridge should be four to five inches high and eight to 10 inches wide. Using the handle of the hoe, make a small trench at the top of the ridge for sowing the pea seeds. Sow the seeds about an inch apart and cover with sand. The ridge encourages warmer soil for better germination and helps prevent rot should there be excessive rain.

A Hurry-Up Winter

    This has been a most unusual late winter. The broccoli I planted late last summer has resumed producing broccoli that is unbelievably sweet. The Siberian kale and the collards have been the best ever. The ground did not freeze, so I dug and feasted on the sweetest carrots ever.
    This summer’s crop of elephant garlic has suddenly produced a strong spurt of growth, so I gave it a generous mulching of compost.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.