2016-04-28 / From The Garden

Vegetable Gardening Secrets

By Cynthia Gibson


Hardy vegetables such as lettuce, collards, cabbage, spinach, and kale, can tolerate low temperatures and are good for spring gardens. Hardy vegetables such as lettuce, collards, cabbage, spinach, and kale, can tolerate low temperatures and are good for spring gardens. We are out of the frost zone! The wet spring we are used to is finally here, and we have recently enjoyed some sunny warm days. This is helping to heat up the soil for outdoor planting.

Go ahead and prepare vegetable beds for the new season. After a thorough weeding, add bags of good garden soil – or order a load of clean topsoil – and spread it over your beds. It’s best to add fertilizers now, as fresh fertilizer can burn and kill the tender young roots of small plants.

It is still too early to plant tender vegetables that do not like an evening chill or temperatures in the forties. Keep them indoors until mid-May and then transplant them outdoors.

But the time is right to plant lettuce, beets and carrots outdoors. The rule of (green) thumb still stands: To reap the best vegetables, buy the best seeds. This spring there are more and more new choices of lettuce, including heirloom varieties that have been saved, or re-discovered, and are available to purchase as seeds. The best lettuces are usually the sweetest, tangiest, and crispiest, and sometimes include a hint of bitterness. All make for a delicious bowl of greens.


Pinch off the lower leaves this allows you to plant a tomato in a deeper hole, stimulating a good root system. Pinch off the lower leaves this allows you to plant a tomato in a deeper hole, stimulating a good root system. Recommended lettuce varieties are Aunt Mae’s Bib, Balady Aswan (an Egyptian variety with sweet leaves and crunchy stalks), or the Baquieu (a French heirloom variety of small tender bib-type heads and leaves with rouged edges), which is buttery in texture and sweet on your taste buds.

One of the secrets of growing great carrots is to pay attention to the quality of the soil. The ground must not be lumpy or filled with clay or rocks. Raised beds with stone- and bark-free fresh soil are great for carrots and root vegetables.


Plant dinosaur kale seed in April in the garden or in a pot of planting soil exposed to direct sunlight. Plant dinosaur kale seed in April in the garden or in a pot of planting soil exposed to direct sunlight. Next, it helps to know your carrots. Are they the round, stubby Chantenay? The Nantes is long and slender, while the Danvers is stocky and thick. Carrots are a cold weather crop that can be planted now; it will take them a few weeks to germinate, so they will be cozy in their bed of warming earth until they pop up. Sow them in a long row, one pinch of seeds (approximately six) under a quarter-inch of soil. As they come up, thin and leave the largest and healthiest in place.

Carrots do not have to be orange. If you know children who are not old enough to plant and seed properly, they can be assigned the great job of picking out the color. Try purple, red, yellow, white or orange. Purple carrots will change to orange when cooked, so eat them raw for a true purple carrot experience.


Curly kale Curly kale Who doesn’t want a plump, delicious tomato in summer? There are ways to achieve that plumpness. First, find a spot facing due south with more than six hours of sunlight per day. It should not be in the middle of a forest; your tomato plants need good soil, space and air. Having a ton of tomato plants does not ensure a large tomato harvest; you’re actually suffocating them. Second, remember to rotate your plants each year. Soil can carry bacterial spot and a variety of deadly blights.

There are no shortcuts to good gardening. If you do not start your tomato plants from seed, do not buy small pots with fruit hanging from them. Their root system will be too small and the plants will languish for weeks before taking off, as their energy has already been used creating tomatoes. This is a common mistake of new gardeners, who may wonder why they had such a tiny crop.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. When planting tomatoes, bury them halfway up the stem. You will think you are burying most of the plant (and you are), but it makes for the strongest tomato plant ever.

The last secret about growing plumper tomatoes is not to overwater. If your plants are grown in-ground, they only need watering once a week. For tomatoes in pots, once a day is fine. Too much water will plump them up, but they will also crack. A deluge of nightly watering will make these plump beauties explode.

Plants are tender, but can be strong and provide nice medium-sized crops for your family and friends. These helpful hints should provide some good direction for this summer’s production.

Kale Krazy!

These days, there is so much of an accent on kale, kale, and more kale. Kale casserole, kale salad, kale chips, kale soup, kale everything.

There is a reason for this: Kale happens to be among the healthiest and most nutrient-dense vegetables grown on the planet. It is touted to help any number of ailments and afflictions.

The body loves this green vegetable. It is a relative of cabbage, so whatever comes along with cabbage is present in kale, only more so. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single cup of raw kale offers 206 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin A; 684 percent of Vitamin K; and 134 percent of Vitamin C.

Considering kale’s qualities as a “super green,” it deserves a place in your vegetable garden or in a decorative pot. It is not only good for you, but is also one of the most beautiful vegetables you can grow. You may have noticed kale in huge planters in parking lots, which show off their large purple and green leafy heads. Kale ranges in size from very large to miniature, and has become a staple in great flower arrangements.

Kale is not the most flavorful of vegetables; it adds a texture to food rather than a specific taste. The three basic types are curly, ornamental, and dinosaur. Curly, with its slightly peppery taste, is the most common, found in grocery stores and farmers markets. The ornamental pink, white, and rose-colored varieties have a milder flavor. Dinosaur kale is supposedly the sweetest. As rule of thumb, the smaller the leaf, the milder the flavor, regardless of variety.

Sauteed Kale with Garlic

For those who like sautéed spinach with garlic, this nutrient-rich kale recipe is for you.

1½ pounds of kale, thick stems
removed and coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of chicken stock
(homemade is best for this recipe)
2 tbsp. of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until it is soft and not brown. (Burning the garlic will make the dish bitter.) Add the chicken stock and turn up the heat to medium high until the stock begins to boil. Add the kale to the stock, cover, and let steam for five minutes. The kale will wilt and be soft. Uncover, salt, pepper to taste, and add the red wine vinegar. Continue cooking until all of the liquid is dissipated. Serve immediately. This is a great side dish with grilled fish or grilled chicken.

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