Yarb Tales
March 7, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants

Now, more than ever before, we can save money and eat better if we grow a vegetable garden and shop at the farmers’ markets. Fuel prices, trucking and processing costs are passed on to the consumer at the grocery store. While stores are convenient and, thankfully, usually a dependable place to obtain a wide variety of produce, the freshest food is locally grown. The surge of pride and burst of flavor that comes from eating the food you have grown are rewards beyond the measure of money.

Planting seeds directly into the garden is most economical, in terms of the money and energy invested. A packet containing ten to twenty seeds costs a couple of dollars. A cell-pack of three, four or six starter plants costs about the same amount of money. Both options are good for different reasons. Seeds offer more variety and the gardener has the most control of the growing conditions from germination to harvest. Purchased seedlings have grown longer and so offer a head start in the race for the first tomato or whatever, however they are often root bound and can be stressed by many factors.

To sow seeds directly into the soil, you must first prepare a seed bed. Fence the garden area to keep deer and rabbits out. If you use a tiller or plough, you will plant in rows so that you can travel in a line with infrequent turns and cultivate between the rows during the season to control weeds. Gardeners who prefer to use spades and hand tools build permanent raised beds.

Till or spade the ground when it is moist. If the soil is too wet, you will have hard, lumpy clods when it dries. If the soil is too dry, it is hard to dig or plough. Remove grass and perennial weeds by the roots. Rake and cultivate to remove large stones and clods so that the seedlings will have an easy time breaking through the soil surface.

During the month of March, we can plant peas, carrots, onions, radishes, mustard, collards, spinach, and kale. These are cool season crops that can survive light frosts. Peas, mustard and collards are well-suited for the native soil here. If you want to plant carrots, you have to work copious amounts of organic matter into your beds this year and try a round of carrots next spring.

Peas have a large seed and are planted fairly deeply where the soil stays moist. The smaller the seed, the more shallow it is planted. The soil surface dries out quickly and must be kept moist until the seedlings appear. Hand watering should be done with either a watering can with a sprinkler or “rose” on the end of the spout that breaks the flow of water into drops. Better yet, use a water hose with a wand or hose-end sprayer with a sprinkling pattern. You don’t want to wash your seeds away as you water. Best yet, invest in a low-pressure, soaker irrigation system. Lay lines out on top of the prepared soil, plant the seed and you can water very efficiently, all season long.  

Check the seed packet or gardening books for the recommended depth of planting and the space needed between each plant at maturity. Sow seed a bit thickly and then thin as they grow. You can eat the thinned seedlings of onions, lettuce and greens. Just rinse the grit off of the roots. Unfortunately, cutworms will thin seedlings for you. There is no substitute for visiting the garden every morning to check for signs of germination and for the pests that will foil your efforts. Gardens teach us about abundance. Be prepared to receive an abundance of food and challenges! If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture.