What's a sweet and crispy snack that is actually good for you? Not a potato chip or candy, although it snaps like a Kit Kat bar. It's found outside and can be enjoyed right from the vine in its pod. Truly nature's candy, it is the sugar snap pea of course. In bygone days, many people were familiar with this delicious vegetable, although a return to more natural and healthy food is making a great comeback as described in last week's column, "Gardening getting back to your roots." It is certainly still not too late to spring into action for some gardening this year and reap all its benefits.
The old adage of waiting until Memorial Day to plant many varieties of vegetables and flowers is still true for our northern climate. However, there are some "cold" weather varieties that can be planted soon after the soil can be worked. Sugar snap peas is one of them! With climbing vines that can reach a few feet, they are fun to grow on poles or trellises. Ready to eat in just over 60 days, they make a great snack or addition to a salad.
One seed packet says it well with, "Be sure to plant extra since you won't be able to resist nibbling a few peas in the garden." It suggests serving them with dip, salads, stir-fries, and soups. "Botanical Gardens," seeds are not treated with chemicals, are non-GMO, and many are certified organic. There are other vegetables that can be planted early such as radishes, onions, carrots, certain potatoes, beets, and Swiss chard.
OBSERVER Photo by Mary Deas
One small yard of raised beds and a mulched in area can grow a great amount of food. Shown in April, much more will be planted again as the weather warms.
Books and the internet can help a would-be gardener find out what is best for our climate's planting zone or the answers to a myriad of questions. In our area, we are fortunate to have expert gardeners in our midst. As mentioned last week, our county has "master gardeners" through the Cornell Cooperative Extension Agriculture Program. With a personal and friendly touch, these volunteers manage a hot-line and give free presentations to the public at various libraries throughout the county to "enhance our community one trowel at a time!"
Who wouldn't want to use native shrubs and perennials? Suited to our climatic conditions, they are hardy and reliable, which of course saves money in the long run because you don't have to fuss a great deal over them or continue to replant them.
This is just one of the topics of the Master Gardeners "trowel talks."
Last week at the Dunkirk Public Library, participants received lists of these plants and also talked about how to garden for wildlife. Certain plants are friendlier to our birds and insects, providing what they need for shelter and food. For example, a great perennial that will spread quickly with beautiful color is the black-eyed Susan, which also attracts butterflies.
A healthy gardener is one of the added benefits of a healthy garden. Just think of how good it is to be out in the fresh air and sunshine while you bend, lift, pull, and dig. In another recent "trowel talk," tips were given to help protect the gardener from injuries as well as a display of different kinds of gardening tools. Some tools have special grips for the arthritic and there are nifty stools to save one's back. Why not get great exercise while at the same time grow some of your own healthy food?
Worms and other organisms working through decaying and steaming waste of your leftover salads and egg shells is the topic of an upcoming "trowel talk" on compost. People have used this method of creating fertilizers for their crops for centuries, and like gardening in general, it is making a comeback as people are becoming more concerned about natural food and earth friendly ways to do things. People living on large plots of land can start a compost pile most anywhere, while people with less land have options such as special containers and barrels to convert waste. Look for more on that in the upcoming weeks.
If people in a big city such as New York City can grow some food in a container on a small porch, then certainly people with small back yards can produce even more. A huge amount of land is not necessary.
One young family, my daughter and son-in-law who live in Columbus, Ohio, with just a few raised beds and an area that is mulched, is growing a vast collection of food. Believe it or not, they will have strawberries, onions, carrots, zucchini, leaks, kale, red and green lettuce, radishes, broccoli, red, yellow, and mini-sweet peppers, sugar snap peas, spinach, Roma, cherry, and beefeater tomatoes, and last but not least, yellow and butternut squash. Anyone who has never enjoyed kale "chips" baked in the oven with olive oil and sea salt doesn't know what he or she is missing!
Remember the website chautauquacce.shutterfly.com/mg has information regarding when these workshops occur and the hours when the help-line is open at 664-9502, ext. 204. Make it a good week. Get digging and get healthy.