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Plant vegetables, herbs now in beds or containers for Passover harvest

EarthBox® with seedlings (Deborah Mayaan)

Even as the lights of Chanukah dwindle, we continue to connect to our ancestors and rededicate our land. It’s not too late to plant a winter garden and enjoy eating greens into the spring, including bitter herbs for the Passover Seder. While seeds have a low germination rate when planted in cold weather, there are two options, says Murray De Armond, a master gardener at the University of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension.

Seeds can be planted in flats indoors and then transplanted into the ground. Vendors at local farmers’ markets also offer plants. Recently I found kale and broccoli plants at one of these popular markets.

In early January, it will be time to plant onion sets. De Armond recommends planning ahead and ordering them over the Internet.

If you don’t have a vegetable bed ready, Marylee Pangman, owner of The Contained Gardener, offers classes on container gardening, and also provides resources on her website.

When I visited her shop on Fort Lowell Road, I was struck by the riot of colors; some of her flowers are edible, including nasturtium, pansy, calendula and dianthus. She mixes flowers with vegetables such as lettuce and Swiss chard.

As someone new to container gardening, I was impressed that organic potting soil was available. It’s also possible to use some of the soil from my garden bed, but Pangman cautions that plain desert soil does not have enough nutrients to sustain garden plants. She suggests devices to place under pots, so that the moisture does not harm wooden decking. A moisture sensor may be a good investment, since Pangman says that 95 percent of plant failures are due to inappropriate watering. People who travel a lot may also consider an irrigation line on a timer.

Plants in containers can be more susceptible to cold than those in the ground, but they can also be placed in more protected areas, says Pangman. Keeping soil moist before a freeze helps the plants stay warmer.

When choosing plants, it is important to know what kind of gardener you are, says Pangman — ­if you are a “rescuer” who wants to care for tender plants that may be killed by a freeze, or if you are a “survival of the fittest” gardener who prefers hardier plants that will compost if they can’t withstand more extreme weather conditions.

She advises picking plants with similar needs for sun (full, shade, or mixed), and water (high or low). For an attractive container garden, Pangman suggests choosing plants that are proportionate to the container. Including at least one plant that is as tall as the container makes a dramatic statement, and it may be surrounded with mid-height plants for depth. Plants that trail over the sides add another pleasing effect.

A friend who travels back and forth between two homes takes her garden with her by using an EarthBox®. Wheels on the bottom make it easier to move inside and outside during transitional weather. A chamber at the bottom of the box is filled with water via a piece of pipe that is open at the top. To learn more, see www.earth box.com.

What to plant now

For those who would like to plant seeds, De Armond recommends these vegetables: bok choy, beets (Detroit dark red,  early red ball), broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cilantro, kale, leaf lettuces (Buttercrunch, Bibb,  romaine, oak leaf), parsley, peas (sugar peas, snow peas), radish and spinach.
In early January, onion sets can be planted. De Armond recommends ordering Texas Supersweet or Granex over the Internet.

Deborah Mayaan is an energy healing and flower essence practitioner based in Tucson. www.deborah mayaan.com


EarthBox, see http://earthbox.com.

The Contained Gardener, 733-3359, www.containedgardener.com

University of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension, 4210 N. Campbell, 626-5161