My husband and I started prepping our garden beds weeks ago, back when growing your own vegetables still felt like merely a hobby. After turning the soil and mixing in compost, we poked rows of holes, dropped in cold-weather-tolerant seeds, and crossed our dirt-covered fingers. If all goes well, we’ll be harvesting radishes by late April and other flavor-filled goodies like peas and carrots in May.
But given the picked-over grocery shelves of late and the need to avoid going out, even for fresh produce, that doesn’t seem like soon enough. “When you can’t find lettuce in the grocery store,” says Trela Phelps, the general manager of City Floral Garden Center, “you start thinking, hmm….”
It may still be too early to plunk tomatoes and squash into your backyard plots, but Phelps says it’s the perfect time to craft an indoor herb garden and to sow some hardy greens—arugula, kale, spinach, and more—outdoors.
City Floral, located just off East Colfax Avenue in Montclair, is stocked with ready-to-plant “starts”—basically, baby plants—from its three acres in Golden, and as of this past week, you don’t even have to go inside to get what you need: In addition to its usual local-area delivery services, the 109-year-old greenhouse is responding to the social distancing mandate by offering curbside pickup for orders placed by calling 303-399-1177 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. (Should you want to pick out your own plants, though, the 70 percent open-air shop is considered an essential business and remains open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.)
After asking Phelps to recommend some plants and selecting my starts, I rounded up containers from around the house and dug in as wet, heavy snow fell outside my garage windows at the end of last week. Five days later, my greens are enjoying the warmer temps and sunshine—and I’m already starting to reap what I’ve so recently sown. Here, a quick-start guide to getting growing today and saving yourself a grocery trip in the near future.
Project One: Indoor Herb Garden
For frequently used culinary herbs that thrive indoors, Phelps suggests basil, cilantro, and chives. The bigger the start, the more you pay; I opted for four-inch basil and cilantro plants ($6.99 each) and 2.5-inch onion and garlic chives ($3.99 each). Planting is as easy as supplementing the start with potting soil underneath and around the sides. I press down on the top of each plant once it’s in and give it a little water. Herbs need a sunny spot, so I arrange them on a south-facing windowsill. (The chives last approximately 35 seconds before my cat starts nibbling on them; I sigh and add “build a shelf” to our to-do list.)
Phelps says to water when they’re dry to the touch and to fertilize with a food high in nitrogen (follow the instructions on the fertilizer you choose). You can start harvesting—basil for spaghetti sauce; cilantro to top pad thai; chives for mashed potatoes—right away. I’m nervous about taking too much at once, but Phelps insists that the more you cut, the more herbs grow, so don’t be shy.
Project Two: Outdoor Greens
Given recent weather, I’m wary of putting anything outside, but Phelps assures me that City Floral’s starts have been hardened down to 25 degrees. I’ll just want to cover them with another pot or a plastic bin in the event of another spring storm to keep snow from squishing and breaking the leafy salad green starts I selected: a four-inch arugula plant ($5.99) and four-packs of spinach, kale, and red romaine ($3.99 each). One 50-quart bag of Ferti-lome’s Ultimate Potting mix ($20.99 at City Floral) is just enough to fill my three large containers. Kale needs more space than the rest, so I plant just two of the four kale plants in one bucket; the romaine gets its own vessel; and I nestle the spinach around the arugula in the third.
After gently pressing the plants down, I give them all a good watering. I still can’t bring myself to put them out in the snow, so I decide to leave them by my garage windows until things warm up again over the weekend. When I do take them outside, Phelps suggests finding a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, watering when the soil is dry down to two or three inches, and fertilizing with veggie food. It’ll be a while before I can harvest a whole salad, but I should be able to pluck greens for sandwiches and smoothies within a few weeks. That will make it well-worth the effort.