Even now, the coldest part of the winter, there are things that can be planted in the garden.
Sweet peas are among my favorite flowers. The blooms are rich pastel and primary colors, and the fragrance is unmatched. There are so many blooms on a planting of three or four plants that you can cut a bouquet for the house every two days and still have a show in the garden.
The showiest selections of sweet peas are vines (Cuthbertson, Royal), although you can plant bush varieties (Knee Hi, Jet Set). All area nurseries offer seeds of at least one old-fashioned vining selection and a bush variety. You can build a trellis to support the six-foot vines, but the easiest way to grow them is to plant the seeds around a sturdy, tall tomato cage. Sweet peas do best in rich, well-drained soil in a raised bed and require full sun.
For all their wonderful characteristics, sweet peas are not an easy plant to grow in San Antonio. Sweet peas like mild temperatures, not too cold or not too warm. They can freeze if you plant them now and we get a cold spell. On the other hand, if they make it through the cold weather and there is a hot spell where temperatures stay above 80 degrees F. for an extended spell, expect them to decline quickly. In the best of San Antonio springs, sweet peas last into May. Prolong blooming by harvesting the flowers before seeds are formed. Mulch the root system with leaves, grass clippings, or cocoa shells to improve growth and save water.
It is also time to plant onions and potatoes. Buy a bunch of onion plants from your favorite nursery or order them from Dixondale Farms located in Carrizo Springs, Texas. You can visit their web site at www.dixondalefarms.com or call them at toll-free (877) FOR-1015 or (877) 367-1015, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. The Early Texas Sweets, 1015s, or Bermuda onions work well. Plant the onions in a row with about two inches between the plants. The bulbs will require four to six inches space to form large bulbs by May. That space can be provided as you harvest green onions in February and March. Onions are heavy feeders. Fertilize the planting area with a cup of slow release lawn fertilizer per eight feet of row before planting and with another cup side-dressed every three or four weeks. The tops fall over when they are ready to be harvested.
San Antonio area gardens do not produce huge yields of potatoes, but nothing beats a mess of new potatoes harvested from your own garden, boiled with the skins, and drenched in butter and parsley (also from the winter garden).
Potatoes are planted from seed potatoes that are tennis ball-size, cut them into two or three pieces. The key is to have a potato eye on each piece planted. Find seed potatoes at most area nurseries. Call around if your nursery does not offer them.
Select a location in full sun. Add one cup of fertilizer per eight feet of row before planting.
Dig a trench eight or ten inches deep in a full sun garden. After the potato pieces have dried for four or five hours place a piece every two feet at the bottom of the trench. The eye is the stem so most of us place it facing upward; it will grow either way. Cover the seed parts with two or three inches of soil. Within a few days the stem and leaves will poke out of the soil. Without covering the growing tip fill in the trench every three or four days as the potato grows.
Potatoes have formed by the time blooms appear on the plant. Harvest them as you need them two weeks after blooms start. Once the tops die or if there is a spell of soggy weather, harvest the remaining plants quickly to prevent rotting. The tubers form underground along the stem so harvesting entails carefully digging the plant up with a shovel; pulling the plant up does not work. You can store the tubers for a few weeks at room temperature or a few months at 40 degrees F.