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What do good cooks plant in their gardens this month?

What do good cooks plant in their gardens this month?

Crops that taste better than grocery store fare are the goal of every good gardenercook. Here are three nominees to start now in mild-winter areas. Seeds are widely available on nursery racks or from mail-order catalogs. Many kinds of lettuce are also for sale in sixpacks this month.

Lettuce. Most home gardeners find butterhead and leaf lettuces easier to grow and better in flavor than romaine and iceberg types. The thick-leafed, flattened heads above are "Bibb', a top choice of many readers. Says Steve Dean of Willetts, California: "When it matures quickly in cool weather, it's so good I even slice up the core and use it like a cucumber.'

You can sow directly in the ground and thin every few weeks until plants are 8 inches apart; use the thinnings for salads. Or sow into a shallow seed box and transplant 6 to 8 inches apart when seedlings develop four leaves or reach 2 inches tall.

Either way, your crop will mature faster and taste better if you keep plants growing quickly. Thin or transplant so that plants are never stunted by crowding. Keep soil moist but never boggy. Provide extra warmth at night and on cold days by covering with glass or a plastic tent. Be sure to remove any covering on warm days or plants may burn.

Kohlrabi. "This is my favorite winter vegetable,' writes Lewis Headrick of Redway, California. "The flavor is like a mild cabbage with a crisp texture. We use the thinnings and leaves in Oriental stir-fries, the small "bulbs' and chopped leaves in soup. Or we steam and marinate them for a treat that's better than artichoke hearts.'

Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in full sun and rich, prepared soil. Thin seedlings to 4 inches apart. "Early White Vienna' matures in 1 1/2 to 2 months; "Early Purple Vienna' takes about a week longer.

To salvage overmature, tougher kohlrabi, peel off the tough skin and discard it, slice the center thinly, and steam or saute. Or scrape out the center, stuff with a meat or cheese mixture, and bake until tender. Add a little butter and water to the pan to keep kohlrabi from sticking.

Baby carrots. Some favorites are "Little Finger', "Royal Chantenay', and "Short 'n Sweet'. As one reader comments, "Baby carrots are easier to grow than regular carrots and stay sweet longer. My boys like to eat them because they can pop the whole thing into their mouths in one bite. With short kinds, you get results in a few months; regular varieties take forever.'

Sow seeds where they are to grow, barely covering with soil. Thin to 2 inches apart when they reach a few inches tall. Harvest and use the largest ones in crowded clumps first. You can tell which ones are ready by brushing dirt away from the base to expose the shoulders.

Photo: Warmth and space speed growth: larger seedlings were transplanted about three weeks earlier from crowded cluster of small seedlings; glass cover holds heat at night and on cold days

Photo: About seven weeks after transplanting, "Bibb' lettuce is ready for harvest to begin: cut off at soil level. Spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, mature heads occupy every available inch

Photo: Tender, delicately flavored kohlrabi is prime eating size at 2 1/2 inches wide. Harvest soon after, or it will mature into tough, elongated trunk (right)

Photo: Snack-size "Little Finger' carrots are ready to eat about two months after planting; they grow well even in containers or poor soil
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Date:Oct 1, 1984
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