July 23, 2014

Chandra L. Mattingly

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Just gotta grow something
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Friday, May 18, 2012 4:34 PM

Got the itch yet? Or are you well on the way to scratching it?

That's the itch to plant which overcomes so many of us once warm weather hits – and sometimes before! So if you haven't yet planted your vegetable garden, now is the perfect time to set out tomatoes, eggplant, and hot and sweet peppers, and to plant seeds of warmth-loving vegetables.

Whether you've started your own or purchased nice lanky pepper and tomato plants, sink them. No, not in the ocean: dig a hole deep enough to cover about half the current stem, and remove the leaves from that part which will be underground. Your plants will make roots up and down the part which is buried and the roots will be deep enough to protect them from all but a lengthy drought.

Next, tuck a small piece of foil around the stem at soil level, extending about an inch up the stem. This will keep cutworms from chopping off your plant – as they did to two of the cucumbers my husband and I just planted!

Then water, and wait. There are many approaches to tomato growing, from letting all the suckers grow to pinching them out and training the plant to a single stem. We usually do the latter for earlier fruit and more controllable plants. (Suckers, for those who don't know, are the new branches growing out of the stem joints, usually right above a leaf but sometimes from exposed root stalks.)

I've never planted eggplant deeper than its original soil level; has anyone else tried this and did it work?

Other garden standards, beans of all sorts, corn and members of the cucurbit family also can be planted now. We started zucchini and cucumbers in peat pots, and you can buy those and squash plants at garden stores. But it's not too late to simply plant the seeds of these and melons. Be sure to give melons and squash plenty of room, as they are space hogs. Cukes, of course, can be grown up a fence or support.

Sweet corn can be soaked or pre-sprouted before planting, and if you have problems with moles or voles, you can sprinkle red pepper on the seeds before covering them. To pre-sprout, soak overnight, then rinse the seeds two or three times daily. As soon as sprouts are visible, plant and water.

The ground also is warm enough now to plant sweet potato slips. I've been told the slips should be planted deep and vertical for larger potatoes, and horizontal for more potatoes. I usually go for vertical with dry weather in mind.

Some folks put sweet potatoes out as early as April this year since the warm weather was so warm; I'm curious how well they'll produce compared to these later plantings, as we had some chilly nights in there.

Other garden crops such as beets and carrots could have been planted weeks ago, but certainly can still be planted now. For better germination, cover the rows with straw or a wide board until the seeds sprout. Or mix the seeds with radishes which will break through any crust.

Depending on the weather, you can still plant brassica: that's cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and collards. But if it gets hot, the cauliflower and broccoli heads will be small and the kale and collards may bolt. (Bolting means flowering and going to seed, by the way.) Generally, these are fall and spring crops, as is lettuce and spinach.

If you do plant lettuce, spinach and other greens now, plan to pick them on the small side or plant them in the shade or with a shade cover. Spinach will bolt and lettuce will get bitter and bolt in heat.

But do plant. Something edible. And something that will bloom. One feeds the body, the other feeds the soul.