June 2008

The days are very long now and the temperature is finally warm enough to have all the favorite summer vegetables planted out into the garden. Love those home grown tomatoes. The tomato vines can be tied to tall stakes, especially if you grow the indeterminate types, like Early Girl, Stupice, Brandywine or Sungold. The roma types of tomatoes don’t usually get as tall, but I stake them to keep them up out of reach of the slugs.

All the cucumbers and squashes (both summer and winter types) can be planted by now. Give them lots of space and try using trellises for the trailing types. If you are growing a very large variety of trailing winter squash (like hubbard) you may need to give extra support to the fruits as they grow on the trellis.

It is important to water your garden with the equivalent of one to two inches a week during the summer. And I emphasize watering the soil, not the plants. The leaves of tomatoes and squash should not get wet, especially in the evening. There are several fungal and bacterial infections that thrive on their wet leaves and may kill your plants. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to conserve water and keep it right at the root zone. Check the soil moisture around your plants often to ensure it stays damp two inches below the surface. Preserve the soil moisture by using mulches which prevent evaporation. Black plastic is a type of mulch that both controls weeds and keeps the soil damp but wears out and must be thrown away after a couple of years. I use organic mulches when I can get them. Compost is the best. I also use dried leaves or grass. Sawdust depletes the soil of nitrogen, so I don’t put that near the plant’s root zone.

As you are harvesting your early spring greens, you may have room in your garden to plant a few rows of beets or chard. This family of vegetables is very nutritious and rather easy to grow. They tolerate a wide range of soil types. If you soil is too acidic (best at about 6.5) the growth will be stunted. Beets don’t like really hot weather (over 80 degrees), so plant in the evening and keep well watered. Perhaps some afternoon shade would help. But beets love the long days of summer.

The best thing about beets is that you can eat all of the plant. The leaves are especially nutritious. The beet seed is actually a small fruit, so several plants may germinate in a cluster. When you thin out these little baby plants to give them room to grow, use the little leaves in your next green salad. They add a little color and a rich flavor. When the leaves are bigger, you can eat them like spinach. Then of course, you can wait 50-70 days and you’ll be harvesting the nice beet roots. Most beet roots will stay good in the soil well into the fall or even winter, extending the harvest period. Many people have their favorite beet recipes (borscht, pickled, roasted, etc.) but we love eating fresh grated beet salads with a mustard type vinaigrette. I wear plastic gloves to keep my hands from being stained and peel the beets before I grate them. There are of course golden beets which don’t stain everything red. They work well in many vegetable soups.

The main beet pest is the leaf minor, which is a little fly that lays it little white eggs in the underside of the leaf. When they hatch, the larva climbs into the leaf, through the stomates and tunnels through the veined area. It ruins the leaves. So, try using floating row cover to prevent the adult from laying its eggs on the leaves. Be sure to secure the edges of the row cover so the little fly can’t crawl under the edges. When the days become cold again in the fall, you can take the row cover off. Generally this pest is gone by then.

If you decide to plant chard, the growing requirements are very similar to beets. It may take longer to harvest the large chard leaves, but they are worth the wait. The plants generally do well in our climate all winter. We ate chard for several months this winter. The plant is definitely slow growing when the days are short, with grey skies and cold weather. But as soon as they get some light, the plant will keep producing. I usually plant the rainbow chard, because it is so colorful and every type is delicious.

Happy eating this month with all the fresh peas, spinach, and other greens. We should be having warm weather now, so the summer veggies will be ready before you know it.

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