Monday, May 11, 2015

Time to Plant Summer Vegetables

Mother's Day marks the beginning of the traditional time for planting summer vegetables here in the Valley. All of the favorite summer crops can go in now, although in a couple of cases it is better to wait until the end of the month. Here's the rundown:

Without a doubt, tomatoes are the most popular backyard vegetable crop. You can find a variety of tomato to meet just about any gardening situation, so there is little excuse not to grow them. We have Tiny Tim, which only reaches about 8 inches in height, just for fun, and Marglobe, an older and reliable cultivar, just for canning. Marglobe is a determinate type, meaning it grows to about five feet tall and then stops, bearing most of its fruit over a short season. This facilitates having a large amount on hand at canning time.

Tomatoes need even moisture, well-drained soil, and a four inch mulch. The biggest problem is foliar diseases. Either grow resistant varieties, or grow your tomatoes in straw bales if you want to grow non-resistant heirlooms like Cherokee Purple and Brandywine. Feed tomatoes at transplant time with a balanced organic fertilizer, but withold fertilizer when blooms appear or you will reduce the crop.

"Knee high by the Fourth of July" is the goal of the corn grower. Plenty of sunshine, nitrogen and water are needed to achieve that goal. Corn is among the least productive of backyard crops, but the flavor of freshly picked roasting ears is hard to beat.

Plant corn in blocks rather than rows to facilitate pollination. Give it at least an inch of water weekly if rainfall is insufficient. Feed corn with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as cottonseed meal, when it is 6 inches tall and again about every two weeks until tassels appear.

Cucumbers, squash and melons may all be planted now, although melons and winter squash may not grow very rapidly until nighttime temperatures are quite warm. All these vegetables are subject to foliar disease problems. Grow resistant varieties, keep them mulched to prevent soil from reaching the foliage, and make sure the plants have good air circulation around them. Growing cucurbits on a trellis results in fewer problems with foliar disease.

Summer squash typically do not climb, and their primary enemy is the squash vine borer. The only sure way to prevent an attack by this pest is to keep the plants covered with fabric until flowers appear. Insect barrier fabric is available at most garden centers.

Continue planting beans every two weeks if you want a steady supply. Bush beans are easier than pole beans and need no trellis. Try something different from the standard "green beans." Yellow wax beans are tender and delicious, and filet beans are ideal for quick cooking. Big, flat Italian beans have rich flavor and are better for long-cooked bean dishes. With so many types to choose from, you should be able to have beans on a regular basis without getting tired of them.

Blue Lake beans, although certainly an older cultivar, were developed with the needs of commercial harvesting equipment in mind. They are stringier, and tougher, than many other beans. They tend to appear on numerous seed racks, probably because they are produced in huge quantities, but they are not the best bean for home growers.

Okra and Sweet Potatoes
These two Southern favorites can be planted together. Neither needs especially rich soil, and the potatoes provide a good mulch over the roots of the okra. Plant them any time between now and the middle of June.

All types of peppers can be planted now. They need the same attention as tomatoes, and should be planted in blocks of four plants. Doing so keeps the humidity high around the leaves, a condition that peppers thrive upon. Most pepper varieties avoid the foliar disease problems that plague tomatoes, and are thus among the easiest and most productive of summer vegetable crops. The do need heat, however, so later plantings will have the best chance of success. Transplant peppers any time between now and the end of June.

Many thanks to everyone who came by our tent at UT Gardens' Bloomsdays event last Saturday. We had a wonderful time and answered a ton of questions for aspiring backyard farmers. It is very encouraging to see so many people taking an interest in growing food.

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