Monday, June 1, 2015

"Do Everything" Time

I was relieved to read that John Coykendall, chief gardener at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN, abandons his do-list at this time of year, and simply writes "Do Everything!" on the blackboard in his workspace. This is indeed the time of year to "do everything" in your garden.

Warm season weeds will be growing strong, and you should remove them while they are small, before they produce seeds for another crop. It is a good idea to apply a germination inhibitor to the area after weeding. Disturbing the soil by pulling up weeds can bring more seeds to the surface, where they will germinate. There are both organic and non-organic germination inhibitors on the market. Both are sold under the "Preen" brand, so read the label, and always follow the label directions. Be careful of using germination inhibitors in any area of the vegetable garden in which you intend to direct sow seeds. Using the inhibitor around transplants, such as tomatoes, is OK, as only sprouting seeds are affected by these products.

Now is the time to plant all the crops that are associated with Southern food and cooking: corn, okra, tomatoes, peppers, field peas, sweet potatoes and pole beans all have plenty of time to mature before the weather cools down again. Cucurbits, too, thrive on summer heat. Now is the time to plant watermelon, winter squash and pumpkins, as well as the faster-maturing summer squash and cucumbers. If you have room to grow pole lima beans or field peas, the flavor of freshly shelled ones is well worth the trouble. It is difficult to produce them in quantity with limited growing space.

Plenty of time remains for growing basil and eggplant. Protect the latter from flea beetles with a fabric cover, or grow dwarf plants in hanging baskets. The beetles do not fly very far off the ground, so hanging baskets provide a measure of protection from this major eggplant pest. Basil, on the other hand, is typically pest free and will produce abundantly until the temperature dips into the 40s again. You can find basil plants in a range of sizes, colors and flavors. Try them all if you have room. Basil needs plenty of water, but not much fertilizer. If growing in containers, they need to be fed about every two weeks. One or two feedings druing the season is enough for plants growing in the ground. For container production, we like Bush Spicy Globe, as it has great flavor and remains small.

Early June is also the time when the first shelling peas arrive. We have grown Sugar Snap peas in recent years, but this year we decided to grow shelling, or English, peas instead. The variety we chose is Green Arrow, a very old heirloom cultivar we purchased at Mayo Garden Center. It is easy to see why this pea has been grown for so long. Despite producing vines only about 30 inches in height, it bears heavy crops of pods, each with 10 to 12 peas inside. The pods are easy to shell, and are said to be preferred for making green pea soup. It should be noted that all pea pods, not just those from Sugar Snap types, are edible, but they are typically too tough to be eaten without being cooked, pureed, and strained to eliminate fibrous material. The characteristics that make pea pods easy to shell unfortunately also make them tough.

The photo shows two other crops that are reaching perfection right about now. Zinnias are among the hardest working flowers in the garden, as they attract pollinators as well as providing lots of cut flowers for the house. Mint has been growing well since April, but the warm, wet weather of late has produced some enormous, flavorful leaves and plenty of greenery for the flower vase. Mint won't wilt after cutting if you immerse it in plain water. In fact, it will remain in fine shape for days and will root if you place the plants where they will get some sunshine. You will need to replace the zinnias after a few days, however. Fortunately, they will continue to produce blooms until frost if tended properly.

Now is also the time to harvest new potatoes. You can "steal" a few or dig up most of your crop for canning, provided you have a pressure canner. Otherwise, leave the plants alone until they turn yellow and fall over. Spring-planted beets and carrots will also be ready to harvest now.

Crops that mature together in the garden often go together in the kitchen. Early June peas are perfect when seasoned with fresh mint, for example. Here is a simple recipe:

Peas With Mint

(2 servings)

1 cup freshly shelled peas
1 tablespoon safflower oil or olive oil
2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, add the peas, reduce the heat and cook for exactly 3 minutes. Drain the peas in a strainer, rinse them under cold water, and set aside.

In a small skillet, warm the oil and add the scallions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened but not browned. Add the peas to the skillet, followed by the reamining ingredients. Heat through, tossing or stirring occasionally. Serve immediately as a side dish.

A few steamed new potatoes, some roasted carrots and/or beets, and your protein of choice would make a superb dinner!

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