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Time to Veg Out


By Paul James

For those of you who, like me, have been vegging out a lot indoors, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to veg out elsewhere, namely in the veggie garden. Because finally it looks as though the overnight low temperatures are at the point where it’s safe (fingers crossed) to plant pretty much everything. And tomatoes are just the beginning.

Fact is, it’s prime planting time for all warm-season crops, and here’s a list to get you started.

Beans — Whether you prefer to grow bush beans or pole beans (which need a trellis or some other support), it’s best to start from seeds. They germinate quickly in warm soil.

Corn — You need a lot of space to grow corn. In a small garden it’s best to plant in blocks rather than straight rows. Corn is wind pollinated and you’ll get much better pollination by planting in blocks. Either way, shake the stalks once the tassels appear at the top of the plant (the male part) so pollen drops down to the silks (the female part). Plant corn from seed; it doesn’t transplant well.

Cucumbers — Plant cukes from seed as or transplants. You can let the vines sprawl on the ground or let them grow on a trellis. Standard varieties are available as transplants, but seeds of more exotic varieties such as Japanese and Armenian cukes are worth seeking out. My favorite is actually a Persian cuke that you harvest when only four- to six-inches long.

Eggplant — Transplants are the way to go with eggplant. Choose from familiar standards such ‘Black Beauty’ or try Japanese varieties (which are elongated). ‘Little Fingers’ is a small but tasty variety. Be on the lookout for flea beetles (tiny black bugs that chew little holes in the leaves) and spray with Spinosad.

Melons — Melon vines can grow 20 feet or more, so make sure you give them lots of room to roam. Knowing when to harvest can be tricky, but Samuel Clemens, referring to watermelons in particular, once wrote that they’re ripe when you thump them and the sound they make is “not plink, not plank…but plunk.”

Okra — Okra loves the heat, so give it a sunny spot. If you start from seed, remember to thin plants to about a foot apart once they’re two- or three-inches tall. Space transplants a foot apart at planting time. Harvest often, ideally when the pods are about three-inches long.

Peppers — So many peppers! Best grown from transplants, the number of choices is staggering, from sweet to fiery hot. Give them lots of sun and harvest often to keep the plants more productive.

Squash — Getting a successful crop of squash around here is tricky because of two pests, namely squash bugs and squash vine borers, both of which are difficult to control, even with synthetic chemicals. The best way to deal with squash bugs is to look under the leaves for their brick-colored eggs and “squash” them. The adult squash vine borer looks like a red and black wasp. She lays her eggs in the vines and the emerging caterpillars eat from within, so by the time you know they are there it’s often too late. I suggest hitting the moths with a tennis racket.

Tomatoes — For decades, tomatoes have been gardeners #1 crop, which is a testament to their deliciousness. They are subject to a number of pathogens, many of which are difficult to control, and squirrels can be a real pain. But c’mon, even if you only get one vine-ripened tomato, it’s worth the effort, right? Give them a rich, compost-amended soil, apply mulch to maintain even soil moisture and prevent blossom-end rot, and hope for the best.

And remember, you don’t need a dedicated vegetable or herb garden to grow tasty food. Nearly all edibles can be grown in containers, or just plant directly in your flower beds. Many herbs in particular are ornamental — parsley, sage, rosemary (okay, thyme too). Even beans, eggplant, and peppers have nice flowers and foliage.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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