Before I tell you all about my newly planted garden, I want to share some useful information for a change.
I have already observed some lawns turning brown this past week due to heat stress and lack of rain. It is helpful to adjust your mowing height to at least three inches to prevent this from happening. Once the turf goes dormant it will take some serious rain and cool temperatures to reverse the process. That might not happen until fall.
All the brown lawns I have seen were mowed much too short to tolerate the stress. You don’t need to remove lawn clippings, nor should you as they supply nutrients as they decompose, unless the grass was so long that you have large clumps of grass. These clumps can suffocate the grass below them. If you are in need of a new lawnmower, either riding or push type, consider an electric one. Battery technology today makes these non-polluting types as good, or better than, gas powered.
I also want to remind you to treat all your outdoor clothing with permethrin to ward off ticks. I spent 100 hours, mostly sitting or sleeping in the woods this past May, with nary a tick on me, but I did not treat my regular jeans or sneakers and I got bit twice this past week while just working in my garden.
Make sure your cats and dogs are also protected since the ticks they bring inside actually prefer your blood and will leave the pet to bite you!
I know some of you in the valley have already started harvesting vegetables from your gardens, despite some cool nights, but those of us who live at elevations of 1,000 feet or more are just finishing up planting! This has been a challenging spring in some ways because many of the transplants I buy each year were already sold out when I started shopping for them a couple of weeks ago. Even Story’s Nursery in Freehold ran out of onions, leeks and most of their usual varieties of sweet or bell peppers.
I have had to make a few changes in my planned vegetable garden as a result of this, but it is allowing me to be a bit more creative than usual in using my limited garden space. For the very first time, I planted red cabbage, a vegetable I don’t usually grow, but I do like to eat. Also, for the first time, I am trying a small, seedless watermelon.
Although I talk about it every spring, for the first time in many years I am growing six different varieties of tomatoes. They are my old favorite, “Big Beef,” plus another large fruited variety called “Big Daddy,” an heirloom variety called “Brandywine” and two different, yellow-fruited cherry types, “Sungella” and “Sun Sugar.” I also have another red-cherry variety, but I did not write the name down.
Since I only have eight cages for these indeterminate tomato types, I will have to improvise for at least three more plants. I have plenty of stakes to use, but I really like my six-foot-tall cages made from sturdy rewire, such as is used for reinforcing poured concrete. They last forever and the openings are large enough to put my hand into to harvest the fruit, unlike welded wire. They can also handle the weight of these plants, which should top out at over six feet tall.
“Indeterminate” tomato varieties continue to grow and flower until killed by frost, whereas “determinate” varieties flower and set all their fruit at one time.
I planted my usual “Marketmore” slicing cucumbers, as well as a standard pickling type, and I am trying a “lemon” cucumber, which produces yellow-colored fruit that look like overripe, pickling types, but are very sweet.
The only peppers I could find were simply labeled “bell peppers.” As usual, I planted three types of beets — “Early Wonder,” a standard red beet, “Chiogga,” a red-and-white striped variety that is very sweet and does not “bleed,” nor does it have the typical “musky” flavor that red types have, and “Detroit Golden,” a golden-colored variety that also does not “bleed.”
Even kids may like the taste of these latter two types. Both need to be heavily seeded since germination is very low. Beet seeds are actually “capsules” containing two to four seeds, so they always require some thinning, but my experience is that I get less than 10% germination overall.
I still need to build as sturdy pea trellis for the “Cascadia” snap pea I am trying for the first time. If I can find seed for snow peas, they will accompany them. No room for sweet corn this year. Spaghetti squash and zucchini finish out this year’s plantings.
Reach Bob Beyfuss at email@example.com.