May has passed and so has North Dakota’s last frost date. That opens the gate to adding all warm weather crops like cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and peppers to the already planted radishes, lettuce and potatoes.
And, the race is on. Serious gardeners are off the starting blocks in full force getting everything placed before it rains.
Farmers, gardeners and general soil-enthusiasts begin looking at seed catalogs early in December. Like the old Sears and Roebuck catalog of yesterday, we drool over new vegetable varieties, seek out our old reliable varieties and calculate just how much soil we have to introduce to our ever-growing list of seeds and seedlings. There is never enough space for everything, ever.
Then we order. Not from just one company, but from several. Old standby varieties first, and then the newest and most recently-offered heirlooms. Sometimes we select varieties just out of curiosity.
In our minds, we begin a competition to see who can get their garden planted first; or bragging rights, “my plants are bigger than your plants,” or better yet, who can harvest radishes, rhubarb or lettuce earlier than their neighbors.
We observe the weather. Once the snow is gone, if we can work the soil, however, we bury peas, radishes, lettuces and spinach in the earth; all the while caring for our tomato, cabbage, pepper and herb starts in our greenhouses and on sunny window sills.
When nighttime temps continue to dip below freezing, it seems senseless to plant warm weather crops. They require so much coddling and resist growing anyway until everything warms up to 50-degrees or more.
Once those frost dangers disappear, it’s off to the races and we plant in furious fever everything we can, whether seed or three-feet tall. For experienced market gardeners, this spans the course of a week or longer depending on which relatives are available to help. Fully expecting of course, in return for labor, their fair share of veggies at harvest time.
There are still many folks that think gardening is a lot of work. It could be.
There are, however, some things that make gardening a bit simpler once the seedlings have taken root. Plants desire to grow becomes evident in short time. (Have you ever tried to kill off an established perennial? If so, you know what I mean. Plants have a strong desire to live. That of course, includes weeds.)
Whether you have planted your garden entirely or are still in the process of filling in the blank spots, there are ways to keep your garden growing without all the “perceived” work of caring for a garden.
1. For the first few weeks it is essential to weed and water and water and weed. When your vegetables become stronger than the weeds, you can begin to relax a bit.
2. Do not allow your little seeds like carrots to dry out. Sprinkle them on the soil and cover with grass clippings instead of soil. It keeps the wind and birds from running off with them until they root.
3. Once your plants are established you can mulch like crazy around peppers, tomatoes and cabbage to keep the weeds away.
4. Lay down mulch before you plant squash and summer squash. I cut holes in the barrier and put large tin cans around the area. Once the squash are up and healthy, I think from three to one plant and remove the cans. By the end of July your garden will be lush with vines so leave plenty of space.
5. Carrots, beets and radish need to be thinned to grow up big and strong. It’s painful, but if you get down to eye level and use a manicure scissors to cut out other seedlings, you can eat them as microgreens and you will not disturb the soil with your oversized fingers.
6. You can also use the scissors to cut down weeds near new seedlings so you don’t inadvertently pull the good stuff out of the ground.
7. Once your plants are bigger than your weeds, water deeply every three or four days… this establishes roots deeper into the ground and makes your plants stronger and more drought resistant.
8. Remember that plants that have to fight off pests, etc. develop stronger immune systems, just like people. Therefore your vegetables will provide you with more of these good strong defenses when you consume them. Which we recommend you eat lots of veggies and fresh veggies …
9. Don’t plant onions too deep, they like to sun on the surface of your soil.
10. If at first you don’t succeed. There’s always farmers markets. They should be up and running beginning this month. You can find your local market at https://www.nd.gov/ndda/marketing-information-division/local-foods/farmers-markets.
June 17 is Eat all your Veggies Day. Remember at least 2 to 3 cups of vegetables is the recommended daily. Regarding leafy greens, 2 cups are considered 1 cup; otherwise, 1 cup of raw or cooked veggies counts toward the vegetable group.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.