Ask Judy: Shoreham vegetable farmer answers questions
Is it too late in the season to plant vegetables?
Absolutely not! You should still be able to find transplants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, squashes and herbs at the local nurseries and farmers’ market. Set those out soon however, and hope for a late frost! If you haven’t gotten around to planting potatoes yet, now is as good a time as any. Several years back my neighbor Ross Sunderland planted a few rows of red potatoes on the Fourth of July that yielded beautifully by summer’s end.
Those of you living in the warmer valley areas were able to get many of your spring crops planted weeks ahead of schedule this year. April was pleasantly mild, which allowed for early plantings of peas, radishes, spinach, and lettuce. Soon those rows will have been picked over and you will have salvaged all that seems fit for the dinner table. Without delay, yank up the plants (or till them in) and do some succession seeding to keep your garden in production.
This is a good time to direct seed crops such as carrots, beets, beans, lettuce, cucumbers and basil, as well as fall brassicas such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Earlier brassica plantings will be harvestable in early- to mid-summer, and the addition of some late summer and fall producing plants will bear a continual and delicious harvest during the cooler shorter days of autumn.
Why does my cilantro always go by before my tomatoes begin to ripen?
If you’d like to have cilantro available for salsa making later this summer I’d suggest that you make successive plantings of it. Cilantro matures quickly, especially during hot conditions, which causes it to bolt (go to flower). You can prolong the leafy stage by nipping back the flower heads for a short period of time, but eventually it will stop producing new leaves.
Here at the farm we plant a row every two or three weeks, ensuring a more or less constant supply. We like to make one last large planting in mid- to late August. Fall cilantro tends to not bolt, it holds up well to light frosts, and, with luck, will provide several harvests.
What causes the tiny holes in my mesclun mix?
Mesclun is a salad mix that contains a variety of lettuces and brassica greens, and is harvested at a tender baby stage, just three-four weeks from seeding. The brassica greens include such things as mizuna, tatsoi, and kale. Spicier mixes include arugula and varieties of mustard greens.
During the early gardening weeks of spring, brassicas are highly susceptible to damage from flea beetles, which are just emerging hungrily from their winter slumbers! In large populations these shiny, tiny black bugs (they are a little bigger than the head of a pin) will riddle the young leaves with holes. The crop is still edible, but unsaleable for market gardeners! Flea beetles can also be hard on young broccoli and cabbage plants, eggplants and tomatoes.
You can cover your plants with floating row covers (available at johnnyseeds.com and elsewhere) for good protection against flea beetles. This lightweight spunbonded polypropylene fabric is rain and light permeable, and offers good soil warming and frost protection properties as well. Cover your crops immediately after planting for best results. Another suggestion is to avoid them by growing an all-lettuce mix, and save the brassica greens for planting later in the summer when there is less flea beetle pressure.
How do you keep up with the weeding?
Many of us don’t pay enough attention to garden weeds until they are several inches high, which then requires a considerable amount of bending over and hand pulling. This is a mistake! The best time to weed is when they are just popping through the ground, before most of us look for them, which typically is a week or so after your last tilling.
As soon as you see the two cotyledon leaves, it’s time to hoe, since they are really easy to kill at this point, and it is a joy to slide the hoe through soil unencumbered by large weeds. Ideally you will be stirring up thin white threads of weed rootlets, which are easy to kill at that stage, even on cloudy days!
One or two of these timely early cultivations will give your young seedlings a head start, and will reduce weed problems later on, for several reasons: 1) the shade created by your vegetable plants will suppress further weed germination, 2) hoeing creates a “dust mulch,” which also prevents further germination, and 3) weed seeds typically don’t germinate when they are deeper than one inch below the soil surface, so the hoeing takes out most of the weed seeds in that surface layer. Later on I’ll share some thoughts on how to reduce next year’s weed pressure.
Herb and Strawberry Recipes
Harmon Thurston’s Herb Pesto
Harmon makes a few batches of this zesty pesto every summer to eat fresh and freeze for the winter. He and Maxine enjoy it spread on crackers and served with cocktails. Harmon says that Maxine puts it on everything…fish, pizza, pasta…it’s delicious!
– 3 bunches basil
– 1 bunch cilantro
– 1 bunch parsley
– 1/2 bulb garlic, individual cloves peeled
– 4 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded
– Juice of 1 lemon
– 2-3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
– 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
– 1 cup pine nuts
– 1/2 – 2/3 cup virgin olive oil
With food processor running add garlic cloves and jalapeño pieces. Pulse until finely chopped. Remove herbs from stems and add to the work bowl along with the lemon juice, horseradish, parmesan and nuts. Continue to process and add the olive oil until it becomes a thick paste.
Spinach Strawberry Salad
– Sesame seeds
– 1 tablespoon maple syrup
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 1 clove minced garlic
– 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– plenty of fresh grated pepper
– 1/4 cup salad oil
– 1/2 lb. spinach, cleaned and stemmed
– 1 cup strawberries sliced
– 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh dill
Toast sesame seeds in dry skillet or hot oven several minutes, tossing often; let cool. Combine maple syrup, vinegar, garlic, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in oil in a thin steam. Toss with spinach, strawberries, dill and sesame seeds. Serves four.