Summer's sensual rewards await those who dig now

Planting: The bounty of the vegetable garden won't happen without the gardener. Here's what you need to do.

In The Garden

June 13, 1999|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to the Sun

Among life's most sensual pleasures, the garden in summer -- scented with sweet melons, luscious tomatoes and mint -- has got to be in the Top 10. Rich in color, beauty and abundance, it's one of the rewards for the wave of planting in late spring and early summer.

The list of herbs, fruits and vegetables that can be put in the ground now is tantalizing: sweet basil, marjoram, dill, melon, squash, tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, okra, pumpkin, endive, sweet potato and Chinese cabbage (bok choy). And if you're ambitious, you can keep planting radish, beans, kohlrabi and carrot to extend the harvest.

Seeds or plants?

You can either sow seed in the ground or put in plants; the main deciding factor is the time required for each to go from seed to fruiting.

"Certain things lend themselves to plants," says Don Zeidler of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. "They have a longer growing time."

Sweet potato, eggplant, tomato and pepper, which take months to reach the production stage only to crash and burn at the first frost, are best put in as plants. Thanks to exploding interest in both gardening and good eating, the varieties available in nursery-raised vegetable plants are expanding. Burpee, for example, now sells 30 kinds of tomato plants (including six different cherry tomatoes and several heirlooms), 15 types of pepper, six of which are hot, and eight kinds of eggplant.

Basil, marjoram, dill, okra, melon, cucumber, summer and winter squash (including pumpkin), endive and Chinese cabbage, which go from zero to food in a short season, are easy and cheap to plant as seed. Additionally, with seed, you can stagger plant-ing times for a drawn-out harvest -- except pumpkin and winter squash, which ripen just before frost and keep all winter.

Planting

Basil, marjoram and dill can be put in the ground along with okra, endive and bok choy.

Plant them as you would carrot, radish or lettuce -- in rows, squares, triangles or knots.

Squash, melon and cucumber are a slightly different bag. Seed packets often say to plant them in hills, which means to poke four or five seeds into a small mound of well-amended earth (with added compost, manure, and/or fertilizer). After the plant's true leaves emerge, (the second, distinguishing set after the first two beagle-ear-shaped seed leaves sprout), thin the mound to two or three strong plants.

This system works fine for bush varieties that take up about 4 to 6 square feet per hill, but is not as practical for vining plants like melons -- especially in a small garden.

An alternative to unruly vines is to train them up a trellis or fence. Cucumbers do well on fencing. Melons need supports for the fruits to prevent them from pulling the vines apart. But if, like Don Zeidler, you don't care about containment, you can let vines sprawl.

"I grow the little orange melons, the Jenny Lind," he says, "and I like the look of having them creeping all over the garden."

Whether you're putting in seeds or plants, warm air and soil -- usually achieved in mid- to late June here -- is the key to success.

"For most summer vegetables and fruits, air and soil temperatures need to be consistently above 65 degrees," says Brennan Starkey, president of Starkey Farms in Galena, Md. "It should be 70 degrees for tomatoes," he adds, since low soil temperatures inhibit calcium uptake and help cause blossom-end rot.

Cultivation

In general, feed fruits and vegetables by first feeding the soil from which they draw nutrients. Adding composted manure to the hole before planting melon, cucumber and squash gives them a boost, as does periodic feeding with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. They need about one inch of water weekly.

Sources

* W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

300 Park Ave.

Warminster, Pa. 18974

800-888-1447

www.burpee.com

* Piedmont Plant Co.

P.O. Box 424

807 N. Washington St.

Albany, Ga. 31703

912-435-0766

vegetable plants

* Harris Seeds/Garden Trends, Inc.

60 Saginaw Drive

Rochester, N.Y. 14693

800-514-4441

Flower and vegetable seeds including "special merit" vegetables like baby pumpkins

Pub Date: 06/13/99

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