October 2015
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Vegetable Gardening 101

Below is a compilation that originally appeared in six blog posts called Vegetable Gardening 101.

Vegetable Gardening 101 – Part I

These vegetables grow in full sun, requiring at least 8 hours:

Bush bean blossoms.

Bush bean blossoms.

Bush or “Snap” bean: (Phaseolus vulgaris) Most take from 40-56 days to produce making them a quick crop. The seeds are sown outdoors in spring after all danger of frost is past. (Frost dates here.)

  • To plant: Make a furrow 1″ deep in light soil (or a raised bed) and plant the seeds 1″- 2″ apart in it. Cover with soil, tamping it down. Beans produce heavily, but for a short time. To extend the harvest, sow a new row every 2 weeks up until the end of mid-summer (July in NY).
  • Pests: Chipmunks, mice etc. may steal the seeds. To deter them secure a piece of screen across the bed until the seeds sprout. Bean beetles (Japanese beetles) will chew the foliage. Use an organic foliar spray (recipe here) to deter them. Critters like deer, woodchucks etc. will eat the plants.Again, use a foliar spray, row covers, sprinkle blood meal around the perimeter of the bed, or a tall fence.
  • Tips: Never pick beans when the plants are wet, it spreads fungus. The seed can be soaked in water for an hour before planting to hasten germination. Inoculant (sold at most garden stores) is beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria that comes in a powder. Coating the damp seeds with the inoculant increases the plant’s yields and improves the soil. Simply stir the damp beans in 1/2 tsp. inoculant until coated. Several rows can provide enough beans for fresh eating and freezing for winter.
  • Seed saving: Allow several of the healthiest plants to grow to full maturity and let the bean pods dry fully on the plants. Shell the seeds, test by pressing a nail into one; it should be difficult to dent. Store in a cool dark place.
Bush beans come in many different colors, all are easy to grow.

Bush beans come in many different colors, all are easy to grow.

Carrot: (Umbelliferae, sativa) 60-76 days until harvest. Sow seed from mid-spring through mid- summer (for a fall crop). Germination can be as long as one month if planted too early in cold soil.

  • To plant: Carrot seed is tiny and easy to sow too thickly. Mix sand or dry coffee grounds with the seed before planting to thin it. Make a row 1/2″ deep in deeply tilled, light soil and sow the seed mix. Cover with 1/2″ fine soil and keep moist.
  • Pests: Larvae of flies and other tunneling insects can be avoided by waiting until late spring to plant and harvesting before mid-fall. Weeds will often take over the bed before the seeds germinate, cultivate carefully.If rabbits munch the tops, use a foliar spray or sprinkle blood meal along the row to deter them.
  • Tips: Cover the row with a fine screen to prevent the seed from washing away in spring rains. Thin to 2-4″ apart for best growth.
  • Seed saving: Carrots are biennial. They produce seed the second year after planting. The blossoms easily cross-pollinate with the wildflower Queen Anne’s Lace. Keep the wildflower trimmed back until after the carrot seed heads form. To save seed pull up carrots before a frost kills the foliage. Store in sawdust in a cool dark place and re-plant the following spring. Harvest seeds from the second set of blossoms

Vegetable Gardening 101 – Part II

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”

-Virgil A. Kraft

Spring’s green vegetables are the best tonic after winter’s long freeze. Spinach, broccoli, onions and peas are among the earliest and easiest crops to grow when the snows recede. It’s possible enjoy fresh greens in early May and home-grown vegetables by late June. Enrich the soil with organic compost the fall before to ensure the earliest possible planting

These vegetables thrive in cool temperatures and full sun. Shade protection from afternoon sun for the broccoli and spinach will keep the plants from “bolting” (going to seed and becoming inedible) when early summer arrives. Mine are planted where the shade of a large tree covers the bed for a few hours midday. Without shade, a mulch of organic grass clippings will keep the soil moist and cool. Green plants thrive on nitrogen, blood meal is an excellent organic source. Use it as a side-dressing midway through growth, sprinkling 1 Tbsp. along the base of the plants and working into the soil gently.

Sugar snap peas on a trellis.

Sugar snap peas on a trellis.

Peas: (Pisum sativum) Virtually pest free and easy to grow in most soils. Peas are ready to pick after 55-75 days.

  • To plant: Rake a furrow 16″ wide and 3″ deep in moist (NOT soggy) soil and scatter the peas evenly across, covering the bottom of the furrow (if your soil is too heavy to work in early spring consider building a raised bed). Gently water the peas just until moistened and sprinkle with inoculant if using. Cover with soil, keep moist until germination. Plant new rows every week in early spring while the weather is cool.
  • Pests: Peas aren’t bothered by insects. Chipmunks, voles etc. may steal the seeds and birds or rabbits may nip the tops of the peas as they appear above the ground. A screen secured over the row will deter critters, use a foliar spray to deter the birds and rabbits.
  • Tips: No matter the variety, all peas require support. Trellises and fences are ideal for the long vining varieties. Short twiggy brush is a popular (and free) option for most gardeners. Push into the ground along the row and the peas will climb readily. As the peas flower keep the bed watered and mulched to keep the soil moist, taking care not to water the leaves. Peas are ideal for planting in intensive (close spaced) beds.
  • Seed saving: Allow one 5′ double row of a single variety to fully ripen and dry on the vines. Shell and store in a dark, cool place.

Spinach: (Spinacia oleracea) Easily grown in the cool spring garden. Ready to pick after 43-50 days.

  • To plant: Prepare the row as soon as possible in spring. (If spring thaws are late in your area, the seed can be planted the fall before and mulched through winter. Remove the mulch in spring.) Rake a shallow furrow 1/4″-1/2″ deep (no deeper) and sprinkle with composted manure or blood meal. Plant the seeds 1″ apart and cover with soil. Tamp down and water. When seedlings appear, thin to stand 6″ apart in every direction.
  • Pests: Flea beetles and cutworms. Protect the plants with row covers or use foliar spray for the flea beetles. Bt is an organic pesticide used to control damaging grubs, caterpillars etc., use only when absolutely necessary. Cutworms can be found when weeding and eliminated by hand. Rabbits can be deterred by sprinkling blood meal along the row. It nourishes the spinach with nitrogen and rabbits fear the odor.
  • Tips: After harvesting the first leaves, fertilize lightly with fish emulsion or liquid kelp. To start seeds for a late summer planting, germinate between damp pieces of paper towel first. Plant as before.
  • Seed saving: Choose plants with large leaves and bolted late to save seed from. Allow seeds to fully develop before picking.
Home-grown organic broccoli.

Home-grown organic broccoli.

Broccoli: (Brassica oleracea) Early spring seedlings must be started indoors and will be ready to harvest in 55-98 days.

  • To plant: To start seeds indoors see instructions here. Prepare the bed with plenty of organic compost and manure the fall before. Dig a holes deep enough to plant the seedlings up to their bottom leaves, 18″ apart in every direction. Firm the soil around the base and sprinkle with a mix of bone and blood meal. Gently work in with a rake. Mulch with grass clippings.
  • Pests: Cutworms are deterred by placing a “collar” around the base of the plants that extends into the soil. A paper towel tube works well. White “Cabbage butterfly” larvae will chew the foliage. Row covers work best, Bt can be used for control if the infestation is severe. Use foliar sprays for animal pests.
  • Tips: Plant in a slightly shaded area to extend the growing season, After the main head is cut, several side-shoots will continue to grow before heat causes the plant to bolt. Birds love the flowers and seeds.
  • Seed saving: Two or more plants may be needed to produce seed. Allow the plants to flower and fully develop seed pods. Pull up the plant and hang upside down in a well-aired space. When the pods are completely brittle harvest the seeds and store.
Heirloom onion seedlings.

Heirloom onion seedlings.

Onions: Very easy to start from seed indoors for spring planting. Harvest in 92-115 days.

  • To plant: To start seeds indoors follow above link. Onion seeds must be started early, around February. Prepare a bed with composted manure, compost, bone and blood meal worked into the top 6″-8″ of the soil. Plant the seedlings 2″ apart in rows 6″ apart.
  • Pests: None.
  • Tips: Plant onions at least 4′” in from the edge of the bed to prevent the tender roots from being trampled along the path.
  • Seed saving: Store healthy bulbs over winter in a cool dark area. Re-plant in spring, spacing closely, and allow to flower. The brittle stalks may break, take care to support them. When the black seeds are apparent, cut the seedball and dry for several weeks. Gently rub off the seeds.

I’d like to mention to all of you northeast gardeners that the Hudson Valley Seed Library ( is offering annual gift memberships for $20. It includes a one year membership and 10 packets of heirloom seeds (your choice). The idea is that you will grow the heirloom plants and save seeds for yourself and also return some to the library. In return they give you credit toward next year’s membership fee. The goal is to eventually have 100% of the seeds grown in NYS. Heirloom plants are wonderful, having access to seeds grown sustainably in the Northeast is priceless. Consider supporting them!

Vegetable Gardening 101 – Part III

“There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling,
as gathering the vegetables one has grown.”
-  Alice B. Toklas

These are the last of the early crops for spring planting. (There are others, like favas, but those will have to be another post.)  All require full sun and cool spring temperatures to get them off to a healthy start. Don’t be put off by the preparation of the asparagus bed, or the idea of growing potatoes…I promise when you grow them you’ll be so glad you did! Make it fun and choose from a growing number of colored cultivars: purple asparagus, blue, red, tan, yellow and red potatoes. You can harvest an heirloom rainbow! Remember to check back on Thursday for Vegetable gardening: part 4, for a first look at growing warm weather veggies.

Potatoes: (Solanum tuberosum) Often overlooked, potatoes are ideal in the home garden. They take up minimum space and one pound of seed will yield up to 15 lbs. of potatoes. “New” potatoes (the first small spuds) are ready in 8-10 weeks.

  • To plant: Plant 2-3 weeks before last frost. Select healthy, untreated, egg-sized seed potatoes. (Sprouted grocery store potatoes may work, but they haven’t been inspected to be disease free.) Dig a trench 5″-7″ wide and 6″ deep in rows 18″ apart. Line the bottom of the trench with a layer of leaf mold. (Potatoes prefer slightly acid soil.) Lay the potatoes in the trench 6″-9″ apart and draw 3″ of soil over the top of the row making sure there is at least 1″ of soil covering the potatoes. Keep the bed moist but not soggy. When the plants reach 9″ draw the remaining loose soil around the plants. Potatoes are ready for digging up when the tops have yellowed and died back.
  • Pests: Colorado potato beetles (potato bug) eat foliage and tubers. Marigolds, garlic, onions and dill will deter the bugs when planted in close proximity. Rotenone and pyrethrum can be used in severe infestations (both organic). Potatoes are in the same Solanaceae family as peppers and tomatoes and are susceptible to the same wilts, blights etc. Plant resistant varieties.
  • Tips: Using a spading fork to gently turn the hills during harvest lessens the chance of slicing the potatoes. After harvest allow the potatoes to “cure” or dry in an airy place to toughen the skins for storage. Crop rotation lessens chance of disease.
  • Seed saving: The smallest potatoes harvested may be saved in a cool, dark spot until the following spring and planted. Discard if there are signs of mold or if they are wrinkled and soft.

Beets: (Beta vulgaris) Home grown beets are sweet (they do not taste like dirt) and the tops are tender and delicious. Harvest in 55-80 days.

  • To plant: Sow outdoors one month before the last expected frost. Beet seeds are actually husks filled with 2-6 small seeds. To penetrate the husk pre-soak in warm water for 24 hrs. before planting. Draw a row 1/2″ deep in light soil and plant the seeds 2″ apart in rows 8″ apart.. Cover and firmly tamp down the soil. Thin to one plant every 2″ when first true leaves form.
  • Pests: Slugs will chew the foliage. A thin layer of sand or diatomaceous earth around the base of each plant kills them.
  • Tips: The rule for beets in spring is “quick in, quick out”. Keep them watered and weeded and harvest before hot weather arrives. Also good for a late-summer sowing, they sweeten in the cooler fall temps. Do not enrich the soil beyond adding compost. It promotes lush tops at the expense of roots.
  • Seed saving: Beets are biennial and readily cross with chard and silverbeet,  isolate during blossoming. Sow a short row of beets 12″-18″ apart in late summer for seed. Allow them to grow until frost. Mulch well and leave to overwinter. In the spring harvest the stalk when the bottom pods are ripe. Hang upside down in an airy spot to dry completely.

Asparagus: (Asparagus officinalis) A perennial (returns every year) spring favorite, careful preparation of the permanent bed will provide years of tender spears. First year plantings are ready to begin harvesting after the third season of growth.

  • To plant: Begin to prepare the bed in early April. Asparagus is grown from root “crowns” that are 2 years old. (Available in garden stores and through mail order catalogs.) Soil preparation is crucial to growing healthy, tender asparagus. Dig a bed 5′ wide, 30′ long and 15″ deep. (Room for 40 crowns, enough for a family of 4.) Add plenty of compost, rotted manure and limestone to the trench mixing well. Add back shovel-fulls of soil, mixing well, until half of the soil has been added back. Gently firm and water. Inspect asparagus roots and trim back very long or dry roots. Soak in warm water for 10 minutes. Plant by laying the crowns in the trench 18″ apart, taking care to spread out the roots and drawing the soil 1″ over the tops,. When the green tips begin to show, continue to draw up the remaining soil around them, adding more compost and manure as you do.
  • Pests: Weeds allowed to take over the young bed will choke out the new plants. Be vigilant and gentle, hand cultivating whenever possible. Established beds need very little weeding from the dense growth.
  • Tips: Like other perennials planted from bare-root stock, asparagus takes a couple of seasons to become well established. It’s important to let the plants go to seed the first season, harvest only a few fat spears the second season and by season three you should have ample spears to harvest. It’s always important not to harvest every spear, let several go to seed each season to feed the roots for next year. Additional compost and manure as a top dressing each spring and fall encourages growth.
  • Seed saving: Harvest when the fronds begin to die back in the fall. Soak seeds before planting. Starting asparagus from seed requires 5 years before a harvest.

Leeks: (Allium Porrum) Considered finicky by some to grow, careful soil preparation and a long growing season (75-100 days) yields tender leeks by summer’s end. Be sure to harvest before a frost if left in the ground through Autumn.

  • To plant: Leeks may be directly sown outside in spring, but fare better when started indoors. Sown in a flat in late-winter (Late Feb. in Rochester) 1/2″ apart and keep the tops trimmed to 3″. In spring, prepare the row by digging deeply to loosen the soil and enrich with compost. Smooth the top. Plant the leeks 6″ apart and a little deeper than they were in the flat. Some gardeners prepare a trench  5″ wide and deep and draw up the soil as the leeks grow (as with the asparagus). Either way works well.
  • Pests: None.
  • Tips: Mulch to keep the weeds down and fertilize twice during the season with fish emulsion or kelp.
  • Seed saving: Same as for onions.

Seed companies are mailing out catalogs now. Please remember to share yours and order online whenever possible. It saves money for the companies (and thus YOU) and it cuts down on paper waste. Check back tomorrow for more new December recipes!

Vegetable Gardening 101 – Part IV

With the exception of the first vegetable gardening post (sorry poor planing on my part!) the vegetables listed so far like an early spring start with cooler temperatures. Today begins a look at warm-weather crops. They require full sun and shouldn’t be planted until after the last frost date for your area. (See dates here.) In the case of late-season frost advisories the plants will need protection. Hot caps (simple cones made from wax paper), blankets, tablecloths etc. will work. Fabric covers should be raised 2″ above the plants, not touching them. Remove in the morning when the temperature rises above freezing.

Large summer squash plants.

Large summer squash plants.

( NOTE: Bush beans, pole beans and carrots can be sown the same time as these seeds. Information is in part 1 of series.)

Summer squash: (Cucurbita pepo, var. melopepo) This includes yellow crookneck squash, scalloped or “pattypan” squash and zucchini/marrow squash. They grow in large, open semi-vining bushes.

  • To plant: Seed may be started indoors one week before last frost date, but are just as easily sown directly into the garden. Squash are planted in “hills” which means planting several seeds together, not a raised mound of dirt. Squash are “heavy feeders” and require very fertile soil. Turn rotted manure and compost into the bed before planting. Make holes 1″ deep and wide, spaced 4″ apart. Plant two seeds per hole and cover with soil. When the seedlings emerge, thin to the strongest seedling in each spot. Separate different varieties by 100′ if saving seed.
  • Pests: Powdery mildew is a fungus that leaves a white coating on the leaves and in severe cases kills the plant. Prevention is easy: space plants adequately and water during the day so plants can dry. Use organic fungicide (recipe here). Cucumber beetles chew leaves and spread disease that kills plants. Use foliar spray or row cover to repel. (Remove cover during blossoming.) In severe cases apply rotenone weekly. Squash vine borers infest the tender vine stems. Moths lay eggs at the base of the vine and the young grubs tunnel into the stems. Row covers secured to the bed with enough slack for the growing plants keeps moths from laying eggs. Remove during blossoming. Dust base of plants with rotenone if severe.
  • Tips: Blossoms are edible. Pick fruits when they are no more than 5″ for best quality. Pick frequently. Sow new seeds in mid-summer for late summer/early fall harvest. Production slows as the temps. cool.
  • Seed saving: Allow summer squash to stay on vine for at least 6 weeks after ideal eating stage. Split the squash and remove the seeds, saving only the plump ones. Dry for at least two weeks before storing.
Young heirloom pumpkin.

Young heirloom pumpkin.

Winter squash: In the same Cucurbita family as summer squash, but separated into four distinct types:

  • pepo includes pumpkins and winter squash with similar traits (as well as summer squash)
  • moschata includes pumpkins and winter squash varieties with similar traits
  • maxima includes winter squash with similar traits
  • mixta includes pumpkins with similar traits

It’s possible to grow one variety from each winter squash group in the same garden, just don’t plant two of the same variety within 100′ of each other. (Cross-pollination produces inedible squash and untrue seeds.) The seed packet tells which group the seed belongs to. All are vining plants, some up to 15′ or more.

  • To plant: Heavy feeders and a long growing season requires a lot of nutrients. Dig the bed down 5″, set the soil aside. Shovel in a thick layer of manure and compost and return the soil to cover. Plant the seeds in hills 3′-5′ apart and 1″ deep. Sow 6 seeds per hill and thin to the strongest three after seedlings emerge. Mulch plants with a thick layer of rotted manure and straw to suppress weeds.
  • Tips: Squash resents cold soil, do not plant until the soil temp. is at least 60 degrees. Vines can be trained by re-directing as they grow. Water deeply once a week. A puree of kitchen vegetable scraps poured into a trench along the row is a great quick fertilizer young plants will eagerly grow towards. A few radish seeds planted among the squash deter pests like squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Don’t pick the radishes, you can save the seeds after they mature.
  • Seed saving: Select at least two of the healthiest and earliest maturing squash, allowing them to remain on the vine as long as possible. After harvest allow to cure in a cool place for at least 2 weeks. Cut open and remove seeds, saving only the plump ones. Allow to dry at least 2 weeks before storing.
Winter squash vines.

Winter squash vines.

Vegetable Gardening 101 – Part V
In the smallest of yards and the biggest of cities people make room to grow summer’s essential vegetables: tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. (O.K. technically they’re fruits.) In pots or plots everyone loves fresh, juicy tomatoes ripened in the summer sun, crisp sweet peppers and tender eggplant picked fresh for cooking. Seed varieties are available from all over the world and offer hundreds more choices than the standard garden shop offerings.

In the garden all require full sun, temperatures above 60 degrees and fertile, well-drained soil. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are in the same Nightshade family as tobacco. Tobacco users should not handle or work around the plants without first washing their hands, the virus responsible for tobacco mosaic virus (tmv) survives the cigarette production process and can infect plants at any stage of growth.

Tomatoes: (Solanaceae:Lycopersicon) Tomatoes are identified as either “determinate” or “indeterminate”. Determinate tomatoes grow to a set height and have a set number of fruits which ripen all at once. Indeterminate varieties grow, flower and set fruit throughout the growing season until a killing frost. Harvest 40-50 days after blossoming.

  • To plant: Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. (Seed starting on right.) Prepare the bed by digging in compost as well as rock phosphate and bone meal (follow directions on bag). Set the plants in up to their bottom leaves, spaced 3′ apart in rows 3′ apart. If the plants are very tall, dig a shallow trench and lay the plants parallel to the soil up to the top leaves. Bury all but the top. Don’t dig a deep hole, the sub-soil is too cold for tender roots.
  • Pests: Tomato hornworms are the 5″ long green larvae of sphinx moths. They eat the foliage and fruit of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. Bt is an effective control, but adult moths are beneficial pollinators. Better to hand-pick and re-locate away from the garden. Tomatoes are prone to several diseases: verticillium and fusarium wilts, nematodes and tobacco mosaic virus (V,F,N,T) to name a few. In prone areas plant resistant varieties. Use of organic practices such as soil enrichment and crop rotation can prevent many garden diseases and pests.
  • Tips: Blossom end rot causes dark sunken patches on ripening fruit. One crushed eggshell placed in the hole at planting time can prevent end-rot. Tomatoes require steady moisture, water deeply once a week and mulch plants. Removing a few unripe tomatoes from the vines will encourage ripening late in the season.
  • Seed saving: Do not save seeds from hybrid tomatoes. Select heirloom tomatoes for quality, size, color that best represents the variety’s standards. Allow to slightly over-ripen on the vine. Remove the seeds and pulp and place into a glass jar. Add a bit of water, stir and cover. After 48-72 hours the mixture will have fermented. (Yes, it smells.) Drain off the pulp and floating seeds. Rinse the seeds that have sunk to the bottom with water. Spread out to dry completely. Store in a cool, dark place.

Peppers: (solanaceae:capiscum) Sweet bell peppers (and hot peppers) should not be planted until evening temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees. Separate sweet and hot varieties by a minimum of 50′ to prevent cross-pollination in the garden. If space is an issue, start sweet and hot peppers two weeks apart so they blossom at different times. Seeds should be started 8-10 weeks before the last frost. Harvest in 55-80 days.

  • To plant: Peppers require well-drained, fertile soil a little on the acid side. Additions of organic leaf mold will lower the soil pH to their liking. Soil should also be enriched with bone meal (see package directions). Plant in holes that are 2″-4″ deeper than the original pots. Space the plants 18″ apart in rows 18″ apart. Water deeply once a week.
  • Tips: In areas where spring temperatures are unpredictable, a simple box made with old windows including one for a lid can serve as a “hothouse” for tender peppers plants. The box keeps the plants insulated from temperature drops, especially in the evenings. Remove the lid during the day and replace at evening time until temperatures are consistently warm.
  • Pests: Same as tomatoes.
  • Seed Saving: Do not save seeds from hybrid peppers. Allow peppers to mature on the plant until they begin to wrinkle slightly. Remove the seeds and dry for one week before storing. *Wear gloves when seeding hot peppers.*

Eggplant: (Solanum Melongena) Eggplants are heat lovers from germination to harvest. They’ll require an early start indoors, 8-10 weeks before the last frost, and daytime temperatures of 70 degrees for planting outdoors. They are fussy about being transplanted, grow in separate pots when starting from seed to prevent shock later. Eggplant requires very fertile, well-drained, warm soil. Harvest in 55-75 days.

  • To plant: When the days are sufficiently warm, plant eggplant in holes as deep as the original pots. When removing the eggplant seedling from the pot keep as much soil as possible in contact with the roots. Add water to the hole and gently fill with soil. Space plants 2′ apart in rows 2′ apart.
  • Tips: Same as peppers.
  • Pests: Same as tomatoes and peppers. Flea beetles eat the leaves and leave tiny holes. Use a foliar spray to deter or rotenone for severe infestations.
  • Seed saving: Do not save seeds from hybrid eggplant. Allow the eggplant to ripen on the plant until the skin turns from shiny and firm to dull and a bit wrinkled. Remove the seeds and put into a bowl with water. Discard any floating seeds (they’re immature). Drain off the water and dry the mature seeds for one week before storing.

Thursday will be a last look at vegetables for the home garden. I hope these posts have helped you with seed selection as well as planting. Thanks to all of you that have been kind enough to send along comments via e-mail, I truly appreciate it!

Vegetable Gardening 101 – Part VI

This is the final post in the “vegetable gardening” series. The last crops to be planted in late spring are the real heat lovers in the summer garden: cucumbers and melons. Both require full sun, steady warmth, very fertile soil and ample water throughout the growing season. They do well grown under row covers until blossoming to help retain heat and stop insect damage. (Remove the covers when blossoms appear.)

Cucumbers: (Cucumis sativus) Members of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family which includes melons, summer and winter squash. The vines need room to ramble or will require trellising. Harvest in 50-80 days.

  • To plant: Seeds should be started indoors 4 weeks before planting out. (Seed starting on right.) Cucumber seeds require steady temperatures of at least 80 degrees to germinate. Prepare the cucumber bed by digging holes 15″ wide, 12″ deep and 24″ apart (or dig one long trench). Shovel several inches of well-rotted manure and compost plus a handful of bone meal into each hole. Replace soil and mix well to combine. Tamp down firmly and sculpt the soil to create a shallow bowl where each hole was. (For a trench build up the sides of the bed to 4″ and leave the center area lower.) Plant one seedling in each hole, taking care not to disturb the roots. Mulch well between plants to suppress weeds. To direct sow seeds outdoors wait until temperatures are above 70 degrees. Follow the same soil preparation, planting 3 seeds per hole and thinning (by snipping, don’t pull) to strongest plant when second set of true leaves appear.
  • Pests: Cucumber beetles/larvae eat through leaves, roots and spread bacterial wilt throughout the vegetable garden. Row covers/netting prevent beetles from laying eggs in the soil. Rotenone is effective in severe cases. Cutworms chew through seedling stems at ground level and kill plants. Use “collars” made from toilet paper tubes slipped over plants and pushed 1/4″ into the ground to prevent damage. Frequent cultivation exposes cutworms at the soil surface for birds to eat.
  • Tips: Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold, use water warmed by the sun and pour carefully around the base of the plants. Mulch well between plants to suppress weeds. Onion skins and marigolds in the cuke bed discourages insects. Pick frequently to encourage fruiting.
  • Seed saving: Do not save hybrid cucumber seed. Separate varieties (pickling, slicing) by 200′ in the garden to avoid cross-pollination. Allow the cucumber to stay on the vine until very plump and yellow, the longer the better. Cut in half and remove seeds with pulp. Place in a glass jar with a bit of water and cover for 48 hrs. Pour off fermented pulp and floating seeds. Rinse the seeds that have sunk to the bottom in water and dry for one week before storing.

Melon: (Cucumis Melo) Cantaloupe and (Citrullus vulgaris) watermelon can be grown in the home garden, but it’s necessary to select a variety that will ripen in your zone. Smaller varieties are best for Northern gardens. Harvest in 80-90 days.

  • To plant: Melons resent transplanting and the roots are very sensitive to transplant shock. If starting seeds indoors use a bio-degradeable pot with a bottom that will easily decompose. Newspaper plugs (projects on right) are ideal. Do not set plants out until the soil temperature is at least 70 degrees. Soil preparation is the same for sowing seeds outdoors and planting seedlings. Melons have four soil requirements: light texture, well-drained, very fertile and very warm (70-80 deg.). Prepare the soil by digging in 2″ each of well-rotted manure and compost, plus several handfuls of bone meal and greensand. For heavy soils create a raised bed by mounding soil 4″ above garden level. Seedlings should be planted 2′ apart in rows 4′-6′ apart at the same depth they were growing in their pots. Plant seeds 2″ deep every 2′ in rows 4′-6′ apart and thin to the strongest plant when the true leaves appear.
  • Pests: Cucumber beetles cause wilt. Use row covers/netting to prevent soil access. Rotenone can be used for severe infestations. Rodents nip off the blossoms. Use a foliar spray to deter them (concoctions on right) or use row covers and remove during blossoming. Melons are prone to wilts, viruses and fungus. Plant resistant varieties and follow organic garden practices for healthy soil.
  • Tips: Cucumber beetles can be deterred by interplanting onions, nasturtiums or radishes along the rows of melons. Sow the seeds for the flowers and radishes 2 weeks before planting seedlings out.When watering, use sun-warmed water and pour carefully around the base of the melon plants avoiding leaves. Do not water late in the day. Feed with liquid kelp or fish emulsion once a week.
  • Seed Saving: Melon varieties must be separated by at least 250′ in the garden. Save seeds with the pulp on them from a ripe melon you have eaten and place into a glass jar with a bit of water; cover. After 48 hrs. pour off the pulp and floating seeds. Wash the seeds that have sunk and let dry several days before storing. (Seeds are dry when they snap in half when bent.)

That’s it! There are, of course, many more wonderful varieties of vegetables, fruits and grains (not to mention herbs and flowers!) to grow in a home garden. The best way to try them is to grow them! It’s easy and enjoyable and one taste will have you hooked. I’d love to hear what you’ll be growing in the garden next season and I look forward to sharing my garden with all of you in 2010. Happy seed selecting!