IT'S SPRING: GET YOUR VEGGIES ON!!
"I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden."
-Ruth Stout (gardening author and "Mulch Queen")
Just a heads up: in case you haven’t already planted your summer vegetable garden--
Honey, you’d best get going! You don’t want to miss out on one of the OG pleasures of summer: the heavenly flavor of a ripe, homegrown tomato or melon, or the satisfaction of sprinkling a handful of fragrant chopped herbs from your garden over your perfect frittata (which, btw, is filled with the zucchini you grew!)
Even if you don’t have a big yard, surely you can find space for a couple of pots! A single tomato or a whole herb garden can be grown in a big pot. Strawberries, and herbs like parsley, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary or mint do very well in containers. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, you can plant lots in a relatively small space. I’m personally into my own version of “square foot gardening”— where I plant things as close as I my conscience allows, planning for growth and constant harvest. I use string trellises for my tomatoes, and vertical tomato cages for melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Anything that spreads too vigorously (mint) or is permanent (blueberries, lemon verbena) goes in big pots.
In past years I started planting early, like late February/early March, mostly because that’s when our local Tomatomania event happens. It offers an irresistible plethora of tomato and pepper varieties—and people race around crazily, loading up their carts. I worried I wouldn’t be able to get my favorite varieties if I didn’t buy right then. But too many of my plants failed to thrive, or in the case of the tomatoes, were dead by late July, after producing a very modest harvest. Maybe it was just too early to plant?
This year I resolved to wait—no planting before mid-April. Okay, there were exceptions. The seed potatoes arrived in late February, and I’ve been planting them in layers every two weeks, lasagna-style. So far, so good. And since there appears to be a shortage of Shishito pepper plants this year (??), I put those in whenever I found them.
Today I finished purchasing the last of my summer veggies—bush beans and a cucumber. Most everything else was planted earlier this month: eggplant, squashes, French melons, Italian peppers, Swiss chard, oregano and eight tomatoes. Our parsley and thyme produced over the winter, but they’d become bitter and woody, so out with the old, and in with new!
The African basil, chives, Italian dandelion, mint and lemon verbena carried over from last year. (In fact, the basil got so large, I had to prune it to make room for the tomatoes! I used the clippings to make a ton of pesto—yum!).
Anyway, all this is simply to say, summer is on it’s way, and I’m pretty sure you’re not going to want to miss out on those fabulous tomatoes!
Oh, and don't forget to plant some flowers among your veggies, herbs and fruit trees. A decorative kitchen garden, called a French potager", can be formal or informal, but the tapestry of shapes, colors and textures is particularly beautiful. And the intermingling of plant varieties enhances the biodiversity of your garden. I especially love the bright colors of marigolds, coreopsis and nasturtiums among my veggies. They all attract beneficial insects, marigolds are known to repel nematodes, and nasturtiums are edible with a spicy flavor!
-Weirdly, last October a friend gave me three San Marzano tomato seedlings. I planted them, never imagining they would grow to produce a large winter crop of decent flavored fruits. I harvested 5 or 6 tomatoes each week through late January, blanching, peeling and freezing them, until I had enough to make a giant batch of very tasty pasta sauce.