Here we go again. It’s that time of year when the veggie garden starts to look old. I’ve got some tired broccoli that isn’t taking too kindly to this hot summer, and some determinate tomatoes that have just about given up the ghost. So does that mean my veggie gardening is over? No way! It means it’s time to start my cold crop gardening.
Cold crops are veggies you plant now, that you harvest in late September through November to the first frosts, and sometimes even later. You can plant cold crops either from seed or as ready-grown plants.
When planting from seed just make sure to look at the number of days needed between sowing (planting) and harvest to make sure you’ve allowed enough time. Some things such as radishes only take 25-30 days, and you have plenty of time to plant from seed. Some things such as cabbage can take 100 days before harvest and you might be better to forgo seeds and use ready-grown plants. And then some things like parsnips can be covered with hay and harvested all winter and into spring. There nothing like the winter parsnip; it gets sweeter in the cold (I’m thinking of a good Irish parsnip stew in December!)
Whether you start from seed or plants, now is a great time to get your cold crops growing. No garden? Did you know you can also grow cold crop seeds in containers? I always do a bunch of spinach, leaf lettuce and head lettuce in containers just because it doesn’t take up that much space in my garden. There’s also a lot of things like micro greens and different types of Swiss chard or kale that you don’t always find in the cell packs or pots. They are attractive too! Pop in a mum or an aster and you have yourself a nice fall planter.
If you ever need any help or questions with what can be planted from seed just ask us or write a comment below. We will also have a full line of cold crops in the Uncle Mike line that’s starting to hit stores this week and there will be more coming as we come into September.
Taking the whole family blueberry picking is one of the things I love to do most in the beginning of these dog days of summer. Being a great connoisseur of blueberries, I love to see when they start to become available in the states. In early spring, blueberries start ripening in Florida. As the season progresses, the taste just gets sweeter and crisper as they ripen up the coast until finally pick-your-own blueberry farms open up across the state with the freshest native blueberries.
Now it seems to me that everyone knows about apple picking in the fall and don’t get me wrong I’m not knocking it, I love apple picking just as well. It’s just that blueberry picking doesn’t seem to get the same attention and it’s a great early summer activity that can be enjoyed by everyone.
We went for nice drive to southern New Hampshire, spent about 3 hours picking and came back with about 10 lbs. of blueberries. Now here is when the fun really starts - in the kitchen. Now I love fresh blueberries by themselves but with 10 lbs., you have to do something else with them right? We started with a nice blueberry pie and some blueberry jam. Next time we want to try some blueberry crumb cake… really, the choices are endless.
So if you’re looking for sweet thing to do this summer, try some blueberry picking. But don’t wait too long, the best of the blueberry season only lasts about a month depending on what varieties are growing. Here’s a website to find local P.Y.O. blueberry farms near you.
Grow your own
On the other hand the blueberry plant is a great easy-to-grow flowering shrub that does great in New England growing conditions. The plants themselves are a low maintenance, long spring blooming native shrubs with vibrant red and yellow fall foliage. They are very tolerant of our usually acidic soils, which makes the blueberry bush suitable for most home gardens. The blueberries – one of the world’s healthiest foods – are packed with antioxidants and boast a lot of other health benefits too. These all probably contribute to why there’s been such an increase in production in commercial farming as well as home gardening. Everyone wants more blueberries.
Here’s what blueberries need too grow:
- Acidic soil – it is always a good idea to add some well composted leaf mold or pine needles. This helps keep the soil on the acidic side
- Halfway-decent moist soils - they don’t like dry and sandy or heavy clay soil, but they do like it to be kept moist
- Full sun - though they will tolerate some shade they will produce better with good sun
- Pollination - They don’t require a pollinator but they will produce more if you have more than one variety. Blueberries come in early, mid and late varieties, which, if you get them all, can extend your harvest time.
Additional Tip: Make sure you don’t get only an early and a late variety. If they don’t bloom at the same time they can’t pollinate each other. Mid-season varieties will usually pollinate both early and late blueberry varieties. This is a good reference from Penn State University on some commonly sold blueberries in the northeast.
- Protection from birds- yeah, birds also love blueberries so you may need to cover them with netting. My blueberry bushes are still small so I just let the birds have most of them right now but it’s amazing how quick they can wipe out a crop.
- Maintenance - After planting, some yearly maintenance is required like punning out of some of the older wood for better production. Yearly fertilizer is also a good thing. I recommend Ammonium Sulfate in the spring or if you want to keep it organic, you can use Holly-Tone or Cottonseed Meal. It’s also important to maintain a soil pH of 4.5- 5. If the pH gets too high, your plants will start to get yellow or red, and can even look chloratic. It’s the opposite of your lawn or perennial garden where you add lime to keep the pH up - you now want to add something to bring your pH down.
Whatever your reason for growing blueberry bushes, its all pretty easy. They’re great flowering shrubs for the landscape, they’re great for fall color and they’re great for you to harvest blueberries fresh from your own garden year after year. Mahoney’s has a good selection of plants throughout most of the season. Now’s a great time to see them with ripe blueberries all over them, and fall is the perfect time to plant bushes for next year’s crop. So if you like blueberries as much as me, check out your local P.Y.O. farm or start your own little home berry patch. Well in the few days of writing this I ran out of blueberries so I’m gonna head out for some more picking with the kids so I can do that blueberry crumb cake.
This has been a surprisingly good year as far as diseases in my veggie garden. My tomatoes, cucumbers and squash are all great – ok, I have a little sign of powdery mildew on my zucchini but that’s about it. I think a lot of you must be having a similarly good year because I haven’t seen a lot of people in our garden centers with fungus or disease problems.
As most of you know, I like to use organics on veggies – which means spraying preventively. Organic fungicides work better if you use them before you have a problem as opposed to trying to cure a problem. I started doing a fungicide spray on the the susceptible plants in mid to late June, I think it was a little early this year because of all the warm weather, but I think my efforts kept all the fungus and disease away.
The fungicide I like to use is called Actinovate. I‘ve been using it for about 5 years now and I’ve had some great results. Actinovate is a new generation of fungicides – not like the old ones that made you wait a while after application before harvesting. Some of the old ones worked like a sterilizing bleach and you couldn’t harvest for 14 to 24 days! Who can wait that long?
I usually describe Actinovate as a disease-fighting beneficial bacterium. It protects the roots and the leaves of the plants so the fungus won’t spread or get established. Actinovate is labeled for organic gardening and is safe around beneficial insects as well as people and pets. It’s a must for the organic gardener in this day and age especially with the problems we’ve had with late blight in the past few years. No, Actinovate isn’t a cure, but it definitely slowed down the late blight I had in 2009.
Also keep in mind that Actinovate is not just for veggies; I recommend it for things like pythium on lawns, phytopthera on rhododendrons, or Downey mildew on anything. This stuff works great. My phlox paniculata and bee balm are mildew-free because of a preventive spray I did earlier.
Even though I’ve been plenty busy harvesting lettuce, spinach and other cold crops, I’m really happy that tomato planting time is now upon us. I love to contemplate what tomatoes to grow this year, and to do that I look back on previous year’s results. What performed well? What withstood last year’s drought? But most of all, what was the tastiest? And I don’t look for just a few favorites – I like to plant a pretty wide variety. After all, there are an awful lot of reasons (and recipes) to eat tomatoes.
To start, I always plant some cherry and grape tomatoes, including at least one Super Sweet 100, (or as I call it, the “baby sitter tomato” because it keeps the kids busy for hours picking them). I think the Sun Gold is the best tasting cherry I’ve ever tasted. Apparently I’m not alone because we’ve never sold so many so early. Juliet, a large grape that is a tasty addition to any salad, is also selling like crazy this year.
Unless you are confined to planting in containers, I think everyone should include a few varieties of large tomatoes. I always do a row of Celebrity and a row of Big Beef. These two hybrids are disease resistant and produce a lot of tomatoes with very little cracking (a big problem last year due to lack of rain, so if you go from dry to wet and dry to wet you tend to get more cracking). These two tomatoes are great for anything that you can imagine a tomato to do. Last year I sliced these suckers and put them on scalli bread with some mozzarella and a sprinkle of oregano for some great pizza for the kids. They ate it up like crazy.
Based on last year’s success, I’m going to concentrate this year on the heirlooms. It’s fun to grow these sometimes ugly but always tasty parts of history. Sometimes I even re-grow varieties that were not successful in the past to see if it was the growing conditions that made them unsuccessful.
Another nice large tomato is the Cherokee Purple. It’s purplish in color, green on the top, and has a fantastic taste. It’s said this tomato originated and was passed down by the Cherokee Indians. I love its dark rich color after its been sliced, it just looks like a good tasting tomato.
Another heirloom I like is a Ukrainian native called the Black Krim. The name suggests the color is black (which puts some people off), but in fact it’s more of a dark, dark red with a bold taste. This medium sized tomato is easy to grow and more productive than most heirlooms.
Homer Fikes is a big meaty ox-heart shaped delight that’s yellow. It’s sweet! I love the way it brightens up a salad or whatever else you use it with. This makes a great caprese as well. But like a lot of heirlooms it didn’t produce a lot. In fact I think I only got 3 or 4 tomatoes, but I still think it was worth it – I will just have to plant more this year.
Mortgage Lifter is a very big tomato that requires a lot of time to produce – but I think it is such a treat that it’s well worth the wait. It also has a cool history: as the story goes, it was developed in the 1930’s by a mechanic named Radiator Charlie who crossed the largest tomatoes he could find until it became stable. It’s said he sold so many tomatoes at his roadside stand he was able to pay off his home. Thus Mortgage Lifter was born.
Super Sweet 100, Cherokee Purple, Homer Fikes, whatever you like to grow this year I wish you great success and happy harvesting. As always, if we can be of any help, just stop in and ask.
It is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. We stock our nursery yards early so the trees and shrubs acclimate to our local climate and “break growth” naturally. You might see some damage to magnolia blossoms but this is the exception in a year like this. It won’t kill the plant, just some flowers. If by some freak of nature the weather DID kill a tree or shrub we have the one year guarantee so it’s on us. BTW: Remember to amend your soil when planting – it’s really important to give your plant a good start. Personally I recommend Mahoney’s Planting Mix with Bio-tone, but any good soil enhancer is better than nothing.
Perennials are great to plant this time of year. The extra time in the ground gives their roots a good jump on the season. Most everything we grow or bring in has been acclimated or is just breaking growth naturally outside. It may appear small but they will take the frost.
No it’s not yet time for impatients, marigolds, basil, and other tender plants yet. And no, it’s still too early for geraniums to stay outside. We do grow a lot of geraniums for Easter because people like to bring them as a house warming gift – but too soon to leave outside overnight. If you’re not sure just ask, we would love to help. Your success is important to us.
What to do for your LAWN right now
If you use a “Step-1” Lawn Fertilizer with Crabgrass Control there’s still plenty of time for your first application. Most crabgrass controls are pre-emergent (which means they kills crabgrass AS it germinates), so it doesn’t work once the crabgrass is up. One exception: some of the new technology controls containing dimention will kill young crabgrass plants after they germinate – still earlier is better.
How do you know when crabgrass will germinate? The rule of thumb is: when the forsythia drops its blooms, crabgrass will start to germinate. So as long as the forsythia is yellow, you should have a few weeks yet.
Don’t skip that first step and go to the weed and feed – Weed and Feed products only work on broadleaf weeds after they germinate, and most have not yet. Plus if you don’t apply the crabgrass control now, you’ll be sorry in July. If you have a few dandelions showing there ugly heads you can always deal with that with a spray.
Now is also the perfect time to add Lime (or MAG-I-CAL). Test your lawn first (we sell easy DIY kits) to see if it needs lime. Most plants like a soil pH between 6-7. If your soil is too acidic or too low, your fertilizer won’t work properly and the results will be a lawn that never looks as dark green as your neighbors. Can’t have that!!
What to do for your VEGGIE GARDENS right now
Whether you have an existing garden or you’re starting a new garden from scratch, now is a terrific time to amend garden beds with compost and fertilizers. You can actually do this anytime, but if you do it now, you’ll be ready for planting. Compost and fertilizer are both extremely important for strong healthy plants, and an organically rich soil retains moisture better – keep this in mind when you hear all the doom and gloom warnings about droughts and water bans!
You can also apply lime in your veggie garden now. Test your soil pH (we sell easy DIY kits). A proper pH balance is so important, most plants like a soil pH between 6-7. If your soil is too acidic or too low, your fertilizer won’t work properly and the results can be a tomato plant that always looks straggly or greenish.
Now is a perfect time to plant lettuce, broccoli, collard greens, peas and other cold crops. Click here to read my recent cold crop blog.
What to do for your TREES SHRUBS & PERENNIALS right now
If you have a shrub that seems to be struggling or if you have some winter damage and the tree doesn’t look just right, this is great time to hit it with some good fertilizer. Then just sit back and wait for it to rebound when the warmer temps come.
You may read a lot of controversy on when to feed trees and shrubs: some people say you should feed only in the fall, others say to feed after the plant flowers. If you are using the new organic fertilizers (my preference) remember that they take some time to work, plus they don’t leach away like previous ferts – so I think fertilizing trees, shrubs and perennials right now is fine. Just try to stay away from feeding in July and August — this can push unwanted growth that will be tender in the winter.
How about those hydrangeas? Did you get the blue you wanted last year? If you didn’t, here’s my recipe. Add aluminum sulphate now, and then again when they come into bud. This along with a good fertilizer now, and you will stain your whites blue just by looking at them.
What to do about WEED PREVENTION right now
Now is a perfect time to put down Preen, corn gluten meal or even weed fabrics to prevent your weeds. You need to get all these down before the weeds start. Preen and corn gluten prevent weeds BEFORE they germinate – but they won’t kill established weeds. So don’t wait!
A note about lime. The saying goes; “lime, lime anytime, just not on top of your crabgrass preventer.” This is true — you should not use lime or MAG-I-CAL on top of your crabgrass preventer. Lime will actually break down the crabgrass preventer quicker (organic or not) so the only time you shouldn’t lime your lawn is in the spring if you use a crabgrass control.
I love to talk about “cold crop” veggies because I don’t think enough people know they can plant them in March and April. Cold crop veggies are the ones that tolerate (and even love) the cold. They thrive in early spring’s cold soil temperatures, frost or even snow. Most of these grow great in containers as well as in the garden.
Things like onions, garlic and potatoes love to get a jump on the growing season. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower grow better because there are fewer problems with insects and heat stress than you’ll find later in the season. Radishes planted at this time can be harvested in as few as 30 days! Lettuce and other leafy greens like mesclun mix, pac choi, or kale can be grown in small containers or window boxes alongside your pansies and other cold tolerant annuals. I love growing romaine for Caesar salads (a couple of six packs goes a long way). Greens like spinach and mustard can be harvested from a small container and it will grow back for another harvest in about a week. You often see these in the fancy restaurants now promoted as “sustainable agriculture micro greens.” These can be added to your store bought salads in a small way or, like myself, I make about 2 salads a week with five 12” containers. Plus, because you can harvest lettuce before late May, it won’t get in the way of your tomato season.
So are you ready for spring yet?
So let me start by asking - have you turned the veggie garden, added some compost, lime [if needed], some good organic fertilizer or cow manure or even both? Well neither have I. But I have started turning over some small areas and doing the above just so I can plant some lettuce and other cold crops. I feel like the cold crop season is passing even though it’s still early.
This is my year for spinach — I have a bunch of different spinach seed packs and I’m going to try them all in containers to see the difference in all the varieties. I like growing in containers cause they’re easy to harvest. The ones I’ve planted so far are thriving in these warm days and below freezing nights. Plus my kids love to eat this nutrient rich veggie in their salads. I’m gonna look like Popeye by late May.
I also just planted some broccoli, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and mesclun greens from pots or 6 packs. My small amount of cabbage is sure to come next along with the collards and brussel sprouts. These hot sellers are rolling in now and we’re growing more and more every week. The first ‘Uncle Mike’ cold crops should be out of the growing greenhouses and in the garden centers in about two weeks or so. Everyone get ready, cause here comes the sunshine!
Growing veggies from seed is always fun, right? You can get varieties you can’t find in pots or flats, I always find things that “I’ve got to try” there’s so many new and interesting varieties. It’s fun to watch them grow — my kids actually get into this and get a sense of accomplishment watching the seeds grow to harvest. It’s cheaper to do it yourself — ya it’s always cheaper to grow from seed if you’ve got the time and materials, if not you may want to grow from pots or flats.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the plants I prefer to grow from seeds. I always have people looking for things like root crops. We don’t see growers growing them that much, they don’t transplant well and it’s just easier to grow from seed. So the following are some of the things I prefer not to grow from pot or flats, instead I sow these directly into the garden. I also don’t mean to say everything else shouldn’t be grown from seed — a lot of people have good success starting their tomatoes and other veggies from seed.
Carrots, Radish & Beets
I prefer to sow seeds directly into the garden. We rarely see these in flats or pots because it’s not very economical to grow them that way. A package of carrot seeds will plant multiple rows instead of a couple plants. I usually sow a couple rows at first and then a couple weeks later I go back and do a couple more rows so I can extend my harvest. Just follow directions on the packs. Pay attention to how deep to plant the seeds and make sure to not crowd them. Keep well watered in the beginning and you can’t go wrong.
Beans & Peas
Very popular in both flats and pots, but I always do them from seeds because of the cost and varieties available. Like the carrots and beets I sow bush beans a couple weeks apart from one another so it staggers the harvest. There’s no better garden snack than the bean — I always pick a few then eat a few. The peas are another cold lover, you can put them out early especially from seed. Just one more thing about the peas and beans is they are legumes. You should use garden inoculants before planting. A garden inoculant is a nitrogen fixing bacteria, you soak seeds in it to give them a boost. I’ve done tests, some with and some without, and the inoculants make a big difference.
Another root crop I always plant from seed. Although they’re not actually seeds – they come in smaller sized potato sets, which are baby potatoes that get plated in the ground. They are always one of the first things that goes into my garden because you plant them about 6” deep so they are far away from the frost. Something else that’s pretty nice is if you’re cramped for space, potatoes can be grown in containers or baskets. I usually grow them outside my garden in a pile of hay and a little bit of soil. Just put down a layer of hay, some good soil or compost and potato sets. Add some hay and start all over. Do about three layers or more if you have a good basket and feed with some good fertilizer on a regular basis because they respond well to it. After that, just water and keep covering potatoes if they poke out of the hay (they turn green if exposed to sunlight).
Onions, Garlic & Shallots
Usually grown from sets — baby onions that go into the ground early like the potatoes. These things are cheap when you buy them by the sets compared to individual pots. I stick these on the edges of my raised rock wall garden in places where nothing else will grow.
Just some food for thought for everyone who’s planning and plotting out their vegetable garden for this season, I always have pretty good luck planting these things directly into the garden and you should to.
You asked for ‘em, so we got ‘em. Pull up your crops that are finished and extend your growing season with fresh, new broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other cold crops.
In the past I’ve heard people ask for cold crops (veggies that get planted in late August and early fall) but there wasn’t much available. But due to the interest in home veggie gardening, some of the growers (especially our Growing Division in Woburn) are growing some of these great tasting veggie garden season extenders.
These cold crops can be planted now through fall and can include things like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, Chinese cabbage (bok choi), Swiss chard, spinach, and more. So if those summer crops have run their course or maybe some unforeseen (rhymes with Irene) problems cut your season short; these cold tolerant plants can extend your season late into the fall or even winter. Harvest timing is between 30 to 60 days, so plant now and harvest greens with the goblins – usually end of October, but I remember picking my broccoli last year in December and harvesting my carrots (that I covered in hay) in March.
Contain your enthusiasm
Guess what? These veggies also grow well in containers! Better yet, things like the kale or cabbage can serve as a decorative fall plant as well as an edible. They can sit on a doorstep and be very decorative just like the fall mums, asters, kale and cabbage. ALERT: The typical ornamental kale and cabbage shouldn’t be confused with the edible varieties – they look the same but have a bitter taste and rough texture. So make sure you get the edible ones if you’re looking to eat them.
So if you’re not ready to wave good-bye to the garden season just yet, or you just want to try something new, we got ‘em right now.
Tell us what you’re going to grow. If you want to confirm the availability of a particular variety, please call the Mahoney’s you plan to visit.
The warm-crop planting season is finally here and we can safely plant our crops and yes, our tomatoes. I love this time of year because my wife and I get together with the kids and pick our favorite tomato varieties to grow, and of course some new ones we may not have tried before. One of my favorite things is slicing up a bunch of different tomatoes (different shapes, sizes, colors, etc.) and tasting with friends. The favorites are usually written down to remember to plant next year. Over the years we’ve come up with a delicious list. One question I often get is, “what’s a good tomato?” I’ve got to answer their question with a question: “good for what? Salads, sauces, salsa, sandwich slicer or maybe a good cherry or grape. I have favorites for all occasions.
These are some of my favorites. Try some new ones this year – you may be pleasantly surprised.
Super sweet 100
What a great cherry! I like to call this one the ‘’babysitter’’ because it produces so many small red sweet cherries it will keep the kids busy for hours when you say, “go pick them”. This plant is very vigorous – don’t be confused by the size of the fruit, this is a huge plant and it will take up a lot of space. It’s not great in small pots, as it will outgrow them quickly, but that’s doesn’t make me love it any less. I strongly recommend it, even if you don’t have kids to entertain.
This one is probably the sweetest cherry I’ve come across. If you haven’t tried this one, it’s worth it. A little bit on the orange side so it adds a different color to salads. It’s on the low acidic end, too.
Now this is what summer is about! This old Amish heirloom comes in pink, red and yellow – and they’re all great. Who knows which is the original, but it doesn’t matter when you taste these. It’s not a heavy producer, so I make sure to grow more than enough. But man what a taste!! Slice those babies up with some buffalo mozzarella and a little pepper, creamy Italian dressing, maybe some fresh basil (I don’t like balsamic…too much heart burn). Yumm!!! If you’ve grown this one and want to try something new try Burpee’s ‘Brandy Boy’. It’s a cross between Brandywine and Big Boy. I got a nice yield with that great taste, plus it produces much earlier in the season.
This hybrid produces nice large, round, blemish-free tomatoes. But don’t confuse this with commercial varieties that are bred to look ripe before their time. This Big Boy is very disease-resistant. So if you have had problems with disease or cracking try this one, it won’t disappoint you.
This is the plum tomato that all others are judged by. It’s larger than roma, and tastes better according to my Italian relatives and friends. This variety is open pollinated like roma so you can grow it with other tomatoes without cross pollination (which can result in different tomatoes than what you intended).
A large grape or small plum, this is a nice sweet variety that I love in salads, although you may want to slice them in half for the kids because they are slightly larger than your typical grape tomato. Nonetheless they are a nice sweet tomato with a long shelf life.
This is another great heirloom I love to grow. These big purplish or dark red tomatoes are another great tasting tomato like Brandywine. A great one for any occasion. I love mixing these in with a caprese dish. They are really big and meaty and they taste great together.
This one was a surprise. We tried Rampo for the first time last year and it was great. It’s an old reintroduction of a Jersey favorite. Medium to large fruit with a great yield, this tomato will please all your uses. In fact I remember tossing a bunch in when making a sauce and they were not to watery. They’ve become a staple in my August salads.
This is one big, big, nice tomato. Wait ‘til you see it – size alone is reason enough to grow the ‘Whopper’. You’ll agree, it definitely deserves a spot in your veggie garden.
This is a big pink or maybe more red tomato that has a heavy yield of large low acid and low seed fruit. But the best part is the story of its origin. It was developed by radiator repairman, M.C.“Radiator Charlie” Byles. Without any experience in breeding, Byles made a successful cross of four of the largest tomatoes he could find - German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety. With the money he made selling the tomatoes he ended up paying off his mortgage, hence the name.
If you want yellow, here it is. This medium-sized fruit is great tasting, as yellow as a lemon and has a heavy yield to boot. I love how they really brighten up a salad,
This probably is a tomato you may have passed by or maybe you’ve grown it before, but a nice medium fruit sized fruit that is low in acid (you don’t have to be yellow to be low acid). This plant is a perfect size for those upside down tomato planters, it won’t take down the house when you water it and it also makes a great vine ripe bunch like in the groceries store.
This is just a short list of our ‘Uncle Mike’ varieties that we grow in our growing range in Woburn. We have selected a range of hybrids, grapes, cherries, heirlooms, dwarf, and lots of others varieties. We also buy a lot from other local quality growers so we have even more of a selection for you, and as we find new ones, well we’ve got to check them out as well right. All our tomatoes are locally grown so there is less of a chance to get late blight which is a disease that has been a problem in the last few years.
Tomato varieties vary store by store, week by week. (Actually, on a busy day varieties can sometimes change hour to hour).
|Beefmaster||Beefsteak||Better Boy||Better Bush|
|Big Beef||Big Boy||Black Krim||Boxcar Willie|
|Brandywine||Bush Cahmpion||Carolina Gold||Celebrity|
|Cherokee Purple||Early Girl||German Johnson||Grape|
|Green Zebra||Health Kick||Hillbilly||Husky Gold|
|Marglobe||Moby||Mortgage Lifter||Mr. Stripey|
|Patio||Pink Girl||Ramapo||Roma Plum|
|Rutgers||San Marzano||Sugary||Super Bush|
|Superfantastic||Supersonic||Super Sweet 100||Sun Gold|
|Sun Sugar||Sweet’n’neat||Sweet Olive||Tiny Tim|
|Windowbox Roma||Yellow Pear|
Here we go, off to another slow start to spring. But that’s ok with me, because these cold days and nights bring me to one of my favorite crops of the veggie season: lettuce and other leafy greens. Nothing beats fresh picked lettuce – the taste and texture is so much better than store bought. And it’s easy to grow, either in the ground or in containers. Plus this stuff loves the cold, so you need to take advantage of the season. Actually lettuce tends to “bolt” (stretches and goes to seed) when planted too late, so don’t procrastinate!
Planting lettuce in containers – Start with any 10- to 12-inch pot that’s least 4 inches deep. It doesn’t need to be fancy (unless you like fancy, in which case pick a lovely pot that complements your outdoor décor and the color green). Good quality potting soil makes a huge difference, so don’t cheap out – and remember, topsoil or regular dirt will not work! The just pop in 4 to 6 plants in a 12-inch pot and you’re off!
Planting lettuce in the ground - Lettuce is an efficient use of garden space. I place plants in a row about 6-inches apart, with the next row about 12-inches away. Iceberg and other larger varieties may take a little more room. When the plants start to grow close together I take out every other head to make more room to grow. Again, starting with good quality soil rich in organic matter is key.
Fertilizer – lettuce and greens typically are “heavy feeders” (like to be fertilized often). When first planting I mix organic Espoma Garden-tone into the soil, and then as the plants grow I add Neptune Harvest Organic Blend Fertilizer when watering. Try to feed directly onto the soil without touching the leaves. There are other quality fertilizers that will work, but I always do both feedings because it really pushes them along well.
Pest problems – lettuce and other greens don’t have a lot of problems at this time of year. Most insects aren’t out yet, and there are no major disease problems. The only insect problems I’ve ever had are aphids, and they’re easy to deal with. Every so often inspect under leaves. I usually use an organic approach such as insecticidal soap or Bon Neem. Start spraying every 5 to 7 days. Don’t let them get out of control because they get harder to deal with as the plant grows and inner leaves become harder to reach. Again, aphids are rare, but it’s something to keep an eye out for ‘cause there’s nothing worse than aphids swimming in the salad dressing. That said, also watch out for over watering; either from mother nature (which is uncontrollable) or yourself. While lettuce plants like an even moist soil, too much water will lead to botrytis, a rot at the crown of the plant.
Harvesting your lettuce – One of the great things about lettuce is how fast you can start to enjoy eating it. You can enjoy your first harvest in as little as 2 to 4 weeks. Remember, you can pick lettuce at any size – it tastes the same, it’s just smaller. As they start to crowd each other out, just thin out a couple heads, enjoy your fresh salad, and the rest will grow on for another supper. I usually plant too much every year, and inevitably get a little sick of salad towards the end of the season. But then I miss it when it’s gone and I look forward to it the next time I can plant. So don’t wait, take advantage of this pre-tomato growing season and plant that lettuce; your rewards will be palatable.