For those of you who plant a vegetable garden, by early May most of you likely have a good start in getting in your summer vegetables. Tomatoes which were planted in March should be growing vigorously and setting fruit. Beans and corn which can tolerate the cooler temperatures of early spring are putting on good growth now with warmer temperatures as the sun climbs higher into the sky with each passing day.
Now is the time to plant the remaining warm-season vegetables if you didn’t do so in April. Average night temperatures are now high enough for, not only good plant growth, but also fruit set on the real heat-lovers such as peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, melons, and one of my favorites, okra. For those of you who live near the cooler coast, planting in a sunny, warm, protected location, such as in front of a heat-reflecting wall, will greatly benefit the growth and fruiting of these vegetables, but no matter where you live there are important things to consider before planting.
Choose a location with as much sun as possible. Vegetables need at least five to six hours of direct sun. I dig into the soil a good organic amendment, such as Harvest Supreme. This is a favorite of mine. I try to keep at least four or five bags in my garage since I always seem to be using it. Of course, homemade compost can’t be beat. Adding organic matter provides several benefits including improved soil aeration and water infiltration, retention of soil nutrients and enhanced activity of beneficial soil microorganisms. A fertilizer labeled for vegetables also should be added to get the new plants off to a good start. For those who have small yards or only a patio or balcony, many of the vegetables can be grown in containers, using a good quality potting soil. When growing in containers it is important to pay closer attention to watering and fertilizing. After all, the roots are confined to a small growing area and can exhaust the supply of water and nutrients relatively quickly. I’ll have suggestions further along for varieties that are particularly suited to container growing.
As far as choosing what to plant, I have favorites in most of the summer vegetables. Favorites for hot peppers include ‘Hungarian Yellow Wax’, ‘Anaheim’ chile, and jalapeño. Bell peppers are the most popular sweet peppers with ‘California Wonder’, ‘Keystone Giant’, and ‘Big Bertha’ being good choices. All three of these varieties will ripen to a bright red color. Miniature bell peppers can easily be grown in a twelve inch pot. They are very productive and plants can be chosen that will produce red, yellow or chocolate colored fruit.
For eggplant, my favorite is one of the varieties of Japanese eggplant with long, narrow fruit. Last summer I tried a miniature variety named ‘Pot Black’, with which I was very impressed. I grew one plant in a 12 inch pot. The compact plant produced about fifty egg-sized fruit with good flavor.
I gave information about tomatoes in an earlier blog so I won’t go into detail here, but start thinking about planting a cool season crop for this coming fall. These plants will need to be planted from late July until early September. Some of my favorite varieties which are tolerant of the cool temperatures of late fall are ‘Champion’, ‘Stupice’, ‘Manitoba’ and ‘Jetsetter’, but there many more from which to choose.
Cucumbers can be planted from mid-April until late June. Plants are vining and may be allowed to sprawl along the ground or may be grown on a vertical support such as a chain link fence, which I use, or a trellis to save space. Another advantage of growing on a vertical support is that long-fruited varieties, such as Japanese cucumbers, tend to grow straighter because the fruit hangs down. My favorites include Persian cucumbers, which are short, have a thin skin and a mild, good flavor; and Japanese cucumbers. A recent introduction is a variety named ‘Pot Luck’ which has compact vines. This one can be grown in a large container.
‘Ambrosia’ cantaloupe is a variety with fantastic flavor. Although melons love sun and heat, this one will perform well along the coast as well as in hotter areas. Other good varieties are ‘Hale’s Jumbo’ and ‘Hearts of Gold’. Good watermelon varieties include ‘Sugar Baby’, a small four to five pound melon, and ‘Crimson Sweet’ which can grow to about twenty pounds.
Green beans have always been one of my favorite summer vegetables. Bush varieties can be harvested in from fifty to sixty days after planting seeds. Because of quick maturity, I make several sowings, three or four weeks apart, between late March and early August. Just six plants grown in a fourteen inch pot should provide two or three pickings for about three people. Of course, they also may be planted in rows in the open ground. I like ‘Contender’ and ‘Classic Slenderette’. Pole varieties needing a fence, trellis or poles for support include ‘Blue Lake’ and tender, small French varieties, very often sold as Haricot Vert (French for green bean).
Remember, most vegetables need regular water and fertilizer. Watering when the soil just begins to dry and adding an organic fertilizer every six to eight weeks, or a water soluble fertilizer every three weeks will keep your vegetables growing and producing for most of the summer.