May and June is the perfect time to plant heat loving summer vegetables. Planted too early they sulk – too late and t
heir season is cutshort. Other plants may tolerate the hot summer months ahead, but these sizzlers actually prefer the heat, bright light and long days of summer.
It seems that growing plants from seed is almost a lost art in Orange County; most people preferring to start from transplants. However, with only slightly more effort, growing vegetables from seed will reward you with many more choices and even better flavor.
Sow seeds now of lima and snap beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, soybeans and squash. All of these are large seeds that are easy to plant and quick to germinate.
Another unique advantage of most summer vegetables is that they offer a long harvest. Unlike the all-at-once scenario of cool-season crops like lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, radish and others, these will offer their bounty over a two or three month period.
My favorite vegetable of the summer are fresh beans. On seed rack you will find nearly endless green bean choices (also called “snap beans”). While perusing the choices, search for any variety labeled either Haricot Verts or French Filet Beans; these are the same bean as those served at the finest restaurants. It is a slender, flavorful and stringless green bean. Pick them fresh from the garden all summer and simply add to boiling salted water. Cook for about four minutes, until they are crisp-tender. Don’t overcook or fresh beans will become limp and mushy. Then immediately shock them in an ice bath to set their color and stop their cooking. To serve warm, sauté the beans gently in butter or olive oil and season with only salt and pepper. Haricot Verts are THE green bean.
A perfect companion for beans in the summer garden is squash, especially Zucchini and its close cousins. The best of all the summer squash is also a French heirloom by the name Ronde de Nice, but sometimes called Baby Round. Only grown from seed, the thin skin and delicate flesh will bruise easily, so you’ll never find these delicacies in supermarkets. All Summer Squash, like Ronde de Nice, are simple to grow from seed.
Harvest Ronde de Nice squash while still young and extra-tender, about three or four inches in diameter. Serve them gently steamed or sautéed with other vegetables in a medley. While sautéing, add a dash of butter and some chicken broth and chopped herbs for a delicious side dish.
After your green beans and squash are planted you should get some cucumber seed in the soil as well. Of all the cucumbers on the market the Lemon Cucumber may be the most interesting. Now an heirloom variety, Lemon Cucumbers were originally brought to the United States in 1894. Some experts say the seed originated in Australia, others believe it came from Russia. Either way, the round, baseball sized fruit of Lemon Cucumbers are a soft yellow color with a delicious flavor. You’ll never find these on the supermarket shelf or available as transplants, so you’ll need to grow them from seed.
A great summer salad can be made with Lemon Cucumbers. To the sliced cucumbers add red onion, colorful tomatoes, sweet corn, some greens and some rice vinegar. Sprinkle with a little lemon thyme vinaigrette and you’re ready.
Now is the time to sow your summer vegetable garden.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar