May 22 – June 7, 2015
Mt. Washington — The frenzy of preparations for the summer gardening season was evident last weekend as early bird shoppers swarmed farmer’s markets, local nurseries and garden supply centers in pursuit of flowering ornamentals and favorite varieties of tomato, basil, squash and other tender seedlings. For many, spring gardening begins on Mother’s Day, the midway point between the first day of spring and the first day of summer, when we feel a resurgence of connection to Mother Earth. Shopping for the summer garden, leading up to and during the Memorial Day weekend, has become as traditional as shopping for gifts during the winter solstice and New Year’s holidays.
Through our gardens we touch the earth, through which we most often experience the peace of life’s cycles unfolding. For gardeners, Memorial Day has come to represent the last frost date in northeastern states, marking when mild weather is expected to be established, when circa 70 degree days and 50 degree nights are the norm. It behooves us to pause to recognize the worldly meaning of the day.
In recent years frost-free dates have often prevailed about a week earlier, but this spring is particularly erratic. Records of the weather in our immediate region indicate that the January – April period was the coldest since 1904, followed by nearly record heat and drought early in May. Recent weather has not encouraged planting warm season crops; frost warnings are forecast for the 22nd and 23rd. The farmer and gardener have watched and waited, plunged ahead and pulled back. Add to the confusion the fact that Memorial Day 2015 is earlier than most, another check on conventional wisdom.
Hot weather urges us to plant hot weather crops and the return of cool days and cold nights boosts our confidence that peas, spinach and lettuces will germinate and grow to offer a robust harvest. The gardener weighs the advantages of getting a head start on planting corn, squash and beans against the risks of exposing tender plants to life-threatening conditions or, at minimum, conditions that will weaken them.
Proceed with planting Cosmic Red Carrots, Rainbow Swiss Chard, colorful radishes, purple potatoes and the varied cabbage family – kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. If all vegetable garden spaces are not yet prepared, sow extra seed in beds that are ready so that seedlings may be moved into spacious ground later. Replant hardy perennial herbs such as sage, lavender and thyme that winter killed, as well as biennial parsley. I purchase starts of these. Sow a “nursery” row of basil seed when warm weather returns. Broadcast cilantro (coriander) and dill seed between row crops; they will produce quick harvests in places where weeds would thrive. They are easy-to-grow tender herbs.
Time is of the essence when considering squash and pumpkins for winter storage. The magnificent heirloom Cinderella pumpkin, also known as Rouge Vif d’Étampes (bright red of Étampes, France), requires 115 days from sowing to maturity and produces 10-15 pound fruits. Introduced to America in
1883, it was the model for Cinderella’s carriage. Rouge Vif d’Étampes’ flavorful flesh is excellent for baking, soups and custard, as are the smaller Kabocha varieties that have a 95 day cycle and will be 3 – 5 pounds. They are all excellent keepers.
Summer squashes, including zucchini, patty pan and yellow squash, as well as cucumbers, produce fruit in 45-55 days. These are grown for immediate consumption and can be pickled for winter storage. If cool weather persists, sow seeds in flats or 4 packs and keep warm and watered until they germinate, about a week or two.
Beans are reputed to be good companions to both squash and potatoes. For climbing beans, place poles or teepees among these crops. No rush, green beans grow from seed to pod in 50-65 days.