Since, for many of us, gardening season is now in full swing, I thought I'd offer a few suggestions today for easy veggies to direct-sow. Here are my top ten favorite easy veggies:
- Leaf Lettuce. Simply scatter the seed, cover with fine layer of soil or compost, and keep moist. You'll be harvesting dainty, flavorful leaves in about three weeks. It's a good idea to sow a fresh crop every couple of weeks to ensure that you have a constant supply.
- Spinach. It is best to harvest spinach young, when the leaves are about two to three inches long. To keep it from bolting in summer heat, try planting a heat-tolerant variety like 'Bloomsdale Long Standing.' As with lettuce, sow a fresh crop every few weeks.
- Zucchini/Summer Squash. You could start these indoors, but why? These prolific plants germinate very well once the soil has warmed a bit. Direct sow them after your last frost date.
- Radishes. Sow these anytime to enjoy in salads and on crudite platters. Be sure to give them even moisture. The greens are alos edible, and, if harvested when they are about two inches long, provide a slightly pepper zing to salads and sandwiches.
- Kale. My favorite kale is 'Lacinato' also known as "dinosaur kale." While kale is usually considered to be a cold season crop, I grow it successfully throughout the summer, harvesting the largest leaves fairly regularly. Young leaves are delicious raw in salads, and mature leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to soups.
- Beets. I've mentioned before that I don't really like beet roots, but I love the greens. They're very pretty in salads, and provide a bit of sweetness when mixed with other baby greens. Grow beets in loose soil, and keep them evenly moist; beets that are allowed to dry out often develop woody roots. Which is important if you actually plan to eat your beet roots...Please note that each beet seed is actually a cluster of seeds, so you'll have to do some thinning when the greens are a couple inches long. Thin to approximately two inches apart.
- Swiss chard. This is another green that grows well all summer in my zone 6 garden. Varieties such as 'Bright Lights' are just as beautiful as they are tasty. Chard does very well in containers as well as in traditional garden beds. It can be eaten sauteed like spinach, and the stalks can be eaten raw like celery (but it's tastier than celery as far as I'm concerned!) Give chard even moisture and harvest the outer stalks regularly to keep your plant producing all summer long.
- Beans. Whether you choose pole beans or bush beans, they are super-simple to grow. You often see recommendations to treat the seed with a bit of legume innoculant to increase yields, but in all honesty I seem to end up with too many beans even when I don't add the innoculant. Plant them after soil has warmed. Pole beans should be planted about six inches apart; bush beans can be planted three to four inches apart. You will need to provide a trellis if you plan to grow pole beans, which will reach six feet tall or more. Keep them evenly moist, and harvest the beans when they are thin and tender. If you leave them too long, they will get stringy and tough. Be sure to harvest regularly. Both bush and pole beans are prolific, and you may well end up with more than you can use. Luckily, beans freeze well, and you'll be happy to enjoy their fresh taste in soups and stews when winter arrives.
- Peas. Peas need cool weather to grow well, so they're an ideal spring or fall crop. You can select snow peas, snap peas, or shell peas, but they all have the same basic requirements: cool weather, full sun, trellis or other support to climb on, and even moisture.
- Cucumbers. Plant cucumbers once your soil has warmed in the spring. You can choose bush or vining types, slicers or pickling cucumbers. You'll need to provide a trellis for vining types, and be sure to give your cucumbers plenty of moisture, because cukes that are allowed to dry out often develop bitter fruits. Certain varieties, such as 'Bushmaster' even grow well in containers. For a different change of pace, try growing heirloom 'Lemon' cucumbers, which grow to lemon-sized yellow-striped fruits. They're delicious, and look great in a salad.
This great tip comes from my friend Anthony, who gardens in New Jersey (zone 6) and blogs at The Compost Bin. Anthony says:
"After pulling a few giant piles worth of roots out (of my raised beds) yesterday, I made an executive decision. Whenever I build a new bed, a bottom will be a mandatory feature. I don't think I'll use a sheet of plywood for the floor as suggested in the book (Square Foot Gardening), but at a minimum, I'll load the bottom up with landscape fabric. Usually, I'd layer newspapers to stop weeds and because I know they'll break down and feed those earthworms. But since I want to avoid future root invasions, I think I'll pass on the newspapers. Do they make landscape fabric out of steel?"
Click here to read the rest of Anthony's post.
This is a great tip for any of us who have shade trees on or near our properties. In general, you'd build a raised bed without a bottom, as Anthony mentions (and as I wrote in my article on building a raised bed) so that earthworms can make their way into the bed, loosening and enriching your soil. Tree roots can easily spoil the party, though, so adding a bottom to your raised bed is a great idea. This makes me wonder how soon I'll start to see roots from my neighbor's maple make their way into my vegetable gardens.
Thanks, Anthony, for the great tip!
New Articles on About Organic Gardening:
Carol Deppe's fantastic book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times , is currently one of my favorite books about gardening. If you're determined to grow a good portion of your own food, it's definitely worth a look.
What I love is that Deppe is very no-nonsense about many things. For instance, one of my favorite sections of the book is called "Selective Sloppiness." Deppe says that much of what we do in our gardens is just unnecessary busy-work. She begins the chapter with this statement:
"Only some things are worth doing well. Most things that are worth doing are only worth doing sloppily. Many things aren't worth doing at all. Anything not worth doing at all is certainly not worth doing well."
She goes on to give examples of what she means. Making the surface of your garden bed perfectly smooth, free of any little indentations or low areas, is a complete waste of time. An uneven soil surface has areas in which water will collect and slowly irrigate your plants. A smooth surface is great if you want to encourage water run-off.
Pulling weeds is necessary (unfortunately...) but carting those weeds off to another location is not. Leave them in your paths, or, heck, just throw them right back into the bed where they'll break down and enrich the soil. As a bonus, insect pests will often feed on the weeds and not your lettuce.
Are you obsessed with planting seeds at EXACTLY the recommended planting depth? Deppe explains that soil temperature has more to do with successful germination than planting depth does. She is inexact in her soil depth, and ends up planting seeds at different depths. No matter what, she always ends up with a successful sowing.
"Eschew unnecessary symmetry," she advises. Most of us rely on straight lines that, for one reason or another, never end up looking straight. Embrace curves and end up with a prettier garden (with less work!)
One final thought from Deppe: weeding the vegetable garden late in the season is generally unnecessary. The plants are too big to suffer from competition from weeds, and most late-season weeds won't have enough time to set seed before frost anyway.
Deppe is definitely my kind of gardener! What do you think?
Here are some of the things I've enjoyed reading over this past week:
- Margaret Roach over at A Way to Garden featured an absolutely stunning sunflower on her blog. The silver-leaf sunflower, Helianthus argophyllus, is now on my "must grow!" list. If you love silver foliage, you need to see this plant.
- Over at Growing the Home Garden, Dave reviewed The 20 Minute Gardener. It looks like it might be worth a look -- especially for those who wonder how to fit gardening into their already-busy lives.
- Susy over at Chiot's Run shared a homegrown meal, featuring fresh lettuce from the garden, venison, and eggs from their flock. This is the stuff my dreams are made of. Seriously.
- Over on the BBC News Science and Environment blog: more about the link between bee deaths and
- If you love arugula, you'll appreciate this tip from the Timber Press website: cut and come again arugula.
- And, over on my own blog, I gave a quick early April tour of my garden. My compost bins were featured. What can I say?
Want to share one of your own garden blog posts from this past week (or one you read and really enjoyed?) Share the link in the comments so we can check it out!
Have a great weekend!