June gardening brings in the first payoffs from all those cold March and April days spent sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings. Leaf lettuce is of perfect harvest size and should be enjoyed daily while the leaves are still firm and crisp. A new red variety planted this year called Crimshaw Delight is a delight with its superior taste compared to other red types that can lack flavor.
Chinese cabbage is ready for picking and so is the arugula, broccoli raab, radishes and kohlrabi. The cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli plants will be on the dinner table soon, as will the pea harvest.
Caring for asparagus beds
In between harvests, there is plenty of catch-up work to do. One project that is a must for any gardener with an asparagus bed is to erect some type of support system for the bulk fronds that form during the summer months. This fern-like growth is what builds reserves into the root system for next year's crop. Unfortunately, these fronds can grow so large that they are prone to breaking at the base, especially when they are wet. If this happens, it can severely affect the outcome of the following year's harvest, or worse, cause the root to die.
In order to keep the fronds upright and to help maintain an orderly appearance in the garden, a fairly strong permanent support system must be in place. Two wooden posts at each end of the beds are fine, as long as they are driven deeply into the soil, preferably with metal "earth-anchors" to ensure their steadiness. With the posts in place, I drill a 3/8-inch hole in the center of each and insert a metal ring vise-clip. These inexpensive clips are sold at hardware stores and permit a metal wire to be inserted through the center and drawn tight.
The rigidity of the metal wire at three heights off the ground (12 inches, 24 inches and 36 inches high) makes a secure arrangement that keeps the fronds upright. This way they can fully develop while staying in perfect shape all summer long.
As the leafy green vegetables finally succumb to the heat, a plan is already in place for a succession crop of other leafy vegetables. Summer weather does not provide the ideal conditions for crops like lettuce, Chinese cabbage, broccoli raab and spinach, all of which have a desire to bolt to seed during hot weather. As any gardener knows, however, making adjustments to weather conditions is half the battle to a successful garden. In this case, I want to try and simulate cooler spring conditions with less heat and sunlight to prevent these crops from making seed.
To start, I'll till the bed under and replenish the soil with some 5-10-5 granular fertilizer. After the fertilizer has been mixed in and the soil raked level, I'll transplant the lettuce and other leafy vegetable seedlings that have been pampered along in the cold frame over the last few weeks. After a drink of transplant solution, metal wires shaped into half circles are inserted into the soil spaced every three feet.
Here comes the real secret weapon: With the metal loops secured, a woven polyethylene shade netting is draped over the entire bed. This unique material allows plenty of air circulation and water to pass through, while it reduces the interior temperature some 15 degrees. The indirect sunlight that filters through the fabric is enough to support the plants' growth, but not enough to trigger bolting.
Occasionally a plant here and there will not respond to this kind of care, but by and large, with the shade fabric in place spring crops can be harvested right through the summer months.
Fall crop needs time to grow
Perhaps no other vegetable loses so much flavor and texture when frozen as Brussels sprouts. I make it a point to have at least six healthy plants for plenty of garden-fresh Brussels sprouts. Fortunately, this is a fairly easy crop to grow in the garden, takes up little space and is a delicious vegetable ready for the Thanksgiving dinner table.
In order to have sizable plants ready to plant by midsummer, seeds need to be started now. I make use of the cold fame once again, this time for seed starting in pots. With a 6-inch pot filled with a soil-less planting medium, about two dozen seeds will be planted and covered with a quarter inch of additional soil. The seeds are sown a bit deeper to keep them moist, as even the protected cold frame can get rather warm this month.
Within two weeks the seedlings will be large enough to be moved into six-pack trays, where they will spend a good part of the summer waiting for an open spot in the garden.
Q.: Would you explain the correct way to cut roses during the summer. After the first June wave of flowers my plants seem to have fewer and fewer blossoms. L. Silvie, Trumbull.
A.: Whether you're cutting roses for a bouquet or not it is critical to prune flowering canes when the blossoms fade to guarantee a succession of flowers. Secondly, it is just as important to make the cut at the proper location on the canes. The leaves of a rosebush are composed of either 3-leaf or 5-leaf eyes. It is the 5-leaf eyes that are the important ones, as the buds at the base of these eyes produce the next flowering stems. The 3-leaf eyes do not produce flowering stems, so for this reason when roses are cut they should always be pruned about a quarter inch above the 5-leaf eye.
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