Edible Gardening in May
May is here and after a warm winter and early spring, it is time to get summer vegetables in the ground. We have noted in recent months that the VA Cooperative Extension has altered the final spring frost dates to April 15-25. VA.Hardiness Zone Map/Pub. 426-331. If the weather sites I have checked are correct, we haven’t had a frost since early March. The warming trend seems undeniable. On the positive side it means a longer growing season. On the flip side it can mean more serious pest problems. In any case, let’s finish up our early season planting.
Early planters may already be harvesting radishes, peas and a variety of greens. Good for you. Planting cool weather vegetables now requires looking at days to maturity. No sense starting crops now that won’t tolerate the warmer weather of summer. We are at or near the end of planting time for beets, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, onions and many greens.
However now is the time to plant summer vegetables. These include beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, squash sweet potatoes and pepper and tomato transplants.
For a detailed list of recommended planting times for vegetables in Hardiness Zones 6 and 7, check out Extension Publication 426-331, Vegetable planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates.
Other tips for May vegetable gardening in our area include:
Tomato transplants are ready to be placed in the garden when they have 5-7 leaves. When transplanting tomatoes, place 2/3 of the plant below the soil surface. Pull leaves off the bottom two-thirds of the plants and either dig the planting hole deep enough to stand the plant up or lay the underground stem section on its side. Tomatoes will add roots underground and build a stronger root system if planted this way. When choosing your tomato varieties consider determinate types that ripen within a narrow time period if you are a canner and want a single harvest. Indeterminate varieties will provide a steady supply of ripening fruits until frost if well cared for.
Eggplants like 80 to 90 degree temperatures and plenty of water. Best to water them thoroughly twice a week during dry periods.
Speaking of moisture, beans, peas and other legumes that fix soil nitrogen produce fewer, smaller nodules when water stressed. It is also important to keep them well-watered.
Extend your harvest season by planting sweet corn and beans every two weeks through the end of June. An alternative with corn is to plant early, mid and late maturing varieties at the same time.
Missing corn kernels on your corn ears? This may be the result of poor pollination. Sweet corn is wind-pollinated. Pollen from the corn flower has to reach every strand of silk on each growing ear to develop fully- kernelled mature corn ears. Block planting in short rows (3-4 rows or more) will pollinate more successfully than 1 or 2 long rows. For more information on growing sweet corn, take a look at Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-405
Keep your potatoes covered. The skins of potatoes exposed to sunlight will turn green. This green color comes from the pigment chlorophyll produced as a response to sunlight. “Green Potatoes” will often develop a bitter taste and may even become toxic. This can be prevented by covering the exposed potatoes — by hilling-up dirt over the them, or covering them with straw mulch. For additional information on growing potatoes, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-413
To control weeds in the garden, destroy them before they develop seeds. Refrain from cultivating and hoeing deeply; this can cause damage to the shallow roots of your vegetables. Also, avoid using mulch or compost contaminated with seeds. For additional information on controlling weeds in the home garden, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-364.
Guidance on fertilization is available at Extension Publication 426-323, “Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden.” In a few pages it offers a nice summary of plant nutrition requirements and fertilizing options. I like to use mainly organic amendments with a small application of synthetic fertilizer at planting to provide a quick NPK injection to the plant while giving soil life a chance to make the organic nutrients plant available.
When watermelons, muskmelons, squash and cucumbers are planted in a hill, place a stick upright in the middle of the hill and leave it there. Later in the summer when the hill becomes hidden by the vines, you will know where to water. You’ll not only save time looking for the main root, but you’ll save water as well.
When transplanting seedlings in peat pots, gently tear off the top inch of the pot; the upper edges of the pot should be covered with soil to avoid wicking water away from the soil surface. Wicking may reduce the amount of moisture available to the roots of the plant.
If you are growing cole crops including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards or other greens, May will likely bring a variety of cabbage worms that can decimate your crop. Options for control include hand-picking, using an organic pesticide like Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis), or row covers. I have also had luck hanging decoys of cabbage moths above that area of the garden. The decoys appear to discourage territorial moths from laying their eggs in that location. For more information check out Garden Shed Articles “OMG What’s Eating the Broccoli” and “Row Covers: a Gardening Season Extender with Benefits”. If you choose to try the non-chemical row cover technique, act quickly to get them in place before the cabbage moths arrive.
To preserve leftover seeds, store them in a sealed container and refrigerate them, with a dessicant, such as a few layers of paper towels with 2 tablespoons of powdered milk folded up inside them.
This is also a great time to start a fresh batch of compost. Grass clippings and kitchen scraps become available as we begin mowing lawns and eating seasonal fruits and vegetables. If you’ve saved some leaves from last fall, you have what you need to create a good compost batch that will be ready for use this fall. Refer to Garden Shed article “Backyard Composting with Practical Tips from the Pros” for more details on composting.
During this time of social distancing and quarantining, gardening can be a comforting activity. In addition, picking your own vegetables relieves the stress of managing potential contamination of purchased produce. Good luck with the garden and stay safe. Thanks for checking in. See you next month.
“Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates.” Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-331, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-331/426-331.html
“Vegetables Recommended For Virginia,”Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-480, https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-480/426-480.html
“Sweet Corn,” Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-405, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-405/426-405.html
“Potatoes, Peppers and Eggplant,” Va. Coop. Ext. Publication No. 426-413, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-413/426-413.html
“Weeds in the Home Garden,” Va. Coop. Ext., Publication No. 426-364, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-364/426-364.html
“Tomatoes,” Va. Coop. Ext.Publication No. 426-418, https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-418/426-418.html
VA Cooperative Extension: May Tips: Vegetables https://albemarle.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/albemarle_ext_vt_edu/files/hort-tip-sheets/5-14-veg.pdf