May In the Vegetable Garden
May is finally here and frost is (hopefully) not. The ground is warming and we can finally plant the summer vegetables we all love to grow and eat.
As noted in the last issue of The Garden Shed, Average Last Frost dates are a little ambiguous in the western Piedmont. Extension Publication 426-331, Vegetable Planting Guide and recommended Planting Dates, places Albemarle and surrounding counties in the Mountain region, rather than the Piedmont, and puts average last frost date as May 10-15. However, USDA places us in Hardiness Zone 7A with our average last frost date of April 15. Since “average” means 50% probability and since we are on the boundary, there is some guesswork involved. I and a lot of my friends use May 1 as our summer vegetable planting date and sneak a look at the long term forecast for confidence. In any case, it’s wise to be ready to act if a late frost arrives unexpectedly.
So, depending on your risk preference and the National Weather Service crystal ball, get ready to plant your tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, corn, beans, cucumbers and okra. Along with maintaining the early spring-planted crops such as potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks and onions et al, May is about the busiest month of the year for the vegetable gardener.
If you are like most of us, you are always tempted to plant just a bit more than you have room for. Some helpful advice for garden planning is available in extension publication Planning the Vegetable Garden. When you figure out what to plant, refer again to Extension Publication 426-331, Vegetable Planting Guide for help deciding when to plant. As noted above, it is pretty conservative, and unless you are actually in the mountains, may be later than necessary to avoid frost. But in any case, understand the risks if you choose to plant earlier.
Extend your harvest season by planting sweet corn and beans every two weeks through the end of June.
Missing corn kernels on your corn ears? This may be the result of poor pollination. Sweet corn is wind-pollinated. Block planting in short rows (3-4 rows or more) will pollinate more successfully than 1 or 2 long rows. When doing succession planting, block the area into the sections. For example, if you have space for 4 rows of corn, rather than planting two long rows of corn and waiting 2 weeks to plant the remaining two rows, divide the area into two blocks and plant 4 short rows. Then two weeks later, plant the remaining 4 short rows. This procedure will insure greater pollination. 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 potatoes, 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.
For guidance on fertilizing, check out Extension Publication 426-323, Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden. In a few pages it offers a nice summary of plant nutrition requirements and fertilizing options.
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 be saving time looking for the main root, but you’ll be saving water as well.
Successful eggplant development is dependent on a span of temperatures of 80º-90ºF and plenty of water. Water well when plants are young. Water at least twice a week when temperatures are high and there is no rain. For additional information on growing eggplant in the home garden, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-413 .
The best time to transplant tomato, pepper and eggplant is on a cool cloudy day or late in the afternoon to avoid the hot sun. This way the plants have time to acclimate to their new environment. If the following day is hot and sunny, a row cover may be used to reduce stress on the plant.
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.
Break the rule when setting-out tomato plants. The general rule for transplanting most plants is that the planting depth should be no deeper than the soil level they were originally grown in. This rule does NOT apply to tomato plants. The general rule for tomatoes is that 2/3 of the tomato plant should be below soil level. First, gently remove the leaves on the bottom 2/3 of the plant before planting. Planting deep allows roots to sprout along the buried stem (adventitious roots). This results in a better and stronger root system and the end result is better tomatoes. In heavy soil or if you just don’t want to dig deep, you can lay the plant on its side, provided that 5-6 inches of soil is placed over the roots and stem. For additional information on growing tomatoes, see VCE Publication 426-418 titled “Tomatoes” .
“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