by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Wouldn’t it be great to have earlier harvests for our favorite summer vegetables? Recent research has proven that our winters may be getting warmer by a degree or two, but that isn’t going to help much with creating earlier harvests. However, there are a number of techniques you can employ to enjoy home-grown vegetables earlier this summer.
First, select early-maturing varieties for your vegetables; seed companies advertise many options for shorter maturity times for almost every type of vegetable. Look for those that mature at least 10 days earlier than the normal varieties. ‘Sweet Zuke’ or ‘Sure Thing’ are zucchini varieties that mature early, for example; earlier yellow squash varieties like ‘Early Summer Crookneck’ and ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ not only produce harvests earlier, but also have many other good traits. Most seed companies and nurseries offer similar choices for most vegetables.
'Sweet Zuke' is a variety of zucchini that will produce an earlier harvest.
'Early Summer Crookneck' provides wonderful yellow squash.
Another technique to use for early harvest is to plant as early as possible; watch forecasts and check the Mesonet (www.mesonet.org) for soil temperatures in Oklahoma. Watch the weekly forecast, and if you have already planted and cold temperatures are predicted, cover your tender seedlings with plastic or milk jugs, for example, to protect them. You can also warm the soil in your beds using black plastic mulch; although this is not a preferred mulch variety because it is not natural, it is still very effective for warming the soil. About two weeks before planting, spread the mulch over your bed, making sure the black surface is as exposed to the sun as much as possible. When you are ready to plant, simply cut a circle in the plastic and insert your seedlings.
Another option for earlier harvests is to start your plants indoors. Although some varieties are not recommended for transplanting, it is still possible for some varieties; for instance, using peat pots or pots of material that will be absorbed into the soil will offer little disturbance to them when you set them outside. It also helps to give your seedlings as much sunlight as possible, or to use a shop light or florescent desk light over them to aid their growth. Be sure to provide seedlings with a good plant food so they will keep growing until it is time to set them out in the garden.
Here’s a fun idea for starting seeds early, and it would be a fun project for your children or grandchildren, to get them involved in gardening. Purchase some ice cream cones, the regular cup variety, and not sugar cones. Place seed starting mix or potting soil in each cone and plant your seeds just as you would do in a peat pot. Once your seedlings are ready to transplant, just put the entire cone in the ground. It will disintegrate and you will be left with a healthy plant to nourish in your garden. What fun!
Start your seeds in ice cream cones for a biodegradable way to plant without disturbing tender transplants.
When you are ready to transplant your seedlings outdoors, it is important to allow them to become accustomed to the change in environment. Gradually expose them to the outside over a period of three days or so, increasing their exposure each day. Also, be careful not to damage the young, tender seedlings when you handle them. Place them at the same level they were growing in your pots; water and feed them again as well. Avoid planting your tender seedlings on windy days...late afternoon is a good time to plant.
If you follow the steps listed above, you can have earlier harvests, and don’t we all look forward to those wonderful, tasty veggies right from the garden!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Spring brings warm weather, daffodils and the promise of tasty veggies and fruits from our gardens. However, it also brings a collection of tasks we should complete as we prepare for summer’s bounty of flowers and food harvest. Here are some items that should be completed as we anticipate the upcoming gardening season.
First, check your soil. Before you start digging, take a handful of soil and squeeze it; if it forms a sticky ball, your soil is too wet to work. If it crumbles, it is ready to till. Working your soil too soon can create hard clods that may remain all season. It is also a good idea to have your soil tested to see if it needs added nutrients. Your local extension center will test your soil for $10 and you should have the results in about 2 weeks. Simply gather soil randomly throughout your yard in a clean bucket; you will need about 2 cups. Place it in a Ziploc baggie and take it to your extension center, fill out a short info sheet that marks the soil as yours, and send it off. The results will tell you how much phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen you have and it will also tell you the pH, how acidic or alkaline it is. Your extension agent will discuss those results with you and make recommendations on what you might need to add in order to obtain the best soil for your garden.
Crumbly soil that is not too wet is perfect for digging and tilling.
If you like cool-weather crops like lettuces, radishes, spinach and beets, now is the time to plant them as they prefer cooler temperatures. Sow your seeds directly in your garden as soon as our nighttime temperatures remain above freezing. The date of expected last frost is April 1st in our area, but remember that two years ago, we had a freeze on April 24th!
Now is the time to plant cool season crops like lettuce and radishes, as they prefer the cooler temperatures of spring.
Now is also the time to prune roses, while most plants are still dormant. However, our recent warmer temperatures these past weeks will certainly change that and encourage new growth. Remove dead branches and trim away crossed branches as well. You can safely cut back the green stems by at least one third, and even more if you really want to stimulate new growth. You can now trim your shrubs like crape myrtles, too, but make sure you do not prune bushes that bloom on old wood. Hydrangeas and lilacs fall in this category, so avoid pruning them until after they bloom.
It is safe to prune your roses down by one third to one half their size to encourage spring growth.
If you want to change your landscaping, now is the time to transplant deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in winter) and shrubs while they are dormant. Dig a large root ball and plant in a more desirable spot at the same depth as your tree or shrub grew before. Water deeply every few days for the first season. If you have purchased new shrubs and trees, this is the ideal time to plant them too.
This is a perfect time to feed your perennials and roses. Use any balanced commercial fertilizer or compost around your plants and gently work it into the top layer of the soil. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label.
If you have ornamental grasses in your yard, shear them back now – Miscanthus, feather reedgrass, switchgrass, fescue and little bluestream all should be trimmed before new growth begins to emerge. This is also a good time to divide clumps if they’ve become too large or the centers have died out.
Spring holds the promise of new beginnings and new life for our gardens. It is a wonderful time of the year to shed those winter doldrums and prepare for the upcoming growing season!
One final note: while you are deciding what to plant in your garden, mark your calendars for Apr 16th, the annual Garden and Plant Party at the Demonstration Gardens of the Cleveland County Master Gardeners. The gardens are located at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, 601 E Robinson, Norman, just west of the gravel parking lot. Join us for the plant sale and a day of activities, especially for children, from 9 am to 1:00 pm. We have lots of plants just waiting for you in our greenhouse!
Welcome to Dishing the Garden Dirt!